Opinion: Fighting Antisemitism in the Name of Collective Liberation

by Rabbi David Basior

Do you remember where you were when 9/11 happened? Most likely, if you were above the age of five, you have a memory of where you were that day.

I was in New York City and had just entered my midtown Manhattan office where I served as an assistant at a real estate management company –– my first job after graduating from the University of Florida. The office was situated within three city blocks from Grand Central Station, the Empire State Building, the Consul General of Israel, and the United Nations’ headquarters. I had just seen Michael Jackson perform at Madison Square Garden the night before, and I was coming in a few minutes later than my expected 9 a.m. start time. The events unfolding downtown made my slightly late arrival go unnoticed, which I had only a moment to be thankful for before learning why everyone was so soberly concerned.

It is moments like these that change the trajectory of people’s lives. That moment changed mine. It is one important event that reshaped the trajectory of my life toward being the progressive, anti-racist, politically informed, justice-seeking, spiritually motivated, bridge-building rabbi I still work towards being today.

And so, when last week a friend forwarded me an opinion piece in The Seattle Times by my dear colleague and teacher Rabbi Daniel Weiner, I felt frustrated, and also called to respond. Rabbi Weiner’s assertion that “extreme liberals also” are a source of antisemitism is not wrong. There is indeed antisemitism amongst the political left, and antisemitism generally is indeed one of the “oldest of hatreds,” as he states.

But there is a duplicitous trend at work that Rabbi Weiner’s piece unfortunately falls into, knowingly or unknowingly. In the Trump era, many Jewish leaders have doubled down on a decades-old effort to equate the danger of antisemitism on the left with that of white nationalism for the sake of hiding and defending human rights violations by the government of the State of Israel against the Palestinian people.

Thus, my friends, the path toward a collective liberation that includes an end to antisemitism –– whether we like it or not –– goes through the State of Israel and the emerging State of Palestine.

Two decades into walking this path continues to bring me to this inevitable place. And I want you –– Jews and non-Jews, Palestinians, Arabs, Muslims, Catholics and Protestants, and everyone else –– to join me on this formidable journey.

I want you all to know: it is not inherently antisemitic to criticize the state of Israel. Read that again. The messaging otherwise has been swift and fierce for the past many decades and it has been used to ruin careers, relationships, and geopolitical agreements. And, perhaps not surprisingly, these disastrous effects disproportionately affect Black and Muslim leaders, People of Color generally, and women. I can understand anyone not wanting to wade into that water. But, If we are faithful in one another, courageous in our action, and humble in our mistakes, like the Israelites at the shore of the Sea of Reeds, we just might get through this together.

David Basior is the rabbi for Kadima Reconstructionist Community, a member of the Central/SE Seattle Interfaith Migrant Rights Network, which meets on Duwamish Land in Seattle’s Madrona neighborhood.