The recent comments by freshman Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib during a podcast have been discussed thoroughly in the Jewish, and non-Jewish, community. Tlaib, who spun an ahistorical lie that the surviving Jews of the Holocaust were welcomed with open arms by her Palestinian ancestors, has her defenders in the Democratic Party. The nefarious aspect of the defense tactics is not claiming that she is right; rather, they attack the criticizers themselves. By doing this, their goal is to silence their opponents, and this silence has a history all its own.
styIn 1948, famed Hollywood playwright Ben Hecht gave a powerful and moving speech in Los Angeles. Hecht, who at the time was an ardent supporter of Menachem Begin and the Irgun, rediscovered his Judaism at the start of the Holocaust in 1939. During his speech, Hecht brings up multiple instances of cowardice by those who are silent when they could have made their voices known.
This silence was glaring in November 1943, when the leaders of the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Soviet Union signed the “Moscow Declaration of German Atrocities.” At the time, some three million Jews had already been wiped out by the Germans implementing Hitler’s Final Solution. The Nazis were not hiding what they were doing; they were openly rounding up and exterminating innocent Jews, their only crime being that they were at least one quarter Jewish. However, Jews are not mentioned in this declaration. When the governments listed the victims of the Nazis, those whose murder would be avenged by the free governments erected following an Allied victory, they only listed the nationalities of the innocent people. They were silent on the ethnicity of the Jewish victims, despite knowing that the Jews were the target of the Nazis. As Hecht said, “I know of no political gesture in history as bold and inhuman as blissful silence – a silence that was like a door closing furtively and surreptitiously on the murderer and his victim – our Jewish people.
Early in the war, prior to German invasion, the government of Roumania offered to ship the Jews of Romania to Palestine for $50 each (to cover expenses). This was prior to the Germans invading Roumania. The United States Department of State claimed that this was a false offer, but post-war documents claim that they knew it was true. Hecht and others like him attempted to save those Jews before the Germans invaded Roumania, but failed. The silence from Roosevelt’s State Department led to apathy instead of intervention in saving 300,000 Roumanian Jews.
Hecht goes back even further, to the centuries of violence against Jews in Europe. “In the fifteen hundred years of their wooing of Europe,” Hecht says, “the Jews have never been able to halt a pogrom. In fact, the more important, the more assimilated the Jews in a given country became, the more certain was their ultimate status in that country – disfavor and destruction.” The Jewish people, without a strong backing of a Jewish state behind them, have failed again and again at preventing egregious acts of violence against them. The silence of Jews and non-Jews alike allowed these atrocities to occur on a regular basis throughout our time in the Diaspora.
It is important to keep a fuller context of the history of silence by our so-called defenders and allies when examining the reactions to the anti-Semitism of today. Nobody will deny that America is an historical friend to the Jewish people and the Jewish state. Just like the Allied powers, the US State Department, and the countless others throughout the centuries, cowardice rears its ugly head when doing the right thing means accepting that your neighbor is immoral. The deep strain of anti-Semitism in the Democratic Party, from acceptance of the BDS movement to comments made by Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, is that immorality. Time and again, the Democrats have not condemned these comments or stopped these movements from infecting their party. Instead, they chose to obfuscate the issue by attacking their favorite political scapegoats, President Trump and the Republicans.
“There’s always kind of a calming feeling,” Representative Rashida Tlaib said in the now-infamous interview. “I tell folks, when I think of the Holocaust, and the tragedy of the Holocaust, and the fact that it was my ancestors – Palestinians – who lost their land and some lost their lives, their livelihood, their human dignity, their existence in many ways, have been wiped out, and some people’s passports. And just all of it was in the name of trying to create a safe haven for Jews, post-the Holocaust, post-the tragedy and the horrific persecution of Jews across the world at that time. And I love the fact that it was my ancestors that provided that, right, in many ways. But they did it in a way that took their human dignity away, and it was forced on them.”
The complete misrepresentation of the history, the absolute lies about what the Arabs in the land of British-mandate Palestine did to the Jewish refugees from Europe, are merely part of the problem. Another huge component of the problem is when the Democrats and the media turn anti-Semitism into a partisan issue. So when Representative Liz Cheney and President Trump criticize Tlaib, the Democrats go on the offensive to silence their opponents. Cheney focused on criticizing Tlaib’s characterization of the Holocaust as giving a “calming feeling.” Trump commented on how he would be treated by the media if he said something as egregious. In reaction to this, Steny Hoyer, who gave an impactful speech at this year’s AIPAC conference only a few weeks ago, said, “If you read Rep. [Tlaib’s] comments, it is clear that President Trump and Congressional Republicans are taking them out of context. They must stop, and they owe her an apology.” Nancy Pelosi, fresh off of claiming that Ilhan Omar “has a different experience in the use of words” when spouting anti-Semitism, came to Tlaib’s defense, as well: “Republicans’ desperate attempts to smear [Rashida Tlaib] & misrepresent her comments are outrageous,” Pelosi tweeted. “President Trump & House GOP should apologize to Rep. Tlaib & the American people for their gross misrepresentations.” Omar went even further. “Give it up,” she replied to Liz Cheny, “we all know you never met a Muslim you didn’t want to vilify! Your deep seeded hate and Islamophobia might be a tool to rally your base, but won’t get rid your colleagues. You just have to deal.”
Left-wing Jewish groups joined the fray. Once again, Jews are their own worst enemy, and there are many who like to castigate their political opponents as evil in order to shift the conversation from anti-Semitism to other topics, like racism and Israeli policy. In an interview with Newsweek, Rebecca Vilkomerson, executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace (which Newsweek referred to as an “American-Jewish group” but that the Anti-Defamation League calls a “radical anti-Israel activist group that advocates for a complete economic, cultural, and academic boycott of the State of Israel”) said, “The most recent attacks on Rep. Rashida Tlaib are from the same playbook as previous attacks on Muslim leaders. They are rooted in not just bad-faith misrepresentation of her words, but also in a distressing underlying Islamophobia. Weaponizing bogus accusations of anti-Semitism to de-legitimize leaders of color is deeply disrespectful to both Jewish and Muslim communities.” If Not Now, another anti-Israel activist group, was also quoted by Newsweek (and given the same credibility as an “American-Jewish group”). “Rep. Tlaib made a nuanced comment about how two tragedies are intertwined,” said spokesman Yonah Lieberman, “that of the Jewish people in Holocaust, and that of the Palestinian people after 1948. There is nothing anti-Semitic in pointing out, as she did, that the creation of a safe haven for Jews in Israel also led to Palestinian suffering.”
Character attacks and demands to apologize are flimsy attempts to avoid the true issue: that Tlaib and Omar believe that the Jewish state should not exist and the Jewish people are to blame for the problems in the region. Remember, this is the same party that said it was incitement of violence when conservatives quoted Ilhan Omar’s own statements. They have no intention of policing their own, and with the media backing them up, quoting only those far-left progressive groups that already agree with their agenda, they don’t need to.
Meanwhile, this has real-world ramifications. Anti-Semitic hate crimes have risen this year. The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Chabad of Poway made national coverage, but what is being ignored are the regular attacks on chasidim in Williamsburg. Hardly a week has gone by in 2019 without security camera footage of a random violent attack on a Jew in Brooklyn. The New York Times started discussing it after the Pittsburgh shooting, because it was a way to attack President Trump. They described the graffiti-swastikas and the hate crimes in New York, and also discussed why it was not widely acknowledged as a newsworthy topic. “If anti-Semitism bypasses consideration as a serious problem in New York,” the Times wrote, “it is to some extent because it refuses to conform to an easy narrative with a single ideological enemy. During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group,” Since they cannot attack their preferred political target, they stay silent. That silence emboldens those who commit these attacks, in an inverse way that the round-the-clock news coverage of white supremacists causes more white-supremacists to commit acts of terror.
As seen throughout the century, even our greatest allies and advocates historically are complicit in the anti-Semitic attacks, both physical and verbal, when they remain silent. From the Allies who were silent about the killing of Jews in 1943 to the silence of the US State Department regarding Roumanian Jews, from the millennia past of silence in the face of pogroms to the silence of today in the face of a whitewashing of our history, the enemies of the Jewish people thrive on the silence of those too cowardly to risk offending their own side. It is vitally important for us to continue to defend ourselves by criticizing, not only the anti-Semitism itself, but also the silence of those who refuse to stand beside us.
Subscribe to aHillwithaview.com for more content from Moshe Hill. You can follow Moshe on Twitter @TheMoHill and Facebook: facebook.com/AHillwithaview.