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CONTESTING ANTISEMITISM

In this section, we offer tangible steps to contest antisemitism in ourselves, our circles and our society.

BE PREPARED

In almost everything, preparation is key to success. Standing up to antisemitism can be difficult. Preparing makes it easier and more effective.

 

Often, we know in our gut when something is antisemitic. To successfully confront it, though, we need to be able to articulate how ideas fit into a long history and a complex socio-psychological phenomenon. Here are some steps to prepare ourselves for the work.

 

 

EDUCATE YOURSELF SO YOU CAN EDUCATE OTHERS

 

Antisemitism is different from other forms of discrimination and bias. If we can’t recognize and name something, we can’t contest it. We need to educate ourselves so we can educate others. The resource you are reading is a place to start. (There are links to more resources here.)

 

 

CURATE RELEVANT RESOURCES

 

Having information at hand means you are able to respond quickly when the need arises. Find trusted resources that you can access when you need them. (Upstanders has some here.)

 

LISTEN

 

Being an ally means supporting – not usurping. Listen to Jewish voices, activists and thinkers. Talk to your Jewish friends about these issues. Come at the topic with compassion and empathy. But also … do not rely on others to do the emotional labour of educating you. Plus, you might not know any Jews! Read books, follow relevant news and sites (see Upstanders links for suggestions).

 

Many Jewish people may avoid these topics because they have learned that some people do not approach them in good faith. If you have friends who are open to discussing these topics with you, consider asking these questions:

 

What role does Jewishness play in your life?

 

In what ways does antisemitism impact you and your family?

 

What is your relationship with Israel and Zionism?

 

What do you wish people understood about Jews/Judaism/Jewishness/Israel/Zionism?

 

 
STAY STRONG

 

DON’T TRY TO BE PERFECT

 

Standing up for what is right does not require exhaustive knowledge. You are not required to submit to cross-examinations by people of ill-will. Be prepared to articulate the principles that lead you to your positions. Beyond that, you do not need to defend yourself against interrogators who seek to provoke.

 

DON’T OBSESS

 

We need to stay informed. But we also need to protect our emotional well-being. Set specific times aside to inform yourself, but do not obsess over the news or “doomscroll” social media. If we become overwhelmed and hopeless, we will become overburdened and helpless. Try to maintain positivity — and remember that action is an antidote to despair. Do not share negativity – we know it is tempting to post on social media examples of the worst hatred you see. Don’t! That is not helpful to anyone.

 

CELEBRATE SUCCESSES

 

This is a challenging time for people who care about the well-being of Jewish people. Do not expect to end a millennia-old phenomenon in a day. Be sure to celebrate successes. Realize that progress, while slow, is happening. Look for the helpers. Remind yourself, when things are bleak, that you are among a worldwide network of like-minded people who share your commitment to equality and respect.

 

ACT

DON’T LET IT PASS

 

When someone makes an inappropriate comment, we may be too shocked to react appropriately in the moment. Having verbal responses prepared allows us to react to antisemitic (or other offensive) comments. Have a response handy. (Here are some ideas.)

 

CONTEST UNANIMITY

 

Ensure that people understand there is not unanimity on an issue. When a view is expressed in media, at a public event, in the workplace or wherever you engage, express yourself. You may not be prepared, if it is an in-person event, so just let people know that not everyone agrees. Say something simple that doesn’t raise the level of conflict. Some suggestions here.

 

If a library, college, school, club or church invites a speaker that advances an agenda you disagree with, let them know their actions were observed. If they hear nothing, they will assume no one objects. Object. They might think twice the next time they consider the types of speakers they choose.

 

The most important thing is to let individuals and groups understand that not everyone agrees with them. All of us can find ourselves in a bubble where we conclude our perspective is universal. Encourage others (and yourself) to challenge assumptions.

 

 

INTERVENE AS APPROPRIATE

 

Incidents of harassment can escalate and put the person being harassed and those intervening in danger. The first priority is to ensure the safety of all involved – while not ducking the responsibility to do the right thing.

 

Right To Be has created a guide – the 5D's of Bystander Intervention – to guide people in responding when we see instances of harassment.

 

A few key strategies:

 

Ignore the person who is harassing, and engage directly with the person being harassed. (“Do you know if this bus goes past the library?” “Joanne? I haven’t seen you in so long! How have you been?”).

 

Ask another person to join you in intervening (“Would you mind standing next to me while I ask that person if they are OK?”) or seek out a person of authority: a store manager, bus driver or teacher.

 

Be succinct and firm. (“That’s inappropriate.” “That’s not okay.” “Leave them alone.” “Please stop right now.”)

 

If someone is already helping in the situation, assist by (safely) recording the interaction. Keep your distance. Note the date, time and place. Exchange contacts with the target and other witnesses.

 

Follow up. Ask the person who was harassed what to do with documentation and see that it gets to the right authorities.

 

Share resources. (“Can I help go with you to the police/principal/HR office?” “There is an organization that deals with incidents like this. Can I help you contact them?”) 

 

 

INTERACTING ONLINE

 

A vast proportion of hateful expression (of every variety) takes place online. This is a massive social problem. Almost all of the content in this toolkit is relevant offline or on.

 

There are excellent organizations monitoring and contesting online hate. While the corporate platforms that run these sites have often been unhelpful in taking down hate material, they do depend on millions of individuals to flag inappropriate content — take the opportunity to do so.

 

Canada is currently considering legislation addressing this topic and finding the right balance between free expression and protecting vulnerable individuals and groups is a challenge.

 

Antisemitism is one of the most prevalent forms of online hatred — and those who oppose it are outnumbered exponentially. It is necessary to express disagreement and share alternative viewpoints. However, we should be conscious of the emotional and psychological impacts of online interactions. There is effectively no filter on the hatred that people can project on social media. While every constructive effort to contest it is an important ripple in the ocean, it is, in the end, infinitesimally small. Conversely, the emotional impact of these interactions on individuals can be enormous and debilitating.

 

If you have a thick skin, by all means engage. If you know that these interactions have serious and lasting impact on your well-being, there are a great number of equally or far more impactful ways to have a positive influence. An hour spent arguing online with someone who will never change their opinions can be much more fruitfully applied to almost any of the other examples in this section or volunteering with organizations doing this work.

 

If you choose to engage online, here are some tips.

 

 

CONTEST MICROAGGRESSIONS

 

The prefix “micro” might suggest “microaggressions” are insignificant. They are not. Microaggressions are slights, insults, indignities or other words or actions that are pervasive and, especially because they are so common, have a cumulative impact on the lives of the recipients.

 

Microagressions toward Jews can be especially subtle, in part because they often take the form of presumed compliments (“Jews are so clever”) but these “compliments” often have a negative flip-side (“No one can compete with those people”). This comparative subtlety and seeming triviality makes confronting microaggresions especially challenging. Standing up to microaggressions is often criticized as being “overly sensitive,” “nitpicking” or “not having a sense of humour.”

 

There are a vast number of stereotypes about Jews and the way these pop up in everyday conversation means Jews are subjected to a constant drip of microaggressions. The forms these can take include: Ignoring Jewish experiences in broader discussions of inclusion and discrimination; Flippant and inappropriate invocation of Jewish history, especially the Holocaust; Backhanded “compliments” like “You don’t look Jewish”; Assuming all Jews are rich or “powerful.”

 

Calling out these microaggressions – whether they are directed at you or another person – is important. Be prepared to contest them with simple responses: “That’s not actually funny.” “Why would you say that to her?” “Would you make a comment like that about any other group?”

 

 

IF IT’S NOT FUNNY – SAY SO

 

It is often said that humour has been a vital defence for Jewish people in overcoming challenges. Many jokes involving Jews (or any other identifiable group) are entertaining and harmless. Others are deliberately hurtful and perpetuate destructive, harmful ideas. Humour is deeply subjective. But most people can tell the difference between a harmful and a harmless joke. Calling out cruel humour is not likely to make us popular. But not calling it out can make us complicit. Go with your gut. If you feel a joke is mean-spirited, say so. Don’t laugh. Simply say, “I don’t think that’s funny.” Don't let it pass

 

EXPAND YOUR IMPACT

 

NURTURE RELATIONSHIPS

 

Individuals can have our greatest impact within our circles of influence. Coalition-building between organizations is important – but individual connections are a vital and often overlooked part of social change. Make contesting antisemitism part of your everyday life, at work, among friends and family, wherever you interact.

 

BUILD COMMUNITY

 

Don’t do this alone. Find like-minded friends online and consider creating a private Facebook or WhatsApp group where you share and support one another. Avoiding feelings of isolation and hopelessness is vital to continuing this work. Try to connect regularly, over coffee, on the phone or while walking the dog, with others who share your outlook. (Tip: Talk about how you feel and identify successes and progress. Don’t just share examples of the problems and bad news – that’s debilitating!)

 

 

EMPOWER YOUR CIRCLES OF INFLUENCE

 

You will be surprised at the range of spokes in your wheel of connection. You might think that your circles of influence are not relevant on this topic. The gardening club, your co-op, the Legion, your condo board, your kids’ hockey league — these might seem like unlikely places for antisemitism or anti-Zionism to emerge. But anti-Jewish and anti-Israel activists have infiltrated and co-opted organizations and movements that have nothing to do with these issues. Those who oppose antisemitism and stand with the Jewish people need to be prepared to respond in the most unlikely places.

 

Do an inventory of your relationships and circles of influence. Be prepared to respond when voices with negative agendas attempt to intrude on your kids’ soccer team, the amateur theater troupe, the animal rescue organization you donate to, the homeless shelter you support, the seniors recreation center your parents attend, or the wine-tasting club you belong to.

 

 

BE A CONNECTOR

 

Act as a connector between Jewish agencies and your communities. For example, contact a Holocaust education centre to bring a speaker to your child’s school. For anti-racism events, ensure a Jewish community representative is included by reaching out to both organizers and to Jewish groups. If there is not a large Jewish community nearby, arrange for a video connection. Be sure your Parent Advisory Committee and local library have adequate resources on these issues. Ensure antisemitism is included in workplace discussions of racism and diversity.

 

There are organizations in Canada doing exceptional work to fight antisemitism. To reach the widest audiences, these organizations depend on individuals across the country to be their eyes and invite them to participate in local activities.

 

Familiarize yourself with groups, resources and individuals available nationally and in your community. Then consider opportunities where representatives could be invited to participate or groups could be invited to partner. (Here are some organizations you might consider connecting with.)

 

ADOPT THE 80/20 RULE

 

The trap we often fall into is arguing with people whose minds will never change. To have the greatest impact, we should devote most of our resources — say, 80% — to those who are likely to come over to our side. If you insist on trying to change the minds of people who are entrenched in their positions, limit the amount of effort you put in with them — say, 20%.

 

CALL IN – THEN CALL OUT

 

Don’t assume ill-will. Why presume someone is bigoted when ignorance may be the likeliest explanation? When someone expresses an inappropriate view, call them in. Invite them to become informed. We are trying to make allies, not entrench people in antagonistic positions. Do not alienate potential allies by presuming people come from a place of hostility. They may be coming from a place of ignorance. If, after presented with your considered reasoning, they demonstrate a lack of goodwill, then call them out.

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This page is part of BE AN UPSTANDER: HOW ALLIES CAN RECOGNIZE AND CONTEST ANTISEMITISM.

 

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