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  • Avi Abraham Benlolo

Seeing the Forest from the Trees

Updated: Jul 26, 2020

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Avi Benlolo

July 10, 2020


Turmoil and strife continues to spin the world ever faster. We get a daily overdose of information coming at us from differing altitudes and aptitudes. Coronavirus hasn’t helped as people begin to grapple with a sense of helplessness between mixed messages of “opening” and “closing” and everything in between.  That strife has expanded recently and more viciously to a strengthened debate over antisemitism – as the discussion grows exponentially beyond traditional lines.

This week, a new online campaign emerged on twitter-verse called #JewishPrivilege. Meant to be a sarcastic take on the recent anti-discrimination climate, thousands of Jews and non-Jews alike tweeted about losing their families in the Holocaust to being spat at on the street or beaten up for being a Jew and even to having to flee their ancestral Arab country because they are Jewish. In other words, being Jewish has come with an historical cost of suffering through expulsions, inquisitions, pogroms and the Holocaust. Is that a privilege?

But anytime Jews try and defend themselves, the antisemites move to an offensive posture too.

In response to my #JewishPrivilege tweet about the Wansee Conference House in Berlin where the Final Solution was hatched to murder more than 11 million mostly European Jews, one person wrote in plain English: “Nobody is buying that story anymore. Its mundane, old news and rather pathetic at this stage. 99% of us didn’t kill a Jew, we owe Jews NOTHING”. This callous attempt to deny the Holocaust, to deny antisemitism and to deny history itself, is why the world continues to be at an imbalance in all cases of discrimination. 

We witnessed that debate rage on from the highest corridors of the NFL whereby players themselves were learning to address antisemitism as part of a national debate. In response, writing a heartfelt article in the Detroit Free Press, noted writer Mitch Albom expressed frustration about this rising tide of antisemitism: “Silence is compliance.” That’s a popular sentence today. But you can’t be selective with your noise. Not against hate. For all the bigoted garbage stirred up against Jews last week, it was disturbingly quiet out there. We should think twice about why that is”.

Noted players have spoken up in defence of the Jewish community including, Julien Edelman who has previously expressed his pride in his Jewish heritage and said in response: "I'm proud of my Jewish heritage and for me it's not just about religion. It's about community and culture as well."  Edelman correctly saw this as an opportunity to have conversation and learning about the subject of antisemitism and racism. 

Even Holocaust a survivor weighed into the issue with 94 year old Edward Mosberg writing a heartfelt letter and inviting the NFL player to visit the death camps with him. Mosberg’s letter is emotional: “Almost my entire family was murdered by the German Nazis during the Holocaust.  I survived multiple German Nazi death camps, including Mauthausen concentration camp, my late wife was a survivor of Auschwitz-Birkenau”. His invitation was respectfully welcomed and accepted by the NFL player who apologized in a dignified and humble way stating,"Hitler has caused terrible pain to Jewish people like the pain African-Americans have suffered. We should be together fighting anti-Semitism and racism”. 

Education is key to eradicating ignorance. Several years ago, I invited a political candidate who had made disparaging remarks about concentration camps.  Asked by the media if she should resign, I discouraged that result and instead invited her to join me and our group to visit Auschwitz that year. She accepted and had an opportunity to learn about the Holocaust and deeply understand the consequence of hate and intolerance. Rather than subscribing blindly to “cancel culture” – we need to work through these challenges to educate, provide compassion and build understanding.

Today, the former NYPD Commissioner warned that American Jews were in a dangerous place in history. That warning, surely should extend to Jewish people around the world. When Jews like Bari Weiss resign because they are feeling uncomfortable working for the most prominent newspaper in America, that is a problem. In her resignation letter published on her website, she says she has been called a “Nazi and a racist” and has learned to “brush off comments about how I’m writing about the Jews again”. This just shouldn’t happen in America of all places.

Its not just happening in America however. North of the border, there is a growth of antisemitism emanating from anti-Israel groups to the latest report about a group that is calling for the removal of Jews from the country. Every so often, we see this kind of hateful behaviour creep up, but the condemnation from civil society is inadequate. We need to see the cause against antisemitism taken up beyond the Jewish community – at universities, corporations and by religious leaders across the world. 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar seemed to have it right this week in his article addressing antisemitism in sports and Hollywood. He said, “if we’re going to be outraged by injustice, lets be outraged by injustice against anyone”.  In a world in turmoil, we have to try and see the forest from the trees and universalize the human cause against hatred and intolerance – for everyone.ational


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