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The Significant Differences Between Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

Recently, someone was adamant in telling me that Judaism is one of the world’s three largest religions, among Islam and Christianity. I hear this all the time. It’s an incredibly problematic misconception, and reeks of anti-Semitic undertones.

I am all for Jewish-Muslim solidarity, and it’s a huge part of my life. That said, we Jews are not in the same position, globally or nationally. Not nearly. To think we are, or to say that we are, is dangerous, offensive, and makes people completely unaware of how prominent anti-Semitism is.

Quick facts:
• Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the world.
• Jews make up less than 0.2% of the world’s population.
• In 2012, 62.4% of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. were against Jews, 11.6% were against Muslims (According to the FBI).
In 2016, 57% of religiously motivated hate crimes in the U.S. were against Jews, 16% were against Muslims. So when people say crimes against Muslims are on the rise, that is 100% accurate. But keep in mind that number still doesn’t come to close to attacks on Jews.
• There are about 50 Muslim countries.
• There is 1 Jewish country (and only got created after half our population was completely wiped out).

Let me be clear that this isn’t to bash Islam, and this isn’t to say Islamophobia isn’t a problem. It’s a HUGE problem. This is not in any way to pit the two groups against each other.

But let me also be clear: statistically and historically, Jews face challenges and dangers that Muslims and Christians just do not, but still, that is a fact most people ignore. It’s disheartening to see my own liberal-leaning communities completely ignore this reality.

Although Ashkenazi Jews have clear and very real white privilege, we are still affected by the white supremacy of Donald Trump (if you don’t think so, read a history book). Nationwide, we’re one of the smallest minorities, so naturally, only 24% of Jews voted for Trump (the smallest percentage of any group nationwide). That’s because we are well aware of what Trump could do to other minorities, and clearly voted against it. But very few people talked about what he could do to US.

Jews are taught and expected (within our communities and outside of them) to use our Jewish heritage to remember to speak up for others, and all too often we forget to both speak up for ourselves, and hold others accountable to speak up with and for us. But it’s not the job of Jews to use our experience of oppression to fight against the oppression of others when so few others fight against the oppression of Jews. It’s demeaning.

This isn’t to say that we should only fight for others with the expectation that they also fight for us. This is just about common decency, really. In part, it’s our fault this has happened.

Historically, our Jewish communities have always chosen to show strength, even in the worst of times. Yom HaShoah, after all, doesn’t occur on the day when the most Jews were murdered, but on the day when one of the most successful rebellions took place.

So, there’s this double-edged sword: we either show strength, and then can naturally expect that others don’t see us as weak or vulnerable, or we allow ourselves to acknowledge our innate vulnerability, which somewhat strays from tradition and the face we problematically want to put on for the world. That is a simplification, of course. Regardless, maybe it’s time we find a better middle ground between portraying strength, and acknowledging our vulnerability.

If we pretend we’re in a different place than we are, it’s natural for others to assume the same.

But regardless of the face we as Jews choose to show, it ultimately falls upon the shoulders of those who claim to speak up for the disadvantaged and vulnerable. For so long, we’ve given them and ourselves a pass on not discussing anti-Semitism, and I think it’s time we change that.

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