Dismantling antisemitism and the politics of fear and division

Every person — no matter our religion, where we come from, or what we look like — deserves to live with freedom, safety, and belonging. At JUFJ, we know that whether we’re walking down the streets of our neighborhoods or through the doors of our holy spaces, freedom and safety for any of us depends on the freedom and safety of all of us.

The growing power of far-right white Christian nationalist movements is fueling an increase in antisemitic violence and incidents. But Jews aren’t facing these dangers alone. JUFJ organizes in solidarity with other communities who have a shared interest in dismantling white supremacy.

The concept of tzelem elohim — the idea that all people are created in the Divine image and therefore are equally precious and worthy — is central to Judaism. It is so central that our sacred texts declare that destroying even one life is akin to destroying a whole world. JUFJ is sustained and guided by this Jewish value, which calls us to respond to actions that threaten to destroy the life or wellbeing of people in our Jewish community, or of our non-Jewish family, friends, or neighbors.

Safety in Solidarity

Right here in Maryland and DC there are people who want a country that’s only for themselves and people like them, seeking to divide us against each other and make us afraid while they hoard power and wealth. As Jews, we know how dangerous this is: when politicians and public figures target Jewish people and blame us for hard times, it leads directly to violence against us. Antisemitism is part of the machinery of division and fear those people rely on for power; the same machinery they use to blame Black and brown people, people who are immigrants, people who are Muslim, and more. But whether they manufacture division and fear based on our religion, our skin color, or how long we’ve been here, their goal is the same: to keep us from working together to win the things we all need to thrive.

To dismantle this machinery of fear, we must work together in deep relationships. The center of JUFJ’s work is building relationships with our Jewish and non-Jewish community members and organizational partners that are characterized by meaningful connection, trust, mutual respect, and understanding across our differences. That’s why, when we respond to antisemitic speech or actions in DC and Maryland, we attempt to do so in ways that break down the systems of oppression that endanger all marginalized communities, as in the examples below.

What JUFJ Does

Over the past several years, JUFJ has facilitated workshops and trainings on antisemitism and white supremacy across our region. We have participated in public demonstrations and vigils in response to antisemitic incidents, and we have reached out directly to non-Jewish partners and elected leaders to educate them about the nature and history of antisemitic violence and language. Through JUFJ’s work and actions in solidarity with partners we strive to make all of our communities safer from antisemitism, racism, and other mechanisms of oppression.

Beyond public demonstrations and relationship-based approaches to fighting antisemitism, JUFJ opposes ineffective strategies that further divisions and make all of us less safe. For example, JUFJ joins Jewish organizations such as Reconstructing Judaism and Bend the Arc in expressing concern that using the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) Working Definition of Antisemitism for governmental purposes has the impact of chilling and criminalizing free speech of Jews, Palestinians, and other community members, rather than protecting Jewish safety.

It is not on us to finish the work, but we can’t quit either

There is always more work to do to dismantle antisemitism. On the back of our JUFJ shirts is a famous quote from Pirkei Avot (a collection of ethical teachings from our rabbinic ancestors): “It is not on you to finish the work. But you can’t quit either.” The people who use antisemitism as a tool to manufacture division between Jews and our non-Jewish neighbors, and to create fear in Jewish communities represent a real threat. But we won’t quit either. When Jewish people join together with our neighbors across difference, as we have in the past, we can shut down the fear factory and protect each other. When one of us is targeted, we’ll continue to show up for each other, educate ourselves and each other about the different ways our communities are targeted, and reject anyone who tries to use fear to divide us. Together we can build a region that fulfills the promise of freedom and safety for all of us, no exceptions.

To learn more about the history of antisemitism, check out Understanding Antisemitism: An Offering to Our Movement (PDF), by our friends at Jews for Racial and Economic Justice. To get more involved in JUFJ’s work to dismantle antisemitism, racism, and other forms of oppression, meet with one of our organizers.