This is Our ‘Esther Moment’


By Wayne Pines

In a few days we will hear the Megillah tell the story of Queen Esther, Mordechai and Haman. In fourth-century Persia, when a tyrant (Haman) sought to annihilate the Jews, Esther had the courage to speak out. She went to the king, her husband, and told him for the first time that she was Jewish and that her people were being threatened. By doing so, she and her uncle Mordechai saved the Jews of Shushan and all of Persia.

At a recent meeting of the Anti-Defamation League, author Dara Horn drew an analogy between what Esther did and what the Jews today should do. She said that Jews today, in the face of a worldwide antisemitism epidemic, must speak out just as Esther did. Today is our “Esther moment.”

True, there is no single tyrant raising an antisemitic voice. Rather, it is a chorus of tyrants; whether in Gaza in the form of Hamas, or in countries where Hamas leaders like Yahya Sinwar take refuge, or in countries around the globe which had major antisemitic/anti-Zionist/anti-Israel marches. Or in high schools or on college campuses in the U.S. where Jewish students are harassed and feel threatened. Or synagogues, which now have to hire security guards for protection.

There always has been an underlying pattern of antisemitism in the U.S. and in countries such as England and France. The pattern is now overt.

The media are filled with reports of antisemitism. For example, BBC reported on March 8 that the British Government’s counter-extremism commissioner said London has become a “no-go zone for Jews” during weekend pro-Palestinian marches. In the U.S., since Oct 7, we have seen the emergence, or re-emergence, of antisemitism on the internet, in schools;
virtually everywhere.

Locally, swastikas and racial slurs were recently found spray-painted on a driveway and two cars in the Yorktown section of Arlington, Virginia. The Montgomery County Maryland Education Association proposed a resolution favoring a cease-fire in Gaza, without mentioning the hostages held by Hamas or the brutal Oct. 7 attack that initiated the war. These are just a few of many dozen local examples.

The pro-Palestinians deny they’re antisemites. They say they’re just opposed to Israeli policy or are anti-Zionist. But Israel is the only country on Earth that many believe should not even exist. The slogan “from the river to the sea” basically calls for expulsion of Jews and the end of the state of Israel.

The Israeli government, notoriously tone-deaf to good public relations, has not done a competent job handling these issues. It failed again during the Hamas war. On Oct. 7, Hamas, designated worldwide as a terrorist group, brutally attacked innocent
Israeli civilians with unprovoked barbarism. But now, Israel, the victim, is widely accused of genocide against its attackers for fighting back. Shaming the victim is wrong.

Pro-Palestinians are winning the public relations and public sentiment battle. They have won over many Americans who started out as either pro-Israel or neutral. They cite the travails of Palestinians in Gaza without acknowledging historical truths or understanding who started the war and the outrageous anti-women, pro-rape, baby-torturing strategy of the Hamas terrorists, or the clear mistreatment of innocent and vulnerable hostages.

Simply put, the Jewish community has not been as outspoken and as aggressive. It clearly has not been as persuasive as pro-Palestinian advocates. Jewish voices have not been heard. Jewish arguments are more difficult to articulate than images flooding the airwaves.

What is needed is for the Jewish community to speak up loudly and consistently. It does not mean supporting every action taken by the Israeli government. There is legitimate debate about the morality and scope of Israeli actions, and whether Israel’s strategy will work in the long term. Innocent Gazan citizens should be protected. They should not be denied food and shelter, even when Hamas has intentionally put them in harm’s way.

When the debate over Gaza strategy turns into antisemitism; when Jews feel personally threatened; when even university presidents can’t articulate the issues clearly, it is time to speak up. This is an Esther moment.

• When we hear an antisemitic remark in a meeting or personal conversation, we need to speak up. The airport public address system summarizes it: “If you see (or hear) something, say something.” Any antisemitic event should be reported to authorities and to the ADL when appropriate, such as when it takes place in a school or workplace.

• Those who have children in school, from elementary school to universities, should check in regularly with them to see if they witnessed or experienced antisemitism in any form. Often children, no matter how old, keep their heads down and want to fit in. They will not raise their concerns and observations unless prompted.

• While the internet is too huge to monitor, if we see objectionable material on a website, it should be reported to the website sponsor. Let the site’s advertisers know of our concern.

• When we see a news report that skews in an anti-Israel or antisemitic direction, we should call it out to the reporter, to the reporter’s editors, and to the media outlet’s management. Media bias on all subjects has become the norm in these polarized times. Division boosts ratings. But quietly accepting false information or prejudicial ideas exacerbates the misinformation and disinformation environment we unfortunately have come to accept.

Queen Esther hid her Jewish identity from her husband until there was no choice but to speak up. Today, many Jews keep their heads down. They hide their identities, or at least any outward signs of their religion. This is the same fear that gripped Esther – the fear of attacks by antisemites.

How Jews choose to express themselves is ultimately an individual decision. But we know that historically, silence has not been a successful strategy. CEO and National Director of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt said at the recent ADL meeting in New York: “At this moment … in this Oct. 8 world, we will not be silent. We will not let our country be lost to the antisemites and bigots.”

As we listen to the Megillah on Purim, please think of the courage of Esther. She courageously risked her own life, her position and all her possessions when she decided to speak up. Think of what is at stake today as we face growing anti-Israel, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish sentiment from so many quarters.

This is our Esther moment.

Wayne Pines is a health care consultant in Chevy Chase.

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