Veteran anti-Semitism watcher Dan Mariaschin says leaders need to speak out

Dan Mariaschin
Courtesy of B’nai B’rith International

What accounts for the rise in anti-Semitic attacks? Dan Mariaschin, CEO of B’nai B’rith International, blames the internet and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel as the main culprits.

“The internet has provided a kind of platform for anti-Semites on the right and the left to trumpet their hatred in a way that was unavailable in earlier times,” says Mariaschin, 70.

In demonizing and trying to delegitimize the Jewish state and comparing Israelis to Nazis and Israel to South Africa, the BDS movement has created “a new strain of anti-Semitism.”

Rising anti-Semitism preceded the election of President Donald Trump, says Mariaschin who often represents Jewry at international conferences. He says that the Charlottesville anti-Semitic demonstration in 2017 was a “seminal moment” and that Trump’s reaction (“There were good people on both sides”) was “deeply concerning.”

But the president’s recent executive order stressing that 1964 Civil Rights Act’s Title VI protection against discrimination includes anti-Semitism is a positive development, he said. “We’ve talked for 10 years about how campus life had devolved into a sometimes intimidating situation for Jewish university students. To include anti-Semitism in this legislation I think was extremely important.”

While anti-Semitism appears to be on the rise, Mariaschin, a Chevy Chase resident, notes that many of the barriers that Jews faced 50 or 60 years ago have come down. Most limits on Jews’ participation in American life — whether quotas for admission to elite universities or limitations on where to live or the inability to enter or to advance in certain fields — no longer exist.

Jews and non-Jews watch series like “The Winds of War” and movies like “Schindler’s List.” “All of that is for the good,” says Mariaschin. “I like to cite the fact that Jewish actors often use their own, Jewish names today. No question, those things are better now.”

To combat anti-Jewish attitudes in both the general and African-American communities, Mariaschin recommends marshaling leaders to speak out against bias.

“People follow the lives of public figures. Today, we see actors, musicians and other cultural figures speaking out on all kinds of issues,” he says. “Many people follow them on Facebook and Instagram. We need to look to those kinds of people to say that that kind of behavior, like what we’ve seen on the streets of New York, for example, is unacceptable.”

In the black community, it is important to persuade clergy members to speak out, he says.

For America as a whole, we need members of Congress and other public figures to condemn anti-Jewish bigotry, says Mariaschin, who is a member of Congregation Har Tzeon-Agudath Achim in Silver Spring.

And the media must speak out more consistently and forcefully. The machete incident in Monsey made the front pages in The New York Times and The Washington Post. “Up to then,” Mariaschin continues, “I don’t think that this tremendous outbreak of anti-Semitism had received the same kind of coverage. There was indifference or apathy or looking the other way, and then this terrible attack caused the media to pay attention. We need to keep the story of anti-Semitism out there in a way that educates and enlists people of goodwill into the battle against those who carry out anti-Semitic acts.”

There are many initiatives to connect with “interfaith interlocutors,” he notes. And he points to the hearing on anti-Semitic violence by the House Homeland Security subcommittee earlier this month as shining a spotlight on the problem in Congress.

Mariaschin calls for two specific actions — tougher hate crimes legislation so that punishment is meted out “as perhaps it is not today”; and the creation of the position of special coordinator to fight anti-Semitism in the Justice Department.

As to world Jewry, Mariaschin says the main items on B’nai B’rith International’s agenda are advocating for a safe Israel and struggling against the “global epidemic” of rising anti-Semitism.

Many communities around the world share with American Jewry the questions of assimilation and Jewish continuity.

“We are small in numbers and that means concern everywhere about Jewish education and positive Jewish reinforcement for young people, ”he says.

Western European Jewish communities are especially stressed today. Ironically, he notes, there were many efforts made in Eastern and Central Europe after the fall of communism in 1989 to revive Jewish communities, including the restoration of synagogues and fostering activities to re-establish Jewish cultural life.

“It’s interesting that many of the problems we are facing are in Western Europe, not in Eastern Europe where the most horrendous crimes were committed during the Holocaust,” he notes.

There has been an increase in immigration of French Jews to Israel in recent times, but it is unclear whether that exodus will be mirrored elsewhere in Europe.

Violence from the far right and left and from Islamic extremists targeting Jews has broken out In almost every country in Western Europe.

“It would be no surprise if many in those communities were to look for a different life and a better life as Jews, and that would mean leaving, with many going to Israel,” Mariaschin says. “The Jewish communities are wrestling with this conundrum of whether to stay or leave. We’ve seen it in France and may see it in other places as well.”

Aaron Leibel is a Washington-area writer.




Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here