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Anti-Semitism is an American Problem

Ted Cruz joins with Tim Kaine to speak hard truths about the past and the present

Liel Leibovitz
June 17, 2019
Win McNamee/Getty Images
Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX)Win McNamee/Getty Images

On Thursday, Senator Ted Cruz gave one of the most important statements on anti-Semitism delivered by an American public official in the last few decades.

The resolution he was introducing, unanimously passed by the Senate and co-sponsored by Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s running mate in 2016, bears reading in its entirety. In his speech, Senator Cruz explained the impetus for the resolution, and why it is needed now more than ever:

Unfortunately, we’re living in an era where the need for a strong and clear condemnation of anti-Semitism has become acute.

We are in the midst of a wave of anti-Semitism seen both here in the United States and all over the world. In just the last few years, we have seen repeated anti-Semitic comments made publicly, including insinuations questioning the loyalty and the patriotism of American Jews. We’ve seen physical violence against Jews, including shootings in Jewish places of worship such as the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and the Chabad in Poway. We’ve seen a wave of physical attacks against Jews in the streets of New York. And we have seen the growth on our college campuses of movements to aggressively boycott products made by Jews in Israel. And as we’ve learned this week, things have gotten so bad that the New York Times has announced it will simply stop running political cartoons in their International edition after being criticized and forced to apologize for recently running a blatantly anti-Semitic cartoon.

This resolution was also prompted unfortunately by the inability of the House of Representatives to come together and vote on a resolution straightforwardly and directly condemning anti-Semitism. Too many in political life have given into the extremes, including the embrace of boycotts and at times outright hatred for Israel, the world’s only Jewish state. So when the House tried to condemn anti-Semitism, sadly they were instead forced to water it down into a general resolution decrying bigotry of all sorts, listing every group they could think of.

There’s of course nothing wrong with condemning bigotry and hatred in general. But anti-Semitism is a unique prejudice, with a unique history, that has led to unique horrors throughout history. Jews today are the most targeted religious group in the United States for hate crimes, according to the data compiled by the FBI. We need to be able to acknowledge that clearly and directly and that’s what this resolution does.

Two insights in particular make the resolution, and Senator Cruz’s speech introducing it, stand out. The first is the innate understanding that anti-Semitism is a unique form of bigotry that must be condemned uniquely, and not one more rung in the infinite ladder of grievances, real of imagined, that makes up the core of contemporary progressive ideology. Jew hatred is a historically specific affliction, complete with particular traditions and sensibilities; it is nothing like other forms of hatred, and deserves to be treated as such. From this follows a second insight, equally as profound: Even within the specific historical account of anti-Semitism, the American Jewish encounter with this ancient form of bigotry has been unique as well, paving its own forms of discrimination, some subtle and others less so.

To make sure this point gets across, Senator Cruz chose to end his speech by citing one of his resolution’s most forceful passages. “This resolution,” he said, “outlines how ancient forms of anti-Semitism continue to live on. I’d like to read one clause in particular in the resolution: ‘In the United States, Jews have suffered from systematic discrimination in the form of exclusion from home ownership in certain neighborhoods, prohibition from staying in certain hotels, restrictions upon membership in private clubs and other associations, limitations upon admission to certain educational institutions, and other barriers to equal justice under the law.’”

For this hatred, still very much prevalent today, to end, we need clear and strong leadership. On Thursday, Senators Cruz and Kaine gave us just that.

Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.

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