I spend summers with my family in a small village in upstate New York, where my nearest neighbors raise chickens on their front lawn and fly a Confederate flag on their front porch. I have seen the man of the house sometimes parade in his yard in army fatigues. They have never been overly friendly. After they once refused to do us a "Shabbos Goy" favor on a Friday night, we did not ask them again. But we have never had any other reason to dislike them. And when the Charlottesville debacle overlapped with our summer vacation, we still had no reason to fear them.
I was far more fearful when I walked the streets of Manhattan with my teenage son wearing his Make America Great Again cap both before and after President Trump won the election. And I was far more agitated when both my daughter and I were accosted on different occasions in our Brooklyn neighborhood by a black woman shouting anti-Semitic obscenities at us during that period.
While flying Confederate flags may or may not indicate white supremacist proclivities, let alone a penchant for violence, the burning of American flags by antifa and Black Lives Matter protestors almost always signals a hatred for what America stands for. The frequent brutality of such mobs, the silencing of dissenters through scare tactics, and the sanctioning of force against bystanders and police pose a greater threat in terms of sheer numbers and destruction.
BLM and Antifa activists who hurl stones, set fires, and make indiscriminate use of pepper spray are far more intimidating than KKK misfits who brandish rifles, the lone lunatic who rammed his car into protestors in Charlottesville notwithstanding.
With the escalating polarization of American politics, Jews are increasingly besieged by extremists on both sides of the political divide. The Jew is viewed as both subjugator and oppressed, world dominator and universal scapegoat. Jews can now take their choice of hearing white nationalists warn "Jews will not replace us" or leftist agitators yell "occupiers." In either case the extremists are sure to add the wish for Jews to "burn in ovens."
No course on our college campuses is enough to educate the confused liberal American Jewish student. He knows not whether he should be running to or from "safe spaces," or if he is being "triggered" or is the "trigger." Jews who join BDS groups in a misguided pursuit of social justice can still find themselves spurned and labeled "Zionist pig." And Jews who take up the cause of feminism are certain to be confronted by the likes of anti-Israel activist Linda Sarsour, who claims feminism is incompatible with Zionism.
The answer surely is not the trendy re-emergence of the yellow Star of David, worn at a concert shortly after Charlottesville by the Jewish-born singer Billy Joel, a self-proclaimed atheist who was baptized and attended a Roman Catholic Church while growing up. The donning of the yellow star by Joel and a few copycat Jews at the MTV Video Music Awards several days later is more than simple exploitation of the Holocaust and Holocaust survivors. It is a distortion of the ultimate historical tragedy on the part of progressives who live to champion victimhood – but who do so with exquisite selectivity.
These performers never wore a blue-and-white star while Jews in Israel were attacked by Islamic terrorists in intifada after intifada and war after war. Where is their yellow star when Jews in Europe are targeted and anti-Semitic BDS groups threaten Jews on college campuses across America? Where was the outrage earlier this summer when a California imam, Ammar Shahin, preached in a Friday sermon, "Oh Allah, liberate the Al-Aqsa Mosque from the filth of the Jews…annihilate them down to the very last one"?
This warped and selective approach to moral and geopolitical issues blinds Jewish progressives to the fact that support for Israel as their Jewish homeland and the only safe haven for Jews is the most important badge they should be wearing.
Indeed, the only credible takeaway from Billy Joel's yellow star is that Jew haters don't distinguish between deeply observant and completely secular Jews. Which is an axiom these non-believers themselves find hard to believe.
The persistent identification of liberal Jews with the very groups that threaten them the most testifies to their alienation from their own people and religion – and that's something no number of yellow stars can offset.
How else to explain the refusal of dozens of non-Orthodox rabbis to participate in an annual Rosh Hashanah conference call with the president as their way of punishing Mr. Trump for his Charlottesville response – while at the same time these self-proclaimed paragons of virtue maintained a deafening silence over Senator Kirsten Gillibrand's withdrawal last month of her sponsorship of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, an anti-BDS bill?
That this Democratic senator from New York, home to the largest Jewish population in America, felt politically secure in reversing her support from a bipartisan, AIPAC-supported legislation, which she co-sponsored in order to protect Jews, should be far more ominous a threat than some white supremacists protesting the removal of a Confederate statue in Virginia. Yet we heard not a peep of condemnation from liberal rabbis, who seemingly will never criticize a politician from the party that nearly elected Keith Ellison as head of its national committee.
What a difference an election makes. Had Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders been sitting in the White House, it is highly doubtful that antifa or BLM would have deemed the protest of a few hundred white nationalists worthy of a counter protest. But Confederacy mania took hold only after Trump's victory. While violence is never justified, there is a clear answer to the politically charged and consequential question of which came first: The KKK demonstration followed months of leftist agitation, not the other way around.
Context must be noted, if for no other reason than the certainty that events like Charlottesville will be repeated as long as Trump is president. While Harvey, Irma, DACA, and North Korea have stolen the spotlight from Charlottesville, leftist agitators lurk behind every national event waiting for a chance to pounce, often violently, on Trump and his supporters, sometimes justifiably, oftentimes not. And, in predictable historical fashion, Jews almost always get hurt in the scuffle.
The first line of defense should be the ability and willingness to identify and fight the real enemy. I for one intend to remain on good terms with my upstate neighbor next summer.