THE BLOG

What Harry Potter Taught Me About Antisemitism

02/26/2015 10:29 am ET | Updated Apr 28, 2015

2015-02-26-HarryandVoldemortharrypotterandthedeathlyhallowspart22431589625601072.jpg

I have been reading the Harry Potter books alongside my 7-year-old daughter. By far the most intriguing character is Voldemort, otherwise known as "He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named."

When I first hear that description, I thought of the ways Jews reference God. When referring to God outside of prayer, many traditional Jews say "Hashem," which means "the name." It is a way of calling upon God without saying God's name. God's name is too mysterious and powerful for human beings to say. In other words, God is the one who must not be named.

Yet, following the tragedies unfolding in Europe and refusal of many in our political leadership and culture to confront it, I think a new understanding is necessary. The threat of Islamic fundamentalism -- more specifically, the hatred of Jews and others driven by radical terrorists claiming the banner of Islam -- has become the global force so many refuse to name.

At a recent conference, President Obama decided not to name this problem. I respect his desire not to inflame religious tensions, and he is right to tread carefully. Yet, we cannot solve a problem if we do not name and define it. The problems are manifold, but in particular, the antisemitism generated by radical Islam is particularly disturbing. If we do not name it, we cannot fight it effectively. Why?

1. We lose clarity on the source of the hatred: Twenty years ago, the Far Right in Europe carried the banner of antisemitism. The National Front in Paris and Neo-Nazis in Germany desecrated cemeteries, minimized the Holocaust and assaulted elderly Jews.

Today Jews face the the gravest threats in Arab neighborhoods. A recent report in The Huffington Post detailed the journey of a Jewish journalist through an Arab neighborhood in Paris. He was spit on, followed and insulted. A young child even wondered aloud if he would be killed.

2. We let the problem fester: It was not always bad for Jews in Europe. After the horrors of the Holocaust, many countries fostered stronger interfaith relations and tried to eliminate the hateful rhetoric that so often emanated from the Church. As late as the 1990s, France had few antisemitic incidents.

Since 2000 violent acts toward Jews have increased five-fold. Last year more than half of violent acts of racism in France were perpetuated against Jews, who make up less than one percent of the population. What happens if we continue to ignore it?

3. We let the majority of Muslims suffer: I have no doubt most Arabs in Europe desire to live peacefully with their Jewish neighbors. I have no doubt, however, that they live in fear. The most hateful voices are also the loudest. And they also, sadly, emanate from mosques.

Just like some ultra-right wing Orthodox settlers in Israel can impede progress there, so hateful clerics can shape the culture of Arab communities in Europe. The problem is not lack of jobs or social mobility. It is the hijacking of a religion, and we cannot stop it unless we name it. Concerned? Get the most recent statistics on antisemitism around the world.