To beat anti-Semitism, ‘we must pull together’
Questions for Barry Morrison
The Surprising Face of the Modern Anti-Semite will be revealed to a local audience on Wednesday evening, Dec. 15. Barry Morrison, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Eastern Pennsylvania-Delaware region, will also address “How the Jewish Community Can Respond” when he appears at Congregation Kol Emet in Yardley, Pa. NJJN spoke with Morrison by phone Dec. 7 from his office in Philadelphia.
NJJN: What will be your message to the audience at Congregation Kol Emet?
Morrison: My point is to talk about how anti-Semitism today is heavily connected with events in the Middle East and Israel’s efforts to remain a viable Jewish state. While anti-Semitism today has so much to do with Israel and its policies and actions, or perceptions about Israel, much is old and draws on traditional forms of anti-Semitism.
NJJN: Is the anti-Semitism coming mostly from Arab or Muslim communities?
Morrison: It is coming from all over. Obviously in the global arena, the most starkly anti-Semitic incidents we read about are occurring in environments in the Muslim world and even in parts of Europe, with ugly attacks on Jewish symbols and institutions. Some of that is linked to Israel by Muslim extremists, but that is not the only way anti-Semitism is expressed today.
It is expressed by right-wing groups, traditional hate groups that use some of the same issues concerning Israel as a rallying point. Some of it comes from people who promote the idea that Israel comes first among Jews — not the United States. It is still a function of religious views and teachings outside the Muslim community. Christian teachings have contributed to anti-Semitism for 2,000 years. It draws on themes about Jews being greedy or money-hungry or Christ killers. There is a lot of blame to go around.
NJJN: Do you make a distinction between being critical of Israel and being anti-Semitic?
Morrison: By all means. It is OK to be critical of Israel. People ought to be able to criticize Israel responsibly and fairly, but to the extent it is done excessively or with a double standard, to the extent Israel is delegitimized, or people are obsessed with Israel and find injustice only there, that leads us to wonder whether they have a bias against Israel that reflects anti-Semitism.
NJJN: On a local level, where do you see the anti-Semitism coming from? Kids in school? The Internet? Graffiti on buildings? A desecrated cemetery?
Morrison: All of the above. It can be intended or it can be inadvertent. Obviously, youth account for a large percentage of anti-Semitic vandalism. But the media and the college campuses today can be part of the problem, as well as part of the solution. People in authority — clergy and businesspeople and elected officials — can be part of the problem, as well as part of the solution. It is not a simple issue.
NJJN: Are there ways the Jewish community can address the problem that it has not been doing?
Morrison: The Jewish community has been pretty good about addressing it, to its credit. It needs to do more of the same. It needs to have a sense about what the community is, what its interests are, and how to preserve and protect them. It is not as simple at it once might have been. Jews’ identity has been changing with the generation that was raised on the birth of Israel and the Holocaust. Young people today don’t identify in the same way older folks do, and we’ve seen many Jews in the forefront of the other side regarding Israel.
Secondly, having the ability to pool our resources is another way of fighting the problem. We are a small community, and we have many different points of view. Sometimes there are competing organizations. It is important to pull together. Thirdly, it is important to maintain our identity as citizens in the larger world in which we live and work for the betterment of the broader community. We can’t be isolated, we can’t be insular, we can’t think about it as ‘what’s good for the Jews?’ That is not what needs to guide us.
We need to speak out. There are many Jews who live in smaller communities who feel vulnerable and isolated. They take it on the chin sometimes. Some people experience anti-Semitism for the first time as adults and they are shocked. It is unfortunate. They should be better prepared for the potential of anti-Semitism.