Within a week, Pope Francis and two prominent black men took steps that can only benefit the Jewish people in a follow-up, perhaps coincidental, to a rally of Jews and others who gathered near Capitol Hill to protest anti-Semitism.
The July 11 event in Washington, D.C., with an estimated 3,200 people at most, is hardly a resounding triumph in and of itself. I even yawned watching TV snippets of the demonstration.
What is critical are these elements: that organizers launched a coordinated drive against anti-Semitism; organizers appear to be persistent in expanding upon it; and allies acted to help the Jewish community, the latter step of which appears to be coincidental. Who knows?
This past Friday, Pope Francis repudiated an earlier decree by Pope Benedict XVI, who in 2007 made it easier to use the Latin Mass by restricting its use which is favored by traditionalist Catholics calling for converting Jews and that until 2008 included a reference to Jewish “blindness.”
U.S. Rep. Kweisi Mfume and Israel supporter Dumisani Washington criticized Black Lives Matter for injecting anti-Israel attacks into its platform.
None of this will produce an overnight transformation in the lives of Jewish people, but they comprise a helpful start. Melissa Landa, founding director of Alliance for Israel, made it clear that this campaign has a future, even if the prospects are too vague at this stage.
In an email, Landa wrote, “Many attendees and their guests repeated the same question throughout the event: what’s next? As we reflect on yesterday’s success and plan our own next steps, we urge you to share the following resources with your friends, rabbis, and other, relevant networks. Please cherish, as we will, the insights from the incredible conversations of the weekend and the relationships built upon the beliefs of peace, security, and resilience against all forms of hate.”
It is hard to grasp what can be done in any organized manner. Leadership like that displayed by Landa and the other 20-plus at the rally will be necessary, but most of the work can only be accomplished in small ways among us little people.
This situation is reminiscent of George H.W. Bush’s plea for a “thousand points of light” to save us and George W. Bush’s plot for the “armies of compassion” to continue the struggle. Such silly semantics allowed the Bush presidents to avoid use of the massive federal government to solve the nation’s problems.
But these elements can work in reverse for Team Landa. Organizers of this drive have no massive bureaucracy at their disposal to do anything substantive. Landa offers a list of 10 actions anyone can take for the herculean task of reducing anti-Semitism.
It must come down to us little people on the ground. That is where the anti-Semitism is thickest.
Change can evolve in these small ways if people will take advantage of opportunities that come their way. I can see how personal engagement will make a difference in measured ways. Speaking with people who criticize the Jewish people in certain respects could lead to changed minds.
Sure, some people hold hardened attitudes that can never be dented, and most are not going to be easily persuaded, but it can ultimately dampen anti-Semitism.
Those who bash Israel can be grouped in different segments. Some are single-minded in their advocacy for the Palestinians and others exploit the opportunity to channel their anti-Semitism, and most genuinely believe that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is a matter of black and white – literally. Jews are oppressing Palestinians just as the white establishment here oppresses the black community.
The reality is there are all kinds of shades of gray – figuratively. Our role is to bone up on the issue and explain those shades, without making excuses for either side. After all, the Israeli leadership offered Yasser Arafat an independent state 21 years ago and he rejected it. Many Palestinians do not care about social justice but about ruling all the land, as in the call of “From the River to the Sea.”
The trick is to get that through to the idealistic members of the anti-Israel corner, who vastly outnumber the hard cases. At the very least, one can seed doubt in their minds to the point that more of them drop out of the movement in the not-too-distant future. The Palestinian activists sought out this segment in the first place to build their strength, and the loss of these people will drain their efforts.
I have seen it work. Readers have apologized to me for making false assumptions about some of my writings on Israel. It was only a few, but prompting a few people to reconsider their views is progress.
Another suggestion is to pressure law enforcement to prosecute pro-Palestinian groups who violate the law. This has been a consistent problem I have noticed during the last several years. They disrupt gatherings, threaten people and vandalize facilities in America and Canada because they figure they can get away with it.
Criminal suspects in a case balked when a prosecutor in Orange County, California, would not let them get away with interrupting a speech given by Michael Oren, then Israel’s ambassador to the United States, at the University of California-Irvine campus. They do not like having to account for themselves, and the more they must do that the weaker they will become.
So much for comparing themselves to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who accepted prison stays as part of the territory in fighting for civil rights.
I wonder if a few people in high-level positions were paying attention during the rally. Perhaps it was up to fate a few days later when Kweisi Mfume, who represents parts of Baltimore in Congress, sniped at Black Lives Matter’s anti-Israel provisions, telling a reporter for Jewish Insider, “There were a number of agendas that were starting to creep into the Black Lives (Matter) movement that had nothing to do with Black lives.
“But they found a way to creep in and they mixed messages. And it was difficult for persons who are caught up in the movement and the pureness of the movement to always decipher and say, ‘Now, that’s not what we’re about, or are we really agreeing to the same thing? I just think that those persons, who are opportunists, who wanted to create several different agendas, found a way to do it.”
In the same vein, Dumisani Washington, founder and CEO of the Institute for Black Solidarity with Israel, wrote in his email, “The moment Black Lives Matter championed the anti-Israel, pro-BDS cause, or blamed Israel for police brutality, exploiting people’s pain and grief, everyone should’ve seen through the façade. As a partial result of BLM’s campaign against Israel, anti-Semitism in the U.S. is at never before-seen levels.”
Washington issued this statement when promoting the documentary “Inside Black Lives Matter – A BLM Expose.”
And then Pope Francis limited use of the Latin Mass, a form of liturgy recited on Good Friday that included a “prayer for the Jews” calling for their conversion to Christianity and referred to the Jews’ “blindness.”
Citing an Associated Press article, JTA reported Francis restricted use of the Latin Mass that those who favor it also reject Vatican II which declared in a historic 1965 document that the Jews were not guilty of killing Jesus and condemned anti-Semitism.
We can wonder how these instances came about in the week following the rally in Washington. Coincidence? Did any of them voluntarily act in response? Did someone request their intervention? Whatever the reason, their actions can only help.
The involvement of the American Jews can spur many other allies to stand with us, much more than many already do. After all, if we will not stand up for ourselves, why should anyone else?