June 8, 2021
At AJC Virtual Global Forum 2021, Bret Stephens, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, Bari Weiss, Journalist and Author of How to Fight Antisemitism, and Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Managing Director of AJC Europe spoke about rising Jew-hatred in a session titled “The Mainstreaming of Antisemitism: How Should We Respond?," moderated by Avi Mayer, AJC Managing Director, Public Affairs and Senior Spokesperson.
To watch more videos from AJC Virtual Global Forum 2021, go to AJC.org/GlobalForumNews.
To learn more about AJC's efforts to combat antisemitism in America and around the world, go to AJC.org/Antisemitism.
Avi Mayer: Good evening. My name is Avi Mayer and I'm AJC's Managing Director of Global Communications. Has antisemitism become mainstream? It's a question that many Jews across America and around the world are asking themselves after the events of recent weeks. As Jews have been assaulted by thugs wearing Palestinian flags, as synagogues have been defaced with hateful graffiti, and as massive demonstrations have featured explicitly antisemitic signs and slogans, some public figures have risen in condemnation, others have issued mealy-mouthed statements and others still including celebrities, journalists, and elected officials seem intent to fan the flames. Choosing their allies are left to wonder, is this the new normal? With us to discuss what we're seeing, how we got here, and how we might chart a path forward are three leading thinkers and writers on the subject of antisemitism today. Bret Stephens, an opinion columnist with The New York Times, Bari Weiss, a prominent journalist and writer, and Simone Rodan-Benzaquen, Director of AJC Europe. Welcome to you all. I'd like to start with a question for all three of you, starting with you, Bret, how did we get here? Events of recent days and weeks didn't just materialize out of nowhere. Where did they come from?
Bret Stephens: Well, I mean, it's obviously a long answer, but there has been a process of the renormalization of antisemitism dressed up in the guise of anti-Zionism going on for actually for 50 years ever since, or at least 46 years, ever since the UN declared that Zionism is racism. And I wanna underscore this point because there's kind of a factitious distinction between the two. I mean, what is antisemitism? It isn't simply racism against Jews, okay. Antisemitism is a conspiracy theory, which holds that Jews are imposters and swindlers. And in the 19th century, the view was that Jews were imposters as Germans, imposters as French, imposters as Britons and so on. They didn't really belong. And furthermore that they were swindlers, they were stealing the wealth of the countries they had joined. What is anti-Zionism? It's the view the Jews are imposters and swindlers. They are imposters in the sense that they are pretending to be Middle Eastern, but actually are from somewhere else, have no connection to the land. And they're swindlers in the sense that they're stealing what belongs to other people. And that is the threat, the defamatory threat, which not only connects antisemitism and anti-Zionism, but shows that essentially they're identical, that it's the same, it's the old wine in a new bottle. And forces, even those who are doing so unwittingly, have been normalizing this view, Avi, for decades. And I think in the last few years, not only has it been normalized on the fringes of political discourse, it's been normalized in the center. I'll just say one more thing. I think that the Jewish community has too often let down its guard. We've been so terrified of being called McCarthy-ites or being seen as people associated with forces on the right that we have failed to call out in a clear and clarion way this connection, this identicality. And the result is that not only are Israelis at risk from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv to Sderot. They're now at risk in West Hollywood, in London, and on the streets of New York City.
Avi Mayer: Thank you for that, Bret. Same question for you, Bari. How did we get here? What are the roots of the situation we're seeing today?
Bari Weiss: I think, I mean, obviously seconding all of what Bret just said so articulately. What I would add is that I think we are now seeing the fruits of what this ideology that cloaks itself in the language of social justice, of intersectionality, of progress and of civil rights has actually gotten the Jewish community of America. Meaning there was this sense among large segments of the Jewish community that it's more important for us to have a seat at a table with people that are hostile to us than not have a seat at that table. And so there was a kind of witting, self-erasure, self-abnegation, a sense that like, if we diminish this part of ourself, or play down our Zionism or play down ideas of Jewish particularism, that somehow we will come to be accepted. And the allyship that we will extend to these communities will therefore be extended to us in kind. I think that the past month, I hope, has disabused people of the idea that a strategy that requires Jews to sacrifice their own identity, their own dignity, to whitewash their history, gets us absolutely nowhere. The other thing that I think became extremely clear, right? If you have an ideology that says, white people can't be victims. And the second part of that logic is Jews are white people. You will begin to understand why there is no corporate communications from the same people that had so much to say over the summer, even over the past months, as Asians are getting beaten in the streets of places like San Francisco, and Oakland, and New York. If Jews are white people, which is what the ideology of critical... It's an imperfect moniker, but when critical race theory, or critical social justice, or totalitarianism from the left, as I think about it, is put into practice, what it actually means for us, is that we do not count. An ideology that is binary and that divides the world into white and black, oppressed and oppressor, collectively guilty or collectively innocent, in which we fall on the wrong side of all of those binaries, we shouldn't be surprised as so many in our community seem to be, that allyship and concern and empathy, for people who are able to find even the tiniest microaggression is not extended to us when caravans are driving through the streets of North London saying, F*** the Jews and rape their daughters, or driving through the streets of West Hollywood saying, who is a Jew and then beating people, right? So, I hope that if something good or if there's a silver lining to come out of these past few weeks, it's that, I hope people to some extent have been mugged by the reality of this ideology and understand that if we look to Jewish history, protection and safety and security for us never comes when we give into ideologies that require us to erase ourselves. And so the last thing I'll say is that, not to bang on so hard about the Jewish community that I love so much, but I also think there was this sense that... I remember being in so many meetings with different Jewish organizations saying, look, look, look at this incredible success. BDS has never been adopted by any college or any university. Well, BDS was an absolutely enormous cultural success. As Bret said, a success that has its roots in Soviet Union propaganda, which most 18 year olds who are proclaiming it have no concept of, but regardless, you don't need to have a university adopt BDS in order for BDS to have swallowed the culture. And Andrew Sullivan had this column a few months ago, maybe it was a year, he said we all live on campus now. And I think that has been very, very true on this issue. When Bella Hadid and every influencer, it feels like, is mouthing these things, I think one other lesson we should take from this is to take ideas seriously. And the ideas that had their nucleation point at the university have now come to sort of swallow the entire culture.
Avi Mayer: Certainly a lot to unpack there and we'll do that in just a moment. But before we do, Simone, same question for you, how did we get here? What are the roots of the situation we find ourselves in today?
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: So first of all, Bret, both Bret and Bari said much already and I second really all of it. Maybe just sort of to give a little bit of a European perspective in terms of the, America exports a lot to the world, the movie industry, the high-tech industry. Europe is often lagging behind. Unfortunately, in the issue of antisemitism, that's not the case. So we have had a little bit of an experience, and really, really for the past 20 years. And AJC has recognized and spoken about the resurgence of antisemitism really since 2000 and 2001. It was long called in Europe new antisemitism. Now 20 years on, it's not so new anymore. But, what was new then? Again, Bret described much of it. And he mentioned the Zionism is racism initiative at the UN. There was also the Durban Conference that happened exactly 20 years ago. A conference under the auspices as well of the UN in South Africa that was supposed to be about anti-racism and ended up being basically a hate fest against Israel, against Zionism, against ultimately Jews. And so, it was in this configuration that Jews were no longer seen as the enemy race, as it used to be the case under Nazism, but it was the case that by instrumentalizing anti-racism, Zionism suddenly became the racist ideology. And the Jew, and the Zionist, and Israel, the ultimate evil. And this is something I think that really, over the past two decades has really been growing a lot, in particular, on the progressive left in Europe. The second aspect, which I think is related chronologically, is the fact that 9/11 happened, just a couple of days after Durban, and that the anti-Zionism, the antisemitism, happened in Europe, in particular, also from within parts of the Muslim community, who have really made antisemitism and anti-Zionism, the backbone of their worldview, and really established much of their thinking based on that. Of course, there are several elements to it. Part of it is jealousy. Part of is deep-rooted antisemitism, part of it is also sort of an identity crisis of many Muslims in Europe who feel that that Israel or the Zionism represents somehow the new colonialist power. Don't forget that in Europe, many Muslims married, Muslims have roots in Algeria, in countries that have been colonized in the part. And of course, also the huge increase of radical Islam, which of course anti-Zionism and antisemitism are the backbone. So all of this I think has really created a very dangerous cocktail in Europe. And this is one of the reasons why in France, for example, we speak about, we use a term called Islamo-gauchisme, which means sort of Islam or leftism. The idea that you have an anti-imperialist, far-left that creates sort of an alliance with Islamist forces on the ground. And this is why when you look at the demonstrations in Paris, in Brussels, in Germany, in London, you have this mix of far-left voices together with really radical Islamist voices on the ground.
Avi Mayer: Thank you, Simone. Bari, actually I'd like to go back to you because you started your remarks with a reference to this new ideology that's threatening to undermine American liberalism and poses grave threats to Jews, as you've written on several occasions. Could you go into what that new ideology is and why it is that Jews should be so deeply concerned about it?
Bari Weiss: Yeah, I mean, basically it's an ideology that undermines liberalism. So I really believe, to kind of cut to the chase, that any initiative that's focusing on sort of antisemitism qua antisemitism, and isn't focusing on the roots of where this is coming from, is destined to fail. This ideology undermines everything that makes America exceptional. It basically says that because the... I mean, it's even deeper than America, it really goes back to enlightenment values, like because the ideas of the enlightenment were created by dead white men who had terrible ideas about any number of minority issues. Or because the founders themselves were moral hypocrites, and some of them were slavers, it means that the ideas themselves that those people came up with are rotten to the core and therefore, the institutions, and the ideas, and this sort of amazing scaffolding that we live in, needs to be undermined from within. That is really the answer for it on one foot. What it looks like practically, is it basically says, the old ideas of being able to debate and disagree, the idea that we are all created in the image of God, the idea that we're all entitled to equality under the law, the idea that we don't hold individuals guilty for the sins of their parents, this is fundamental. The idea that the way that we convince, the way that we judge an idea is not based on the identity of the speaker, but the quality of the truth claim that they're making. I could go on and on and on. These are ideas that we all, I think, in America have taken for granted. Like these seemed as obvious as gravity. And I think what's happening now, and I find myself in so many debates having to defend these things that I grew up in a world where we took them for granted, the reason is because this ideology has been so effective at undermining them and undermining them, not from the far-right, but undermining them from the language of historical justice, repair of past suffering, the new civil rights movement. And I could go on and on and on. I've written about this extensively. And so, an ideology that divides the world as we know very well from recent history in Europe, that divides the world into pure and impure, that divides the world into good or bad, forces of light, forces of darkness, this is just a new way of doing that. And anyone who has studied Jewish history, knows extremely well where that winds up. And I think the way that it's functioning here in America, right, is on the far-right, it's really interesting because you just see the way that we're being squeezed in opposite directions. On the far-right, what the far-right says about us is that we're like the greatest trick the devil has ever played. We appear to be white, but in fact, we, Jews are loyal to Black people, and Brown people, and immigrants, and Muslims. When the people in Charlottesville marched with their Tiki torches shouting, "Jews will not replace us," that was what they were articulating. When Robert Bowers, the murderer, Neo-Nazi, walked into the synagogue where I became a bat mitzvah, Tree of Life, the reason he chose that synagogue was that the previous Shabbat, Tree of Life had participated in this highest initiative of refugee Shabbat. And yet, on the far-left, they are making the exact mirror image claim. They are saying, these Jews are the ultimate white people. They say that they're victims. They say that they're subjected to more hate crimes based on their religion than any other group. But look at them, they've achieved so much. They have success far in excess of their proportion of the population. They benefit from white privilege. They benefit from a white supremacist system. And not only that, not only are they guilty of being white supremacist adjacent, they're also loyal to the last standing bastion of white colonialism in the Middle East. And so that is the way, practically speaking, whatever it's jargon that tries to confuse you, that is how this ideology functions. And so I think it's very important for the Jewish community to not be taken in by incredible marketing and slogans, and to look under the hoods of these movements and see what they're really about.
Avi Mayer: Thank you for that, Bari. Bret, you wrote two weeks ago that Jews should view recent instances of violent antisemitism that are tied to Israel less as an outrage than as an omen. What exactly did you mean by that and what should American Jews do about it
Bret Stephens: Well, this goes, I think to some extent to what Simone said earlier, which is that what we are witnessing in the last month or so in the United States vis-à-vis the position of the Jews, seems to me very similar to what I was witnessing in Europe when I was working in Brussels in the late 1990s and the first few years of this century, which is the Europeanization of the Jewish question here. And that's manifested in some ways that are quite visible. Every time I pass a synagogue, I see a police present sign outside, I see barricades, I see security measures, that certainly I never encountered at the end of the 20th century or even the first few years of this one. But you're seeing it in invisible or maybe less visible ways as well. And here I really wanna touch on what I thought were Bari's really extraordinary and profound remarks. Look, it's very easy to spot the extreme antisemitism of the right because they're, as Bari said, with Tiki torches saying, "Jews will not replace us." They couldn't make it more obvious, right? It's more difficult to see the antisemitism coming up from the left, for a variety of reasons. One is that traditionally, most American Jews, most Jews have been people of the left, right? That is sort of our political tribe, not mine as I think many people know, but generally speaking, our political tribe has emerged from forces associated with the left, whether it was in France in the 19th century or in the United States during the Roosevelt era and onward. So it's always more difficult to see it coming from yourself. Secondly, this goes to what I said earlier. There is a kind of semantic wordplay, where the view is, well, not only is anti-Zionism not antisemitism, but it's an outrage to describe someone who's an anti-Zionist as perhaps a presumptive antisemite, at least because they share so many of the same tropes and the same prejudices. But the third reason, and this is, I think, very important, is that the left, for better and worse, controls the high towers of culture, right? And if you think that to some extent, cultural attitudes, attitudes about what is taboo and what is not taboo, kind of trickled down from the top. This is not trickle-down economics. This is trickle-down culture theory. And I think there's something to be said for it, then that poses a particularly unique danger, because what we're finding on college campuses, and Bari was absolutely right, it doesn't mean just because you didn't pass the BDS resolution doesn't mean it hasn't become a BDS campus. Is that the culture has been saturated. The high culture, the elite culture has been saturated with anti-Zionist and effectively antisemitic tropes, which are now spreading through kind of the lower stages of American culture. It's okay now to say that Israel is the most repressive, colonialist, genocidal state in the world, leave aside the fact that that is a bonkers point of view. It's okay to say that. It is okay to say that Israel is gratuitously murdering Palestinian children, apparently because that's something Israelis do, just as that was something Jews supposedly did in 12th century England. There are no taboos connected to this. I was in the Village the other day in Manhattan when one of these Palestinian caravans came through on the back of trucks driving alarmingly fast down MacDougal Street and intimidating everyone. And what's significant isn't that these people represent some huge number of, some huge force, right? They don't represent a huge force. What's significant is they weren't ashamed of doing what they were doing. What's significant is they knew that at least on some of those street corners, they were being met with cheers. What's significant is, and Bari put this point very, very well. What's significant is that when the attacks are made against Jews, it is incredibly to elicit a statement from a chancellor of a university like Rutgers, okay. To say, I condemn antisemitism, period, period. Not and I also condemn every other form of racism and xenophobia and misogyny and transphobia and so on. I condemn antisemitism, period. And after he issued this mealy-mouthed statement, he apologized for it the next day. And that is why I underscore the fact that this is an omen of where the culture is going if the American Jewish community doesn't start to think seriously about what it owes itself and what it is owed by the rest of the American community.
Bari Weiss: I mean, Avi, just to add one thing to that, that I think was a signal event that I hope everyone noticed in addition to everything Bret just said, the Head of Diversity at Google wrote a blog post saying if I were a Jew, I would be concerned about my insatiable appetite for war and killing. And he still works at Google. So like, this, I don't know if people can grasp the extent to which this ideology has permeated, like the institutions that are meant to uphold the liberal order. They have fully infected a lot of these places. And I think one thing that's happening right now inside the community is that the idea of this having spread so wide and so far is literally so psychologically difficult to be able to process and absorb, that people would rather close their eyes and ears to what have we've already lost. And I would simply suggest to people like, yes, we have a lot to grieve right now, but let's try and get over the grieving period as quickly as possible, so we can get on to figuring out how we can defend what has been for Jews, the best Diaspora experience in all of Jewish history. I think right now we're feeling like we're being sort of like tugged back into the mean of Jewish history, and the only way that we can resist that, is by standing up loudly now, because it will not get easier. And if it feels hard right now, think about how it's gonna feel six months, a year or two years from now.
Avi Mayer: Simone, I do wanna get to you, but I actually wanna pivot right back to you, Bret, because you said something at the end there that I think bears some discussion. You said that American Jews need to focus on what they owe themselves and what they are owed by American society. What does that mean? What are your marching orders for American Jews right now in light of the moment that we find ourselves in?
Bret Stephens: American Jews owe themselves the self-respect to insist that their security, that their rights, that their place at the table is not something they should apologize for, nor by the way, is their success in American society. And I focus on that last point, because the notion that somehow my mother who came to this country as a displaced person with $7 is a beneficiary of unearned white privilege, is extraordinarily offensive to the amount of struggle that she had to endure so that her children could flourish in this country. So that's where it begins. It begins by Jews in the United States to not apologize, to not preface their self-defense with expressions of allyship and correct thinking. And not necessarily that allyship is bad or anything like that, but it's always this reflexive apology on the part of the American, on the part of so many American Jews. When Jews are being attacked in streets, when Jews feel increasingly insecure when our political affinity, our natural political affinity toward the state of Israel, the only Jewish state in the world is considered an expression of racism. And for which college kids are meant to, are supposed to apologize by way of an entry ticket into what is supposed to be a respectable liberal opinion. Bari and I are old friends, so it's not surprising that we are agreeing, I think, so emphatically here. But if we don't do that, if we don't learn what every other ethnic group in the United States, whether it's Irish-American or Black-American or Puerto-Rican-Americans learn, that you don't earn your place at the table in the United States with a preemptive apology, or by denouncing the sins of your cousin, the alleged sins of your cousins in Israel, you will never keep that place at the table. That is a bad method of doing politics. It's a bad method of teaching your children to be proud of their extraordinary heritage.
Avi Mayer: Thank you for that. Now, Simone, you've been here before. As a European Jew, you've seen violent antisemitism coming from multiple sources, from the far-right, the hard-left and from radicalism perpetrated in the name of Islam. As you are now head of AJC Europe, and you observe what's happening in America, what do you make of it? What lessons should we be learning from your experience?
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: So first of all, I couldn't be happier to have this conversation because I have to say I've been frustrated for many, many years because sort of you have the impression that you are watching things from abroad and you sort of see the signs and that people are extremely slow in waking up. So first of all, maybe just a little bit of context here. First of all, I think that we have invested for 20 years at the AJC in Europe and I think we have accumulated an experience and a knowledge that basically no one else has. And so for me, this is why it's so important to use that knowledge and that experience and try to sort of help our American brothers, and sort of really help them understand what's going on. Also, exactly six years ago, in preparation of this panel, I realized that Bret and I were sitting at a panel, together with Jeffrey Goldberg and the topic was, do Jews have a future in Europe? And my dear American friends, Bret, you included, believed that we didn't have a future as European Jews. And I, on my end tried to make, I think two points. The first was that I believe that we cannot and should not abandon the battle in Europe because I believe and still do that the future of the entire continent is at stake because if the battle against antisemitism is lost, the entire continent is lost. The second point I tried to make is that because I think we live in a globalized world, basically no liberal democracy is exempt from that cancer. And when I look back to those six years ago, I'm sad to say that I think I was right, that there were already elements six years ago that sort of showed that something was starting to get extremely wrong on the American side. But let me now go sort of a little bit to sort of the lessons, if I can say, so of course, first of all, of course America is different than Europe, but by the way, Europe as a whole is different. There are 30 countries, there are 28 countries. Not every country is the same and the situation is different in each one of them. But the first one is related to, I think, to what I said earlier on and what I tried to explain during the panel six years ago. I think because Jews are the canary in the coal mine, because they are the alert system that something is profoundly wrong in our liberal democracies, I think antisemitism can never, ever be the problem of Jews alone. If it's only us, if it's only Jews who are speaking out, we have a serious problem. And it's the problem by the way, we, I think having had in Europe at the beginning of the years of 2000, because we were alone, people were not listening to us. People were thinking we were paranoid, we were alone. So I think that's the first very important lesson. We have to try and find ways to urge others to speak out and get them to understand that at the end of the day, this is just the beginning, it's not gonna end there. The second, and Bari, you pointed towards this, is the fact that unless you also deal with the underlying issues of antisemitism, the illiberalism, the polarization, the hard-left and hard-right, identitariatism, the fight against antisemitism is gonna be just, you're just gonna put a plaster on. You're not gonna be able to deal with the actual disease. The second one, and this I'll try and be short, because we discussed it already, is there are indeed three forms of antisemitism and each one has to be treated differently. Each one, you can't politicize the issue of antisemitism. If you start playing a political game where you just accuse the other side of being antisemitic, this is just playing politics. You're not gonna get anywhere. But also I think more specifically, it's important to understand that particularly on the left, as we've said before, it's difficult to speak about it. Everybody recognizes Neo-Nazis. Everybody is able to say, there's something wrong with the hard-right. It's more complicated when it's about the hard-left, because it hides behind something that looks virtuous, that looks right. It uses terms that look right. And third, and this is particularly important, I think, in the European context, but it's not entirely untrue, I think, also for the American context. Is that minorities can suffer from racism, but also be antisemitic. It took Europe a very long time to analyze and admit that European-Muslim communities had a problem. Of course, not everybody, but the minorities, that there was a problem there. Sometimes for the good reasons, because people didn't want to stigmatize a community that itself was already suffering from racism. But I think unless we understand at the end of the day that we have to listen to the voice of the individual, rather than looking at people as groups of these victims and oppressors, we're not gonna get anywhere. And I'm gonna stop here.
Avi Mayer: That's a lot, thank you, Simone. I'm actually gonna stick with you and let you be the first one to answer this question, which I will ask of all three of you. Suppose you were to get a phone call from the White House and President Biden were to call you into the Oval Office and say, Simone, I know that antisemitism is a problem in the United States. I'm aware of this issue. What should I do about it? What would you tell him?
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: So first of all, actually I would invite him for Shabbat. Maybe could spend two hours instead of a couple of minutes. And suppose he says yes, which of course I'm sure he would. No, very seriously. I think I would speak to him about the need for clear political leadership. I expect the President, the administration, the entire political class to speak out forcefully, right away, clearly without trying to minimize the issue. I have unfortunately seen too many American leaders in the past weeks speak about antisemitism and other isms or other obvious. Antisemitism has to be dealt with in its own right and right away and forcefully. The second thing I would say is that there needs to be a very clear zero tolerance strategy. There can't be a feeling of impunity, which is of course heightened due to social media where basically you can say or do whatever you want to without any really real consequences. But I think, you as Americans, you created the broken glass theory of crime prevention, where the idea is that if you delay the report repair of even a single broken window, it will only create more incivility and it will only create more violence. And I think the same is the case with antisemitism. If you don't act right away, if you're not forcefully condemning antisemitism, if you don't intervene on a political and police level, you'll have a problem. And then the third one, and I know this is controversial in the American context, is the fact that we have to try and find a way to deal with hate speech and incitement on social media. And I don't think it can be left entirely in the hands of big social media companies. Now again I understand we are in a very different context, the First Amendment is of course, very important, but again, I think we find ourselves in this very odd situation where you can have Hamas, where we can have a Khomeini say the most horrific things and other accounts are being deleted. So I think we have to have clear rules and those clear rules need to apply to everybody.
Avi Mayer: Thank you, Simone. Bret, same question for you. You get a call from the White House and it says POTUS wants to hear your opinion in three minutes on what he can do to fight antisemitism in America. What do you tell him?
Bret Stephens: Well, I think maybe the one area in which I might disagree with Simone, is I am very suspicious of hate speech, policing and regulation just because I'm zealous about the First Amendment. Not that I don't denounce it or decry it, but I'm worried about the inevitably unintended consequences of that kind of regulation. But what I would say to President Biden is this: at least a few of us who are traditionally on the right have tried to do our part in denouncing unequivocal, and at any cost to us in terms of position or prestige, the antisemitism that has unmistakably come from the right, particularly in the last few years, sometimes nakedly in the form of the Charlottesville marchers, sometimes a little bit dressed up in the form of the opposition to so-called globalists and so on. It's important from a point of view of credibility and standing to denounce those who are on one's own side. President Biden is the leader of the Democratic Party, which has within it powerful currents and forces and leaders who are now trafficking in openly antisemitic and vehemently anti-Zionists tropes. And he owes it to the best traditions of the Democratic Party from Harry Truman onwards, to Daniel Patrick Moynihan and so on to denounce them. If Republicans are gonna denounce a bigot like Steve King, the Congressman from Iowa, as they should have, right, it is unbelievable to me that someone like Alexandria Ocasio Cortez seems to suffer no consequence, no consequence from deciding not to show up to a Yitzhak Rabin Memorial. And Ilhan Omar, more or less skirted right over her antisemitic controversies from a couple of years ago. The best traditions in the United States have always come out when moderate leaders from the right or the left have provided some moral hygiene within their own ranks. And I know that President Biden is a genuine friend of Israel. There is a difference, not only in tone but in attitude when it comes to the Jewish State's predicaments. He's been around for a long time. He is not part of the new left. He comes from a traditional wing of the party, and that's a party that deserves to be supported. I would beg him if I had 10 minutes of his time to say, don't just go to the Holocaust museum, go to Israel, stand up for what this alliance between these two great democracies and these two great peoples mean and say that you mean it and say that it's forever and denounce the new antisemitism of the left.
Avi Mayer: Thank you for that. Bari, same question for you. You're in the Oval Office or maybe you're at Simone's Shabbat table, and you have three minutes with the President of United States. What do you say to him?
Bari Weiss: They've done a beautiful job, I would simply add - sorry, my dog is barking. I would simply add that in addition to everything Bret just said, like let's be honest about where the Democratic party is. The wind is at the sales of the squad. Chuck Schumer basically put out a one-sentence condemnation on Facebook. Like that's where we are now. So taking a hard look at that. Like we should look closely right now at who is standing up for us and who is not, who is not willing to risk the political capital to stand up for our community. It is a very hard thing to look at, but I think that's important. I would suggest to Joe Biden, if I were sitting in the Oval Office, that he join hands with Ritchie Torres, that they put on giant kippot and they walk through the neighborhoods of places like Williamsburg and Crown Heights and Borough Park, where Jews have been regularly beaten, the most visible members of our community, maybe not the most popular ones, but the most visible members of our community, for years. That is what they should do. They should walk through those neighborhoods with a rally of people with Ritchie Torres right at the front who's basically holding back a tsunami of anti-Zionism in his party and march through the streets of Brooklyn. I think that would send an unequivocal signal about Joe Biden's priorities about where, where lot of antisemitism is in the country right now. And antisemitism that's just much harder to take a hard look at.
Avi Mayer: I should note, at this point, that AJC is a non-partisan organization. We have of course identified antisemitism from all parts of the political map. And we of course identify it on the extremes of both sides of that political map.
Bari Weiss: Yeah, Avi let me just like... I feel like everyone always has to say that line, and it's like without getting into detail, like I've had to move because of antisemites. Like the synagogue where I grew up was the site of the most lethal attack. Like we all know that, right? It's that no one... So few have the courage to call it out when it requires personal sacrifice. And that's what it requires. It is a moral gimme to condemn antisemites on the far-right. It is so easy to tweet about Marjorie Taylor Greene, and it's fun too, but it's like what's being asked of our community right now, especially people in prominent positions, is personal sacrifice. Personal sacrifice in their social life, personal sacrifice in their professional lives, personal sacrifice in terms of literal and political capital. That's what's on the table right now. And I think it's important for us to keep the focus on that because the rest we know it. We've been doing it for the past five years. This is the new thing and this is the thing that is uncomfortable because it requires a lot of skin in the game on our part.
Bret Stephens: And it's okay because in the long-term, you don't wanna be friends with those people anyway.
Bari Weiss: Yeah.
Avi Mayer: Probably true.
Bret Stephens: And they don't wanna friends with you.
Bari Weiss: I'm curious with Simone in the European context. If you feel like you've lost your mind because you've had to give over that message for 20 years now, and we're only now coming to it. Do you feel like you've lost your mind a little bit?
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: Listen, I mean, I have the impression, to be very frank, that you feel that you're shouting very, very loud and sometimes people don't really hear you. So yes, I have not yet lost my mind and I have not yet given up. I don't think I will ever. But yes, it's very frustrating because again, you have the impression that you've seen the movie already and you know how it's gonna end.
Bret Stephens: Can I just add one point, Avi, I don't know if our time is coming to an end but I just wanna add one point. At the end of the day, no matter what kind of Jew you are, and even if you're the most left-wing, progressive, non- or anti-traditional Jew, knowing everything we know about Jewish history, knowing how quickly countries can go from being historically friendly to Jews to being catastrophic for them, that's what happened in Germany 90 years ago. The only real security that a Jew has in the world today is the State of Israel, the only one. We used to think that, well, the US couldn't possibly change because of our long traditions of tolerance and liberalism. We're seeing that change now. I hope it doesn't continue to change, but we're seeing it change now. So the only security a Jew has, even those who hate Israel, is Israel. And we should bear that, we should bear that in mind when we think about issues that profoundly affect the long-term security and health of the only Jewish state in some of the most dangerous and contested terrain in the world.
Avi Mayer: Thank you for those powerful words, Bret. I think we've come to our final question and it's a very simple one, but perhaps the most consequential of this conversation. Where do we go from here? How do we, American Jews and our allies, fight back against this rising tide of antisemitism? And Simone, I'll give you the privilege of being the first to answer.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: Thanks, listen, first of all, I think what people have to understand, this is not gonna go away. This is not just gonna disappear on its own. So don't be complacent. Don't believe that the United States is different from anywhere else. Don't believe that exceptionalism is gonna save you. And that means you have to get involved. You have to get your hands dirty. It's gonna be uncomfortable. Bari just mentioned, it can be socially dangerous, it can be uncomfortable at times. But that's the only way. It's your life. It's your children's lives. It's your country. So get involved with organizations, of course, organizations like AJC, but find anything, get involved. The other thing I would say is, you will have to, you have to convince people, allies, non-Jews, that at the end of the day, it's starting with antisemitism but it's not gonna end there. So the fight against antisemitism cannot be held alone, cannot be done alone by Jews. This is a problem that it's the symptom of the crisis that affects American liberal democracy. And unless it's dealt with, unless we deal with the symptom and the underlying causes, not only Jews are doomed, but the rest of the country is doomed. And then maybe the last thing, for those of you who somehow think that by being less Jewish, by leaning more into anti-Israel, you will be able to feel a little bit more morally righteous, or you somehow have the belief that it will save you, the reality is I think that you are only caving in. The reality is that you are only in the name of some pseudo ideology, throwing fellow Jews under the bus. The reality is, I think that you are only strengthening profoundly radical ideas and illiberal forces. And I think you really, really have to wake up.
Avi Mayer: Thank you for that. Bret, same question, how do we fight back?
Bret Stephens: I think part of what makes a civilization civil is the ability to stay outraged by outrageous things. And the current demonization of Israel is an outrage. It's an intellectual and moral outrage. And its target is not Benjamin Netanyahu, or evil right-wing Likudniks, or one thing, or some specific force or another. It's ultimately the entire Jewish people, because no state in the world, confronted with its set of challenges is treated in a similar way. And if we cannot, as a Diaspora Jewish community, maintain that sense of outrage, if we continue to allow it to be normalized, if we continue to say that it's okay to suggest that Israel wantonly kills children so long as you're not saying that about us here in the United States, we are simply inviting that kind of discourse, with all of its consequences, to come to us. So we have to fight the battle at the front line, not several steps back. We have to call out these outrages as we see them. And sometimes that means being something of an obnoxious person. Bari and Simone have said it very, very eloquently. It will mean losing friends. It will mean losing social capital. That's okay, that's okay. Not being invited to certain dinner parties or getting onto certain shows is not the worst thing that can happen in life. And what you will discover instead in doing something that is, in the best sense of the word, righteous and true, is that you might help save your own soul and do something for your family and for your people and nothing is more important than that.
Avi Mayer: Thank you, Bret. Bari, it's down to you. How do we fight back?
Bari Weiss: Well, first of all, this has been an honor. I admire every single person here so much and look to all of you for your moral courage. For me, it's a very Jewish answer because Simone and Bret have covered the rest. And I will simply say that the more that we root down into Jewish history and Jewish identity and the ideas that have transformed, not just the Jewish people, but have transformed the world, the more we will be able to see what is asked of us in this moment. Jewish history is not just history. It is like a lighthouse. It is a moral manual for how to live. And if we look back to Jewish history, we will see two things. First of all, it will put whatever sacrifices are being asked of us right now into unbelievable perspective. If the worst thing that happens to you is that you have to leave a job at The New York Times or get ratioed on Twitter, think about what Natan Sharansky had to live through, for the sake of defending the Jewish people. Think about what Hannah Szenes had to live through. Think about what Esther had to live through. Like it's thousands of years, choose anyone you want. And every one of those people had to sacrifice so much so that we could have the privilege, frankly, to get ratioed on the internet. Consider it a privilege and a badge of honor that that's what's being asked of us right now. That's the first thing. The second lesson we learn from Jewish history is not just sacrifice, it is that small groups of people, often from the fringes of Jewish society, have bent reality and changed the world. Herzl being one example, Avi as we were talking about before we began. Of a man who was putting up a Christmas tree in his home, when the Chief Rabbi of Vienna came to visit him as he was writing the Jewish state. A man who during the Zionist Congress writes in his journal that the most nerve wracking part of it was that he was asked to give an Aliyah and he didn't know the words. That is the man who transformed Jewish history. We could go back, we could go back to the white rose. We could go back all down the line. Oftentimes Jewish leadership, and Jewish visionaries, and Jewish moral courage, does not come from people that have the name president or CEO by their name. It comes from people often at the fringes of Jewish life. And so I would just say to everyone watching if you think of yourself, I'm not a leader, I don't have a position of power. No. No. Teenagers have changed Jewish history and so I think that is the very important thing for all of us to think about in our own life. How can we live up to the sacrifices that our ancestors made to make of these freedoms that we enjoy to live by them, to live lives that are worthy of their sacrifice? So I would just say to everyone who's watching this, that's maybe despairing or grieving, that the world that they inherited is no longer the world they're living in, think about Jewish history. Think about what other people have endured. That will give you perspective and that will also give you, I think, incredible sense of power and of empowerment of what's possible for us to do right here and now.
Avi Mayer: Bari, Bret Simone, thank you for a stimulating conversation and for helping us chart a way forward. Thank you all very, very much and have a good evening.
Bari Weiss: Thank you.
Bret Stephens: Thank you.
Simone Rodan-Benzaquen: Thank you.