Fighting with Fear
Trigger warnings: sexual assault, conflict in the Middle East
I am afraid. And I hate being afraid.
I am afraid because instances of antisemitism are rising all over the globe, and so many people either don’t care or deny it. Right here in this country, last week more than 400 Jewish facilities received bomb threats. Right here in Philadelphia where I live, a falafel shop was the target of angry protests on December 3. Its crime? Its owner is Israeli.
In my own neighborhood, known for being “progressive,” I walk down my street and hear people in casual conversation say, “I think Israel should be wiped off the map.” There are many signs in windows that say “Free Palestine,” or “Ceasefire Now.” My neighbors have every right to express their opinions, but I am afraid to put an Israeli flag or even a “Free the Hostages” sign in my window.
Since the publication of my last article, a simple piece saying I stand with my Jewish friends, I have received hateful comments on my social media and in private communication. My friends warn me that writing more strongly in favor of Israel might have professional consequences.
What I am most afraid of is physical violence. Much of the Left (not all the Left, thank heaven!) has glorified the Hamas attacks. Again and again I hear the slogan “By any means necessary.” In the case of the October 7 attacks, one among many of the horrific “means” used was to rape women so violently that their pelvises broke. As the far Left normalizes or even glorifies that kind of brutality as “resistance,” I fear to experience similar if I stand with my raped and murdered Israeli sisters. If physical violence is characterized as resistance, any of us who dare to speak up are in danger.
Yet I must write. I am a survivor of sexual assault. I cry almost every night thinking of the women hostages held in the tunnels of hell in Gaza, held by Hamas and likely being raped again and again. Holding women as sex slaves and distributing manuals on how to rape them is not resistance. It’s evil.
The women I stood with in the #MeToo movement have largely remained silent or taken the side of Hamas in this conflict. UNWomen waited until December 1 to release this pathetically equivocating statement on the violence of October 7. They state that the UN is investigating claims of sexual violence. The violence was documented and broadcast by Hamas themselves. Were this a rape case where the rapist filmed their brutal rape of women, would we still be calling for further evidence?
When a woman is raped, the worst part is often not the rape itself, but the aftermath. Either she is not believed, she is blamed, or both. To hear Israel blamed for the rape and captivity of its women triggers traumatic memories in me that have taken a severe toll on my mental and physical health. I live alone, a small woman in a neighborhood where there are many “Free Palestine” posters but not a single “Free the Hostages” poster, much less any other visible solidarity with the innocent Israeli people who were tortured and killed on October 7. Much of the Left is glorifying violence as resistance. Would violence against me for speaking out in support of not just Israel, but Jews all over the world, count as resistance?
The biggest lesson I learned as a survivor of sexual assault, and the key to overcoming ten years of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is that to live in fear is to give the perpetrator the power they wanted and more. The fear that has kept me from speaking out has made me physically sick.
So I am done with silence. Finished with fear.
I am a student and sometimes teacher of history, especially the history of the era between World War I and II. I am very familiar with how the silence of non-Jews in large part enabled the rise of the Jew-killing Nazi establishment. I am not Jewish, and I will not leave my Jewish friends alone, as so many who do not personally have to fear antisemitism have.
More and more, and most terrifying to me, in my own neighborhood, calls for the elimination of Israel all together. I hear people say that I should not be afraid because anti-Zionism is not antisemitism. How can a call for the elimination of the only majority Jewish state in the world not be antisemitism? Am I to understand that when someone walking down my street calls for the death of my friends in Israel and all other Jews there, it’s perfectly safe to be a Jew living next door?
While we all hope for peace and an end to violence, those who call for a ceasefire must be reminded that Hamas has promised to repeat October 7, killing children, raping women and taking hostages, again and again. Until that threat is eliminated, there can be no peace.
The rise in antisemitism all over the world shows more clearly than since the Holocaust why a strong majority Jewish state must exist. There may be nowhere else safe for many of the world’s Jews soon.
Sometimes I wonder if there may be nowhere else safe for me.
I am an American. I have the right to free speech. I have never threatened anyone or committed violence against anyone, nor do I plan to. I do not cover my face or hide my name, like so many of the pro-Hamas protesters.
I respect others’ right to their speech, even when it scares me. I expect the same from others. If I am threatened in any way, I will protect myself through the legal means of calling local police.
But I will not be terrorized into silence.
I stand with my Jewish friends, those I know and those I have not yet met, all over the world. I won’t be scared by screaming mobs out of saying it.
I stand with Israel.
Am Yisrael Chai.
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