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Michael L. Millenson Headshot

End the 'Jew Tax'

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When I was in high school, my synagogue was firebombed, as was another about 20 miles away. A couple of years after I finished college, one of our synagogue members was held hostage by Arab militants who took over the building housing the Jewish organization where he worked.

I didn't grow up in Paris or Paraguay, but in a quiet suburb of Washington, D.C., and it's been almost 40 years since I last lived there. Which is the point: the dramatic surge in anti-Semitic violence prompted by war in Gaza and documented by a recent report from the Anti-Defamation League is not a one-time phenomenon. Rather, it's just the latest manifestation of decades of anti-Jewish prejudice deliberately instigated by Israel's opponents and indulged by the West.

The poisonous impact is deeply personal for every Diaspora Jew. My family and many others pay what I've dubbed the "Jew Tax;" that is, the portion of our suburban Chicago synagogue dues that goes for surveillance cameras, alarms and a security guard on duty during services and when kids are in Hebrew school.

Similar expenses burden synagogues and major Jewish community institutions in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, Miami and other areas where anti-Jewish violence or its threat is all too real. Some organizations take down identifying signs visible from major roads. Others, unable to hide, deploy other measures. One Jewish day school in a high-profile location protects its parking lot with thick steel gates designed to deter would-be car bombers. It is a depressing sight. The anti-Israel anti-Semites cannot put us in ghettos, but they've slowly forced us to build our own walls.

For the record, my home synagogue was firebombed in 1968 by garden variety anti-Semites, not anti-Zionists, while the recent firebombing of a Jewish center in France was an ostensibly anti-Zionist act. It is a distinction without a difference. The terrorists who took my fellow shul member hostage at B'nai B'rith headquarters in Washington back in 1977, killing two people in the process, sent a clear message about the definition of "Zionist" targets. These days, it's commonplace for Jewish institutions in Europe, South America and elsewhere to be surrounded by military-scale security precautions.

Indeed, if you go down the list of some 100 nations on six continents with affiliates of the World Jewish Congress, and the vast majority are places where anti-Zionist anti-Semites pose some level of threat, with or without a Mideast flare-up as an excuse.

Stop and consider that for a moment. No Christian, Muslim or practitioner of any other faith faces anything remotely close to the worldwide threat of unexpected violence that shadows Jewish religious and communal activities from Austria to Argentina to Australia -- and, yes, even in the United States. It is truly unprecedented.

So what can be done?

As Palestinians and Israelis continue to struggle to turn the Gaza cease-fire into something more permanent, Hamas political leader Khaled Meshaal may have provided an inadvertent path forward. In his recent interview with U.S. journalist Charlie Rose, Meshaal wanted it clearly understood that Hamas is not anti-Semitic.

"We are not fanatics, we are not fundamentalists," Meshaal protested. "We do not actually fight the Jews because they are Jews, per se. We fight the occupiers."

Inconveniently for Meshaal, Hamas's charter is filled with explicit anti-Semitic language. Still, that charter is more than a quarter-century old. What might happen if the world publicly took Hamas, among the most radical of Israel's enemies, at its word? (Presuming, of course, that Hamas' protestations about prejudice include "Zionist" Jews, meaning almost all of us.)

The first step would be to challenge Hamas leaders to repeat in Arabic on Al Jazeera and in the mosques what they (and other Palestinian leaders) are willing to say in English. That demand would be most effective if it came not just from Israel's traditional friends, but from nations who insist their ire is directed at Israeli policies, not Jews. Perhaps the Qatari or Turkish governments could pay to restock those British supermarkets that removed all their kosher food due to threats of "anti-Israel" attacks.

But there's also a much more important economic element. Those vocal liberal activists who've urged boycotting, divesting from and sanctioning Israel due to the occupation must step forward and demonstrate that violations of Jewish rights concern them as deeply as those affecting Palestinians. Here's one suggestion: in the spirit of Christian fellowship, the Presbyterian Church should publicly announce that it will suspend support of anti-occupation activities -- boycott the boycott -- until its allies undertake clearly defined actions to combat anti-Jewish activities in Europe and elsewhere.

More is at stake here than freedom from fear. A clash of religious beliefs, as Muslims should understand better than anyone, offers nothing but endless bloodshed. In contrast, a dispute over boundaries of even a much-promised piece of land in the Middle East holds some hope of resolution. On the way there, it's time to end the "Jew Tax." The war against the Jews must stop, and it's long past time to pressure the anti-Semitic anti-Zionists to take concrete steps to end it.