Commentary on Political Economy

Tuesday 7 November 2023





For America’s Jews, Every Day Must Be Oct. 8

People wave blue and white Israeli flags.
Credit...Spencer Platt/Getty Images
People wave blue and white Israeli flags.

Opinion Columnist

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There used to be a sign (which, for all I know, is still there) somewhere in the C.I.A.’s headquarters that read, “Every day is Sept. 12.” It was placed there to remind the agency’s staffers that what they felt right after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 — the sense of outrage and purpose, of favoring initiative over caution, of taking nothing for granted — had to be the mind-set with which they arrived to work every day.

There ought to be a similar sign in every Jewish organization, synagogue and day school, and on the desks of anyone — Jewish or not — for whom the security and well-being of the Jews is a sacred calling: “Every day is Oct. 8.”

What was Oct. 8? It wasn’t just the day after the single greatest atrocity against Jews since the Holocaust, an atrocity whose details were impossible to miss because the perpetrators made sure to film them. It was the day when that atrocity was celebrated. Not just in places like Tehran, but also on the streets of Manhattan and on too many college campuses. And it was the day in which, instead of it being universally denounced by institutional leaders, we began to see it often ignored or addressed in belated and carefully parsed statements of regret.

On Oct. 8, Jews woke up to discover who our friends are not.

Our friends are not those members of the Black Lives Matter movement — whose stickers and lawn signs so many American Jews posted in allyship after George Floyd’s murder — who celebrated Oct. 7 with a post extolling the Hamas paragliders who slaughtered Jews at a music festival. B.L.M. chapters later apologized for the since-deleted post, but the apology isn’t accepted. They knew what they were doing.

Our friends are not those in organizations like Jewish Voice for Peace, which helped organize a much-photographed protest at New York’s Grand Central Terminal, and which could hardly bring itself to say a word of condemnation for Oct. 7 before launching into lengthy justifications. Let’s be clear: They and their sibling groups are being used as Jewish beards for aggressive antisemites.

Dozens of demonstrators on a staircase wearing black T-shirts reading “Ceasefire Now” in white letters.
Demonstrators at Grand Central in October.Credit...Bing Guan for The New York Times
Dozens of demonstrators on a staircase wearing black T-shirts reading “Ceasefire Now” in white letters.

Our friends are not those who, until recently, never mentioned that Gazan casualty figures come from a health ministry run by Hamas — a mistake they would never make if, say, they were relaying figures produced by the Russian government. Or who describe the people murdered on Oct. 7 as “Jewish settlers,” never mind that they were living in towns and kibbutzim that are part of sovereign Israel. Or who speak of people who murder babies and kidnap elderly women as “fighters” or “militants.”

Our friends are not at universities where every third building seems to be named for a Jewish benefactor. Schools like Stanford, which now defends the right of students to chant “from the river to the sea” — a call for the annihilation of an entire state — on free speech grounds are often the same places that, only recently, barred a student from campus for “racist social media posts.” Free speech is fine as a standard, not as a double standard.

Our friends are not those in the academic and corporate D.E.I. offices or the diversity trainers who think that Jews don’t count as a minority or who try to shunt Ashkenazi Jews into a “whiteness accountability” group. Diversity that thinks only of race is anti-diversity; inclusion that functionally excludes Jews is not inclusive; equity that treats Jews as second-class victims is not equitable. This should be axiomatic.

Our friends are not in the universe of people represented by the likes of Tucker Carlson and the guests on his show. Under the guise of a prudential foreign policy, the neo-isolationist right is morphing into the anti-Israel left, repeating its tropes that Israel is “annihilating Gaza.” These are the people whose thinking would be mainstreamed by a second Trump term.

The list could be longer. Knowing who our friends aren’t isn’t pleasant, particularly after so many Jews have sought to be personal friends and political allies to people and movements that, as we grieved, turned their backs on us. But it’s also clarifying. More than 3,800 years of Jewish history keeps yielding the same bracing lesson: In the long run, we’re alone.

What can Oct. 8 Jews do? We can stop being embarrassed, equivocal or defensive about Zionism, which is, after all, one of the world’s most successful movements of national liberation. We can call out anti-Zionism for what it is: a rebranded version of antisemitism, based on the same set of libels and conspiracy theories. We can exit the institutions that have disserved us: “Defund the academy” is a much better slogan than defund the police.

Jewish America abounds with dreamers and entrepreneurs who took crazy risks in their careers to find value and create things that never existed before. It’s time they apply the same talent and energy to creating new institutions that hew to genuinely liberal values, where Jews need never be afraid. In time, the rest of America may follow.

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