By Shani Mizrahi
It is no secret that there is a lot of antisemitism in the world. Wherever we go, we can see, hear, read and sometimes even feel the antisemitism in our bones. As a Jew who was born, raised, and educated in Israel, I experienced and learned about antisemitism regularly. In history class and our general study classes at school, we studied the many acts of antisemitism perpetrated against the Jews throughout the years.
As an Israeli Jew, sometimes antisemitism can be so strong that you can find yourself in a situation where you are afraid to walk in the street, in your own neighborhood, in your home, in your own country, in the Land of Israel, the Land of the Jews. The Land for which our ancestors fought for with their hands, blood, sweat, and tears to create a safe haven for a constantly targeted People. Israelis have fought for years in various wars for the defense of the Land of Israel. Our great army, the IDF, is named the Israel Defense Forces. It is not an “occupation” army as our haters in the world present it. Unfortunately, there are many who “live in a bubble” and rush to flood the net with spam. Sharing the latest infographic, filled with all sorts of biased information, is rarely sent out by people who verify what they are sharing with their peers. Instead, in their efforts to impress those who think like them, they send out hateful, anti-Israel messages without examining the sources out into the world, not realizing the effect that this can have.
I recently moved by myself from Israel to North New Jersey. New Jersey is a charming, quiet neighborhood close to New York City, a community with a very Jewish, partly religious character. Life in this area of the United States is very quiet and peaceful – unlike life in Israel – no drama. Jewish and otherwise, the people are very calm, polite, and often too polite as things are too “politically correct” here. People here seem to love Israel. Most of the people who heard that I come from Israel were very excited and curious to listen to what it is like to live in Israel. There are so many nice people who have expressed interest in getting to know my culture better.
When COVID-19 started in the winter of 2020, the situation was very confusing all over the world. People did not know what to do, what they were going to go through, or what it would be like. Being a foreigner, alone, in a foreign country with a different language and culture than mine, during a worldwide pandemic was quite scary. On the one hand, I had no idea what was about to happen. But, on the other hand, like me, many had the same universal worries. Even if you did not worry about getting sick yourself, you were concerned about the unknown as well as worrying about your family, who are living so far from you during all this madness. However, I felt very safe because everyone was very nice and gave me the support and “safety net” I needed. Thankfully there was almost no reason for me to be afraid. During the pandemic, I worked as a nanny for a family who hosted me in North Jersey. We passed the isolation together and had fun, trying to keep ourselves safe as much as possible. Throughout all this chaos, we struggled to maintain our positivity and optimism. I had so much fun during that stressful period, but I can say with all my heart that I did not feel any antisemitism.
To sum up my experience in the United States so far, I have not felt any antisemitism at all. Not even a little. When the pandemic began to diminish, and more people began to get vaccinated, I allowed myself to visit NYC more. Even there, in a city that is literally a grouping of postcards of people from all over the world, I did not feel any antisemitism.
You could say that the people in the city and in general Americans are very nice, but it is largely because everyone is more preoccupied with their own private lives and does not get too involved in the lives of others. Most people simply do not have time for such leisure.
I want to believe that most people now have heard about what happened in the summer. I am talking about the rise in antisemitism worldwide due to the recent fighting between Israel and the terrorist organization located in the Gaza Strip.
The fighting that took place over the summer between Israel and terrorists in the Gaza Strip was called “Operation Wall Guard.” As its name implies, it is intended to guard Israel’s borders and not kill Palestinians and innocent people. This is readily apparent if you look at the facts. They show that throughout the years, no harm was done intentionally towards innocent Palestinians.
These operations have aroused an incredible amount of antisemitism all over the world, and perhaps this operation, in particular, is what prompted the most interest because of the internet. The news of Operation Wall Guard erupted on every platform. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, newspapers, radio made their loud, antisemitic noises. As a result, NYC, where I had felt safe before, became dangerous. People protested in the streets, waving Palestinian flags in front of the Israeli embassy in New York, as well as attacking Israeli demonstrators. My world quickly became very scary. People in the city were beaten, cursed, and spat at by people just because they were Jews. My friends were afraid to speak in Hebrew in the street. I was so confused and did not understand how we could have gotten into such a situation. Even though I, as an Israeli citizen, am accustomed to the constant wars, I was afraid that this time it would not end. Because this fighting led to what was becoming a civil war in Israel, and the whole country was on fire. Arabs used stones to break windows and vehicles of Jews, and Jews in return also caused riots, burned businesses, and destroyed houses. The situation was becoming very ugly, and it was very painful for me to see it.
Operation Wall Guard began following the escalation of the riots in Israel on “Jerusalem Day.” Those riots had led to dozens of demonstrators and several police officers getting injured. Hamas fired rockets into Jerusalem and its environs, as well as into the Gaza Strip. In response, the IDF attacked back, and so Operation Wall Guard began.
Unlike previous operations, throughout this operation, people on all sides of the political spectrum expressed their opinions online. This is what caused the escalation and gave legitimacy to civil war, fake videos as well as incitements for further violence. For a little over two weeks, I was afraid to go online because all that I saw was hate. My acquaintances, celebrities I admire, singers, actors, and politicians from all over the world expressed an opinion and seemed to support one side over the other. They presented “facts,” made statements, and shared those infamous infographics without even knowing if what they were saying was true. It didn’t seem to matter to them. It was extremely frustrating for me, someone who has lived through these operations, living in fear the entire time, to now see someone who is sitting on the couch at home with the AC on, in a country that hasn’t experienced war and God-willing will not, judge, preach and dictate what they think should be done to Israeli citizens who since the beginning of their short existence as a nation, have only experienced wars, fear, and terror for their entire lives. In the end, there was a ceasefire, and the situation slowly calmed down. These people who were so quick with all the “answers” forgot about the situation, and life appears to have returned to normal, as much as possible at least.
During this period of conflict, with all the confusion and fear I was in, I still tried to broadcast “business as usual.” A lovely Jewish teenage girl I worked with (who I would babysit) made me feel so proud and grateful when she told me that she felt the need to be the “ambassador” in her high school and make sure all the students knew about the situation in Israel and what the truth really is. At that moment, I realized immediately that this was also my role, and in fact – the role of every Jew in the world, to be an “ambassador.”
Every nation has people who hate them, although I feel that we – the Jewish people are the most hated nation in the world in all history and always will be. Therefore, we must also be a very strong nation and continue to fight for our existence. There will always be those who try to demonize us and present Israel in a negative light to the world.
I personally felt that precisely in this terrible situation, my job is to spread to all Americans and non-Jewish people from other countries what the truth really is and not the biased information that is seen on the internet. Because today, in such a technological world, anyone can go online and write whatever they want, edit videos and photos and create false propaganda.
Despite everything, I did not succumb to the situation, and I walked proudly and without fear. This is because I am not ready to give in to a situation and be afraid to speak Hebrew in the street.
As a woman who is driven by justice, I would like to convey my message and opinion based on the familiar saying, “Do not judge a person until you walk a mile in their shoes.” What I am trying to say is that as an Israeli who lived in America during this war and did not experience the war myself – I experienced the hardest antisemitism I have ever dealt with. It was the hardest thing for me and so many others to experience. Many times life here feels like “living in a bubble.” People here have not experienced daily terrorism as the residents of Israel have. They have not had to run to shelters and pray for their lives every day like many Israelis have had to.
So, before you run and flood the web with antisemitic information, which has a very strong power in today’s world, please check your sources and look for the truth, not the antisemitic misinformation like what has been spread over the summer.