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Did Biden just say the U.S. can’t protect Jews?

JVP praying rotunda

Yesterday, President Biden reiterated one of his favorite defenses of an indefensible policy: arming a state committing genocide. During a Hanukkah event at the White House, he claimed that “were there no Israel, there wouldn’t be a Jew in the world who is safe.”

This is a stunning thing to say for a man leading a country with 7.6 million Jews, the world’s second largest Jewish population. 

Even if this statement were true, we reject any notion of safety that requires the murder and displacement of Palestinians. But it’s also hopelessly false; in fact, this rhetoric puts both Palestinians and Jews in more danger. 

For the president of the U.S. to claim that it is only the existence of another country that keeps Jews safe is to imply that the seven million Jews who live in the U.S. are not at home here, and cannot hope to be kept safe by their own government. 

This is antisemitism: invoking the idea of the Jews as not really belonging, degrading the homes that we have made in the diaspora for millenia. And this is how antisemitism is exploited, and Jews are ultimately used as political pawns — a sitting U.S. president invoking Jewish fear and trauma in order to defend the U.S. government’s arming of a genocidal state, all in order to further U.S. imperialism.

At the exact same time, we’re watching a new McCarthyism play out in real time, one carried out in the name of “fighting antisemitism” — but which will make Jews much less safe.

The New McCarthyism?

During a congressional hearing last week, the Presidents of Harvard, UPenn, and MIT were called to testify — and asked whether calls for the genocide of Jews would violate their universities’ code of conduct.

The subsequent exchanges quickly went viral, with members of Congress, anti-Palestinian groups like the ADL, and even the White House condemning the university presidents for what they claim was their failure to protect their Jewish students.

There’s just one problem: No one is calling for the genocide of Jews on university campuses. 

As Israel carries out a genocide against Palestinians in Gaza, right-wing forces in this country are using the specter of antisemitism to crack down on calls for ceasefire, and to crush campus activism. And we know all too well that when the right attacks some of us and succeeds, it’s not long before they come for the rest of us.

Even more dystopian was the resolution introduced in the House on December 4, which would establish a congressional commission tasked with combating antisemitism, and with the power to issue subpoenas requiring “witnesses” to testify and produce evidence — effectively a modern-day House Un-American Activities Committee.

A controversial and dangerous definition of antisemitism

On the same day of the congressional hearing, the House passed a dangerous resolution that equates anti-Zionism with antisemitism. This resolution was wildly right-wing and off-base in a number of ways, but here are the highlights:

  1. This resolution is an explicit threat to anyone criticizing the state of Israel. Palestinians would be especially targeted, but it would apply to Jews and others.
  2. It distracts from the work of fighting real antisemitism. The right-wingers leading the witch hunt against student activists are decidedly less interested in combating the rise of white nationalism, the greatest threat to Jewish safety. That’s not a coincidence.
  3. It puts a target on the back of all Jews. Blaming all Jewish people for the actions of the Israeli government is antisemitic. Now, our elected officials are doing the inverse by insisting that the state of Israel, which is currently carrying out as genocide in Gaza, is synonymous with Jews and Judaism.

This is what we know: There is no Jewish safety that comes at the expense of the Palestinian people. Nor can it be found in state surveillance, censorship, more funding for the police, or arms for an apartheid state. All people deserve to be safe in our homes — and there is no freedom to be found for any of us by instrumentalizing the lives of some people in order to kill others.

Understanding what antisemitism is — and isn’t.

Join JVP, PARCEO, Jewish Currents, and Haymarket Books on Wednesday, December 13 at 1:30pm ET for a conversation about what antisemitism is — and how we fight it through the lens of collective liberation.

How Zionism feeds antisemitism

In the Nation, Dave Zirin explains why we have to address Zionism if we ever hope to succeed in combatting antisemitism.

Power Half-Hours for Gaza.

Every day at 3pm ET/12pm PT, JVP hosts Power Half-Hours for Gaza. Sign up now to take collective action toward a ceasefire alongside hundreds of other people like you. The same link will work every day, Monday through Friday. 

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