Josh Block Sermon | Congregation Beth Am

Josh Block Sermon

By Josh Block on
October 5, 2018

Good evening ladies and gentlemen (Rabbi Marder, the host committee,
and especially Helene Lipton and Joanne Donsky. It is
truly special to be home, here in Beth Am, and it is
wonderful to be joined my so many of you who have
played such a sustaining role my life and that of my
family.

I’m honored to be with you tonight, and to be able to
start an important conversation with you. I promise we
can talk about the media, but first I want to ask you
something else.

What do you think of when you hear the word “antiSemitism”?

For most us, there is a reflexive tendency to think about
anti-Semitism as something that is propagated by the
Alt-right – white supremacy, the KKK, neo-Nazi groups,
etc. That version of anti-Semitism was on full display
during the violent protests that rocked Charlottesville
last year. For us, Charlottesville was like muscle
memory. We’ve seen it before and we know exactly
what it means.

Unfortunately, it’s making a comeback. And while this
phenomenon may not be new, what is new – and what 
truly disturbs me – is the way this kind of hate has
moved beyond the radical fringes and into the
mainstream. Just in case anyone doubts that, let me
share a few examples with you:

1. How many of you in this room have ever heard the
two reasons: The first are his recent statements –
that “God is a white supremacist,” and that “all
Jews descend from Satan.” The second is the fact
that he won the GOP primary to run for a seat in
North Carolina’s statehouse with 65% of the vote.

2. How about Steve West? West hosts a YouTube
channel where he claimed that “Hitler was right”
and said that Jewish cabals harvest baby parts from
Planned Parenthood. Mr. West just won the GOP
primary for a seat in the Missouri Statehouse by
more than 25 points.

3. Then there is John Fitzgerald, a California
Republican who received 23 percent of the vote to
finish second in the June primary for California’s
11th Congressional District. For those of you not
familiar with the state’s congressional boundaries,
that’s right here in your backyard (Costa Contra
County). 

4. Fitzgerald’s qualification for the state’s general
election makes him the latest in a series of highprofile
extremist candidates across the nation —
including Arthur Jones, a Holocaust denier
described as a Nazi by the Illinois Republican Party.
Mr. Jones won the Republican congressional
primary in March in a heavily Democratic district
that includes part of Chicago. In Wisconsin, a white
nationalist and anti-Semite, Paul Nehlen, is running
for Speaker Paul Ryan’s vacated House seat.

While all of us are disgusted by these developments,
they do not produce shock and awe. That’s because
they fit into a world view that has been conditioned to
identify and process this very recognizable and
undisguised form of hatred. We know it when we see it.

But what happens when the hate comes from
somewhere unexpected, somewhere much closer to
home? What happens when it comes from your friends
and allies and is disguised as something else?

The Chicago Dyke March is one of several events
organized by Chicago’s LGBT community as part the
city’s annual Pride Weekend. Last year, several
marchers carrying Pride flags bearing the Star of David 
were asked to leave the march. The controversy that
followed led organizers of the event to issue a
statement in which they explained their reasons.
Apparently, The Star of David was “triggering” people,
and making others feel “unsafe” and “threatened,” at an
event the organizers said was “pro-Palestinian.” The
expelled marchers were “disrupting” chants by replacing
the word “Palestine” with “everywhere.” Oh, and they
were “Zionists,” in other words, they demanded equal
rights for Jewish people at an event that prided itself for
its “tolerance.” Think about that. The audacity of asking
Jews — and only Jews — to renounce their symbols.

Ladies and gentlemen, that’s also anti-Semitism.

This new form of anti-Semitism, which is being
propagated by elements of the Alt-left, has a name. I’m
talking about the pseudo-academic concept of
‘intersectionality.’ For those of you who haven’t heard
of it before, it’s one of the most significant challenges
facing our community.

Intersectionality is the radical academic theory which
holds that all forms of social oppression are inexorably
linked. It has become a code word for anti-American,
anti-Western, anti-Israel and anti-Semitic bigotry.

Nowhere has adoption of this radical paradigm been
more pronounced than on college campuses where, in
the name of "identity politics" and "solidarity,"
intersectionality has forced artificial coalitions between
causes that have nothing to do with each other except a
hatred for their fellow students who are "privileged"
because they are white, heterosexual, male and
especially Jewish.

The linking of unrelated "victimizations," despite their
tenuous connections, is reflective of a broader trend in
hard-left politics, whereby increasingly, radical activists
demand that the demonization of "Zionists"—often
used as a euphemism for Jews – be included, indeed
featured, in the package of causes that must be
embraced by anyone claiming the label of "progressive."

And that’s exactly what makes this form of far-left antiSemitism
so dangerous and so insidious – it is cloaked in
the language of progressive idealism and far more
nuanced than traditional Alt-right anti-Semitism.

The methodology is clear: anti-Israel groups are working
strategically to infiltrate minority rights organizations,
Christian communities and others, attempting to portray
themselves as victims, draw false parallels and switch
people from neutral or pro-Israel to anti-Israel.

Let me provide you with some other examples:

1. How many of you have heard of Linda Sarsour?
Linda Sarsour is an intersectional feminist and one
of the organizers of the Women's March on
Washington. She openly supports anti-Israel
Muslim groups that tolerate, if not accept, the
"honor killings" and genital mutilation of women.
Because of her association with the Women’s
March and other causes, Sarsour is viewed by many
- including the New York Times - as a legitimate
representative of the oppressed and
disenfranchised. Here’s the truth: Linda Sarsour is
an anti-Semite and BDS supporter who once posed
for a photo with a former Hamas operative. She
often uses the hashtags #BDS and #FreePalestine
on her tweets and once tweeted that “Nothing is
creepier than Zionism.” Believe it or not, Sarsour
has encouraged Muslims not to “humanize” Israelis
and charged there’s no room in the feminist
movement for those who support Israel’s right to
exist.

Imagine if Sarsour had made those comments
about any other minority. The Left would be up in
arms. But because Jews are increasingly seen as 
persona non-grata among America’s far Left,
Sarsour is celebrated as a heroine of the
progressive movement, while her fellow Women’s
March leader, Tamika Mallory, shamelessly
embraces the anti-Semitic leader of the Nation of
Islam, Louis Farrakhan. That’s not progressive,
that’s fascist.

Similarly, Jewish Voices for Peace – an organization
that calls for "an end to violence against civilians,
and peace and justice for all peoples of the Middle
East" – invited Rasmieh Odeh, a member of the
Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP)
and convicted terrorist, to appear as a speaker at
its national conference. The idea of Odeh – a
terrorist who quite literally has blood on her hands
– speaking for a Jewish organization that claims to
propagate peace, flies in the face of logic.

There are many other examples of radical leftists
conflating and linking unrelated grievances.
Consider the Black Lives Matter activists who
visited Gaza to express solidarity with the terrorist
group Hamas. While BLM claims to disavow
violence in securing its political objectives, many of
its most prominent members are far more eager to
criticize the "Israeli genocide of Palestinians" than 
to criticize Hamas for using rockets to target Israeli
civilians, or even mention the hundreds of Israelis
who have been murdered in acts of Hamas
terrorism.

The Black Lives Matter movement blindsided its
Jewish supporters with the unveiling of its social
and political policy agenda, a far-left manifesto that
strays well beyond police brutality and accuses
Israel of “genocide” and “apartheid.”

The strong anti-Israel language stunned progressive
Jews, many of whom had expressed support for the
BLM movement’s protests against shootings by
police of unarmed black men. Again,
intersectionality at work.

As I said earlier, nowhere has the radical paradigm
of intersectionality been more pronounced than on
college campuses. We tend to think of the problem
as confined to anti-Israel student groups, but the
virus of anti-Semitism and the vilification of Zionism
is spreading rapidly among faculty as well.
Joy Karega, a professor at Oberlin College, one of
the most prestigious institutes of higher education
in the country, shared a series of Facebook posts
claiming that Jews or Israelis control much of the 
world and are responsible for the 9/11 and Charlie
Hebdo attacks, as well as the rise of ISIS.
One of the posts she shared shortly after the 2015
Charlie Hebdo shooting in France included an
image of an ISIS terrorist pulling off a mask
resembling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu. The picture includes graphic text
implying that the murder of cartoonists was a
“false flag” conspiracy designed to stop French
support for Palestinians.

After a full court press by multiple pro-Israel
organizations – including The Israel Project –
Karega was fired and the university’s president was
forced to resign. I wish I could tell you this was an
isolated case, but it’s not.

Earlier this month, it emerged that Professor John
Cheney-Lippold of the American Culture
Department at the University of Michigan refused
to write a letter of recommendation for a student
because she would be studying abroad in Israel.
These are just 2 examples. The problem is a serious
one and we all need to work together to address it.
We also need to do more to support pro-Israel 
students who are fighting this battle on the front
lines.

Intersectional feminists and gay-rights activists refusing
to condemn the pervasive sexism and homophobia in
the Arab world is not just ironic or hypocritical, it’s
insane. As we all know, anyone who is truly on the side
of human justice should stand with us in fighting against
those on the anti-Zionist left who are manipulating wellintentioned
people into perpetuating hatred of the most
oppressed people in history. Increasingly, these radical
elements try and force other progressives to embrace a
wide variety of causes, regardless how unrelated they
may be – as long as they also condemn Israel.

And if that doesn’t scare you, then all you need to do is
take a close look across the Atlantic to see where all this
can lead. In Britain, the stakes have never been higher
for the Jewish community. British Labor Party Leader
Jeremy Corbyn’s relentless obsession with Israel has
created a dangerous climate of apathy towards antiSemitism
in the country. The problem is serious enough
that recent polling suggests nearly 40 percent of British
Jews would “seriously consider” emigrating if he ever
became Prime Minister.

By deliberately blurring the lines between anti-Semitism
and legitimate criticism of Israel, the Corbyn-Effect has
shaken British Jewry to its core, with an impact felt far
beyond the borders of Britain. In fact, the rhetoric
deployed by Corbyn and his supporters is remarkably
similar to the language used by the international
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign
against Israel. The Boycotters openly advocate for a full
Palestinian right of return – from the river to the sea –
which is code for a one-state solution that would not
include Jews.

In an article for the anti-Israel website Mondoweiss, a
prominent BDS supporter in Britain wrote that “The
Holocaust has been employed shamelessly by Israel and
the extermination of European Jewry is the principal
argument that is used to justify the creation of the State
of Israel.” This mindset resonates in Corbyn’s circles.
Earlier this month, a senior union boss and close ally of
Corbyn said at a Palestinian Solidarity Campaign event
that Israel created the anti-Semitism issue – “a story
that does not exist” – in order to distract attention from
“atrocities” against Palestinians.

And then there is Corbyn’s own flirtation with antiSemitism.
At a 2013 event hosted by the Palestinian
Return Center, he compared Israel to the Nazis, and a 
year later participated in a controversial wreath-laying
ceremony in Tunisia at the grave of a terrorist behind
the massacre of Israeli athletes in Munich.

Corbyn also claimed that British-born Jews fail to be fully
English. Zionists, he said, “clearly have two problems.
One is that they don’t want to study history, and
secondly, having lived in this country for a very long
time, probably all their lives, they don’t understand
English irony, either.” Activist Ewa Jasiewicz, who
desecrated the walls of the Warsaw ghetto with 'Free
Gaza and Palestine' graffiti, was described by Corbyn as
“a very good friend.”

This should be a major concern to us all. The CorbynEffect
has parachuted extreme anti-Jewish and antiIsrael
sentiments from the obscure fringes of the
political spectrum into the mainstream. That virus has
already reached the shores of the United States and it’s
a disease that is metastasizing rapidly.

This hijacking of progressive ideals by anti-Semites is
outrageous. I am also alarmed that anti-Semitism
appears to be no longer a marginal phenomenon on the
Left and that candidates espousing such views are
climbing the ranks within a party which, historically, has
been the natural political home of Jews.

If you think I’m exaggerating the problem, then just
think about Ilhan Omar, a Democratic representative in
Minnesota’s House of Representatives who tweeted,
“Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the
people and help them see the evil doings of Israel,”
which she described as “Satanic.” Ms. Omar is all but
certain to win a U.S. congressional seat in November.
This trend can’t be allowed to continue. Make no
mistake, this is a war for the soul of the progressive
movement, AND WE ABSOLUTELY CANNOT AFFORD TO
LOSE IT.

The issues I have laid out before you tonight are as
complex as they are disturbing.
As our community searches for an answer, I want to
leave you with some things to think about.
First, I would like to ask all of you a question – not to be
answered right now – but something that I hope all of
you will ask yourself in a quiet moment: Do our own
prejudices factor into the equation as we search for an
effective response to the problem?

Let me put it another way. How many of you were more
disturbed by President Trump’s silence in the wake of
Charlottesville then you were at finding out that two
leaders of the Washington Women’s March – Linda
Sarsour and Tamika Mallory – are hardcore anti-Semites
who despise Israel?

Yes, that’s an uncomfortable question, but it needs to
be asked because our enemies on both the left and the
right would like nothing more than to see us fight
amongst ourselves. It’s called DIVIDE and CONQUER,
and it’s happening right before our very eyes.

It’s easy to vilify someone or something you already
dislike, but what happens when your allies and friends,
some of whom you may agree with on just about every
other issue, suddenly attack Israel unfairly, or behave in
a way that you believe is anti-Semitic.

Just imagine how difficult it is for Jewish youth. More
and more younger Jews are becoming alienated from
Israel. Jews who question Israel's current path –
settlement building, the Nation State Law, etc. – are
vilified by the right, and those who support the right's
position can be made uncomfortable by those on the
"left," especially on college campuses. Many opt out of
the conversations for those reasons, and that’s tragic. 

But there are also many "older" ones like us that are
extremely concerned about the path that Israel is on
now, and where things will lead without a change in
leadership.

Having said that, we need to remind ourselves as a
community to respect the right of Israelis to make their
own decisions and elect their own governments. The
cult of personality is powerful, but the U.S.-Israel
relationship works because of shared values, shared
interests and a bipartisan consensus that Israel is an
important friend and ally. As our enemies seek to
destroy that consensus, we need to keep a few things in
mind.

People may have strong feelings about BB or President
Trump, but that has to be irrelevant to their support for
Israel. There is only one Israel and we don’t get the
luxury of being supportive one year and not the next.
Friends are there in sunny days and rainy days.

Half or more of the Israeli public voted against BB, and
yet Israel still needs foreign aid, still needs Iron Dome to
protect its population against rocket and missile attacks,
and still needs our support at the UN to counter the
world body’s relentless attacks against the Jewish State.
Predicating all of your support for Israel over the IsraelPalestinian
conflict, or because BB wins elections, or 
because politicians in Israel from Left to Right agree with
the decisions Trump is making, is more about our own
self-centered issues. And while the rest of the world is
busy telling the worst version of the truth blended with
lies, the Left in this country is making Jewish kids
uncomfortable in their own skin — not because of the
reality in Israel — but because people here won’t call
out the lies from our own politically driven community.
I love and support both countries, but that doesn’t
mean I always agree with the political decisions of those
who get elected.

Calling out anti-Semitism amongst your enemies is
important, but calling it out amongst your friends is also
critical. For me, the hardest thing is to say nothing.
Ladies and gentlemen, silence means approval. I WILL
NOT BE SILENT!!

That’s why I do what I do and why The Israel Project
does what it does – fight for the truth with facts. We
ensure that stories about Israel aren’t poisoned by the
lies and anti-Semitic innuendo peddled by those seeking
to delegitimize and destroy Israel. We speak out. But we
cannot do this alone.

Today I’m asking that you do the same. Here’s why:
According to the ADL, there are more people running for
elected office in this country who espouse anti-Semitic
views than ever before. In fact, 2017 saw a 60% 
increase in acts of assault, harassment and vandalism
against Jews and Jewish institutions.

That MUST change, and we can no longer afford the
luxury of remaining silent just because it makes us feel
uncomfortable to speak out and disagree with people
we care about, or with whom we share common values.
One of the things I struggle with every day is trying to
figure out how to talk with my children about this – to
be proud of their heritage and identity, but also to
understand why some people will always hate them for
it. Here is what I tell them:

Jews have faced – and continue to face – enormous
obstacles just to be treated like everyone else. We have
confronted anti-Semitism in the US (e.g., college quotas,
workplace discrimination) and overseas (inability to own
land, prohibition from living in cities, pale of settlement)
Even so, we persisted, and we survived – and more.
Jewish thought and Jewish innovation provided the
bedrock for Western civilization, e.g., concepts of
human dignity, rule of law, property rights, protecting
Western civilization.

We were also the longest-surviving refugees in history –
an aboriginal people who were expelled from their
homeland, the Land of Israel, and hounded for centuries
until the creation of the modern Jewish state.

In other words, Zionism is the original national liberation
movement. 100 years ago, Jews were being slaughtered
in pogroms. 75 years ago, they were being slaughtered
in gas chambers. But 70 years ago, we threw off the
colonial yoke (the British, but also, by extension, all the
imperial powers that ruled our homeland since Rome).
How cool is that!! We’re history’s greatest survivors –
yet by persisting, by fighting for our values, our
contributions to Western and human civilization have
been immense and fundamental. And in achieving the
rebirth and development of the State of Israel, we’ve led
the way for other oppressed peoples around the world.
We’re a success story that they can emulate – resisting
centuries of hate and repression by the world’s
privileged groups/peoples, and ultimately overcoming
them.

That’s what we must get our kids to realize!! It’s so
amazing, and so inspiring, to be part of a people (the
Jewish people) who have faced the worst the hatemongers
could conceive of but who have now prevailed
over this oppression and hate to liberate our homeland
and end our history of being downtrodden, despised
refugees.

And we still face hate – the hate of the neo-Nazi right
and of the anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist Left.

Yet we’re still working to make the world a better place
and to advance human justice – in America and around
the world, in Israel and even in our dispute with the
Palestinians who seek to deny the Jewish people’s
aboriginal rights, our ties to our homeland, our right to
stand tall.

Our kids should be immensely proud to be part of that!
And they should have this pride and understanding as
ammo to fight back against the “intersectionality antiSemites”.
Jews are human-justice campaigners on a multimillennial
scale.

We’ve been fighting “privilege and oppression” for centuries
– and still 19 are.

All who are truly on the side of human justice should
stand with us in fighting against those (the anti-Zionist
left) who are manipulating well-intentioned people into
perpetuating hatred of the most oppressed people in
history!!

Our fate is in OUR hands, but we will have to fight for it.
No one is going to fight for us and no one is going to
speak out for us. We need to rise to the occasion, like
we always have in the past. Today is no different than
yesterday, except we have learned one thing – the price
of remaining silent. 

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