The antisemitism that has increased dramatically in the United States after Israel properly responded to the genocidal massacre by Hamas of at least 1,200 of its citizens last month is at the same time disturbing but not surprising. I have always believed that antisemitism has percolated just below the surface in this country, alert to opportunities to assert itself.
American Jews have traditionally taken comfort in the protection offered by certain large, well-funded, and influential Jewish policy and advocacy organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League that utilize civil rights law to combat antisemitism and extremism.
The recent spate of antisemitism has occurred on many college campuses where Jewish students have been assaulted and tormented by pro-Hamas Palestinian agitators. At some of these colleges, Jewish students have had to barricade themselves behind closed doors to avoid harm. On many of these same campuses, the response by the college administration to concern for the safety of Jewish students has been tepid.
Outside of the academy, peaceful Jewish protesters at pro-Israel rallies have been set upon by pro-Hamas Palestinian agitators; those who have objected to the tearing down of signs depicting the Jewish hostages held in Gaza by Hamas terrorists have been repeatedly assaulted by similar pro-Hamas sympathizers or suffered other indignities.
What should Jews do about this rise in antisemitism? Obviously, resorting to university administrators or public safety officials is an answer. Complaints lodged with important Jewish policy and advocacy organizations requesting assistance is another.
Unfortunately, none of these options seem to be working well so far. At present, here in the United States antisemitism has exploded with consequences for the safety of every Jewish individual, young and old.
I am aware that most American Jews eschew physical confrontation and altercations; they are simply not brought up that way. But given the state of affairs that is now confronting Jews and that is likely to persist, let me offer a few modest proposals that I am sure run against the grain of most American Jews but just might be worth considering at this time. They involve a change or at least a modification of the way American Jews have seen the world — from the cerebral to the physical. Consider the following suggestions:
Re-establishment and reinvigoration of the Jewish Defense League, not in the image of its messianic founder Rabbi Meir Kahane and not beholden to activities that once branded it as a terrorist organization, but instead as an organization of well-trained Jewish men and women able to insert themselves at certain pivotal points for the protection of Jews who are harassed, threatened, or intimidated. I am not suggesting a paramilitary organization of Jews but one that can react when called and not turn away and seek cover.
The creation of programs in Jewish day schools throughout the United States in which instruction in the martial arts and self-defense becomes as important as bar and bat mitzvah training.
The creation of similar programs in secular settings for Jewish young people and adults that should be generously funded by benefactors.
In the face of overt acts of antisemitism, Jews should be mindful of the limitations of government and others to protect them. Antisemitism in America is on the table and shows little evidence of abating. Jews in America seem to be fair game for the most despicable acts. My proposals, however discordant to beliefs in justice and fairness that Jews carry in their DNA, converge around a concept that Jews should be quickly absorbing — that they cannot depend on anyone other than themselves for protection.
And, if I am only partly correct in these thoughts, then Jews should be prepared to understand that our public and private institutions may not have the fortitude or interest to offer a safety net, but instead, American Jews ought to be prepared to demonstrate, when necessary, some muscle.
The Hon. David B. Saxe, a lawyer and resident of North Haven, is a retired associate justice of the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department.