Sign up for our email newsletter, featuring exclusive original content


Letters to the Editor

Dear Reader,

At Jewish Currents, we take pride in publishing reader responses to our web and print content. Such letters reflect the broad intellectual community that constitutes the backbone of our magazine. Since the 2018 relaunch of Jewish Currents, we’ve included letters to the editor in the opening pages of each issue. You can also find them on the Letters page on our website.

In this newsletter, we’re sending you all of the reader responses we have edited and published since our last roundup three months ago. These letters include a personal note about our coverage of Hindu nationalism, three varying reactions to our Spring issue responsa on Holocaust memory in Germany, a reader’s addendum to our reporting on the German antisemitism bureaucracy, and a counterpoint to an analysis piece we published on Iron Dome.

As always, we encourage readers to submit letters of about 350 words to with the subject line “Letter,” followed by the title of the article. Please include your name and location. We look forward to hearing from you!

—The Editors

Attendees at the “Howdy Modi” summit in Houston, September 22nd, 2019. Photo: Todd Spoth

On “The Hindu Nationalists Using the Pro-Israel Playbook” (Published June 28th, 2023)

I wish to thank Aparna Gopalan for writing this very timely piece on the Hindu right’s use and abuse of the term “Hinduphobia.” I’m a practicing Hindu of the non-Hindutva [Hindu nationalist] sort, and I’m writing this letter anonymously because of safety concerns. (Like many members of the diaspora, my family and I frequently travel back to India, and retribution by the Modi government and its allies is not out of the question.) I’d like to add to Gopalan’s critical reporting by noting that the Hindu right’s so-called defense of Hinduism, which blends the religion with a rabid ethnonationalism, is an extremely destructive force between and among Hindus as well, violently flattening the diversity of a religion practiced by more than a billion people and driving communities apart.

Like any faith, Hindu custom can vary from nation to nation, state to state, and even village to village. Yet, in the name of defending what anti-Hinduphobia activists deem the “real Hindu culture,” these more local practices are shunned and attacked. Hindus in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, for instance, have a long tradition of worshipping in the regional language rather than the more usual Sanskrit; recently, those who keep this custom were assaulted by allies of the BJP [Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party]. Similarly, plenty of women and non-savarna [upper-caste] folks who have traditionally performed religious rites are now being intimidated out of their roles by self-proclaimed “caste-blind” Hindus who sympathize with Hindutva. This attack on the diversity of Hindu traditions is part and parcel of a BJP playbook designed to create a homogeneous Hindu culture, which has been conflated with Indian culture as a whole—a useful cudgel to be used against not just religious minorities, but any of the regime’s dissenters.

On a much more personal level, I can attest that Hindutva as an ideology destroys relationships and lives. I’ve had to cut off friends because of the vile things they’ve said about minorities under the guise of “Hindu morality” or “fighting Hinduphobia.” I’ve had my faith attacked and been called a self-hater and a fake Hindu by members of my own family for connecting the dots between Hindutva and fascism, as well as speaking out against the Modi government’s racism, casteism, Islamophobia, and antisemitism masked as philosemitism. These dynamics play out on the institutional level as well, with many anti-Hindutva young people being pushed out of temples and congregations as they chafe against the old guard’s uncritical embrace of such a toxic ideology.

When I see groups like Hindu on Campus or the Hindu American Foundation or the Coalition of Hindus of North America claiming to speak for young people like me, I am disheartened by how ill-equipped the American public sphere is to push back on them. I’m so pleased that there is now some critical reporting on this important issue.

Columbus, OH

All images are excerpted from Cacti, a 2023 photographic series by Rasha Al Jundi, with illustrations by Michael Jabareen. These images were taken in significant locations around Berlin—including at memorials to the Holocaust and the Berlin Wall—with figures in keffiyehs inserting themselves into the frame, to protest the way Palestinian voices have been silenced in contemporary Germany.

On “Bad Memory (Published July 5th, 2023)

Too bad. With only a little research the authors would have known that much of contemporary German memory culture was painfully fought for by Jews who stayed in Germany after the war, and who kept disturbing the peace of a country all too eager to forget the crimes of its past. Figures like Ignatz Bubis or Paul Spiegel, higher-ups in the Zentralrat der Juden in Deutschland, an organization cited disapprovingly in this article, insisted that public memorialization of the Shoah be treated differently precisely because of the once all-too-common refrain that “all Germans” were themselves victims of Nazi rule. That contemporary Holocaust memory was molded in response to Germans equating their own suffering during the war to what happened to the Jews is glaringly absent in a piece on the subject.

I’m glad to have left my native Germany and its obsession with Jewish kitsch, its perverse fixation on the imagined German-Jewish symbiosis of yesteryear, and its staggering indifference to contemporary antisemitism. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when American leftists criticize us—the children of those who fought for any form of memory culture—because our parents’ struggle no longer conforms to their newest ideological obsession. Even episodes that do conform are completely elided, betraying a lack of true engagement with their subject matter. When neo-Nazis attacked Vietnamese asylum seekers and Roma in the East German city of Rostock in 1992, Bubis and company were the first to recognize the pogrom as a violent aftershock of National Socialism—even though it was anything but the trendy thing to do. It’s unsurprising that those who did not grow up surrounded by this post-fascist mess fail to understand the importance of Israel to those who did. Either way, I’m tired of explaining it to Americans.

Joel Kohen
Saint-Josse-ten-Noode, Belgium

The Spring issue responsa and reported feature on Germany are valuable contributions to the growing body of work on the country’s repression of Palestine solidarity activism in the name of “curbing” antisemitism. That said, Germany’s clear interest in using Holocaust penance to prevent a reckoning with its colonial history remains a neglected aspect of this dynamic, one that the responsa in particular would have benefited from examining.

In general, Germany benefits from being considered less often as the same kind of colonial power as France or England despite the fact that, prior to its loss in World War I, the country controlled most of modern-day Namibia, Togo, Cameroon, and Tanzania. Germany’s latter-day efforts to abdicate responsibility for its colonial crimes have been so successful that the German government only apologized for its first genocide—committed between 1904 and 1908 against the Herero and Nama—two years ago, paying a paltry billion dollars in restitution to the Namibian government.

It strikes me, then, as not at all coincidental that Cameroonian philosopher Achille Mbembe was accused of “relativizing the Holocaust” when he raised the specter of Germany’s colonial crimes. (It is worth noting that Cameroon was itself a German territory before the French and British divided it between themselves as restitution after WWI. It is also well documented that Hitler aimed to recapture Cameroon and other lost colonial holdings as part of a peace treaty with England.) Contemporary German attacks on postcolonial thought as “Holocaust relativization” are not motivated by a sincere—if poorly conceived—understanding of the Shoah as a historically exceptional, aberrant event, but by strategic interest. In accepting responsibility for the full range of its colonial crimes, the German government would have to pay restitution to a much larger swath of the world than just Israel. Germany’s resistance to these efforts puts the lie to its reputation as a transformed, progressive beacon post-World War II.

Furthermore, in denying that the Shoah was an inevitable result of the German obsession with the territorial-expansionist concept of lebensraum, or “room for living,”and European settler colonialism writ large, Germany finds a perfect alignment of its national interest with that of Israel. If, however, we see settler colonialism at the root of the Nazis’ crimes, those of virtually every European power, and Israel’s apartheid regime (as Noura Erakat wrote in the pages of Jewish Currents last year), then we will be much more clear-eyed about the measures necessary to achieve a more just world.

Jonathan Matz
Los Angeles, CA

The Spring issue of Jewish Currents devotes 37 pages across three separate pieces to the discussion of how Germany’s displaced Holocaust guilt deleteriously affects the country’s Muslim and Arab minority populations. But not one word in the editorial staff’s responsa, Peter Kuras’s feature on the country’s antisemitism bureaucracy, or Sanders Isaac Bernstein’s assessment of Max Czollek’s book acknowledges that most of Germany’s Arab and Muslim residents (who number about a million and a half or more) are in the country today because Germany opened its doors to them during the 2015–16 migrant crisis, while the rest of Europe stayed comparatively closed. According to the Center for Global Development, this was sold to the German people as an ethical imperative, rather than a political boon; Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “We can do this, despite the challenges!”

For all the legitimate criticism leveled by the magazine’s editorial staff and the many sources cited by Kuras and Bernstein, Germany has done a fair job of integrating these migrants and asylum seekers: About half of them have jobs, and there remains a high level of public support for their resettlement in the country. Germany’s treatment of its Muslim and Arab minority in the public sphere is fair game for criticism, but critics would do well also to acknowledge the country’s good act in admitting migrants in the first place.

Kathleen Peratis
New York, NY

The letter writer is co-chair of the Jewish Currents board.

Germany’s Federal Commissioner for Jewish Life and the Fight Against Antisemitism, Felix Klein, in the synagogue of the Osnabrück Jewish Community in Lower Saxony, July 15th, 2021.

Friso Gentsch/dpa

On “The Strange Logic of Germany’s Antisemitism Bureaucrats” (Published July 18th, 2023)

I would like to add to Peter Kuras’s excellent reporting on Germany’s anti-antisemitism bureaucracy by sharing a telling interaction I had with antisemitism commissioner Felix Klein’s office a few weeks ago.

This summer in Berlin, I saw an exhibition at the Pilecki Institute, an institution dedicated to the 20th-century Polish experience of totalitarianism and supported by the Polish government’s Ministry of Culture. The exhibition commemorated the Wola massacre, an episode in 1944 in which the Nazis murdered between 40,000 and 50,000 non-Jewish Poles in a neighborhood of occupied Warsaw. The exhibition fails to make mention of the Jews from Wola who were rounded up, deported, and murdered before the massacre took place. Instead, it presents a clear binary—one legislated by the Polish government as, essentially, the only “correct” reading of the Holocaust—between the saintly, victimized non-Jewish Poles and the ghoulish occupying Nazis. Such a reading of history elides the fact that some of these “good Poles” collaborated with the Third Reich, aiding and abetting the process of cleansing the country of its Jewish population. At the time of the massacre, I’m certain many lived in expropriated Jewish residences.

While I understand that Jews were not the focus of the Wola massacre, I was floored by the exhibition text’s claim that Wola was “one of the bloodiest war crimes committed on European soil during World War II.” How, then, would the Polish government rank the murder of almost three million Polish Jews, a genocide that was sometimes aided and abetted by non-Jewish Poles? I wrote to Mr. Klein about the exhibition’s revisionism, its antisemitism by omission, and to express my shock that Germany is allowing this kind of narrative on its soil. I heard nothing from him for over a month, and when I re-sent my email, his assistant wrote to inform me that, “in Mr Kleins [sic] opinion there is no reason for an intervention.” As Kuras reports, Mr. Klein is much quicker to attack those on the left—evident in his recent declaration that using the term “apartheid” in relation to Israel is antisemitic. I recently received German citizenship on the basis of my parents’ expulsion from Nazi Germany—an extra passport I sought out precisely because I fear fascism and ascendant antisemitism in the United States. Nevertheless, it remains clear to me that Klein’s endeavor makes a mockery of true antisemitism

Diane L. Wolf
Berkeley, CA

Israel’s Iron Dome intercepts rockets launched from the Gaza Strip on May 15th, 2021.
REUTERS/Amir Cohen

On “Iron Dome Is Not a Defensive System” (Published May 25th, 2023)

In the May 25th Jewish Currents newsletter, Dylan Saba argues against supporting Iron Dome because by saving Israeli lives, it enables Israel to destroy Palestinian lives at little cost. Had Saba simply argued that all aid to Israel ought to end given its systematic violation of Palestinians’ human rights, I would have had no quarrel with him. Instead, he is at pains to say that the defensive Iron Dome should be opposed “on the specific grounds” that it deprives Palestinians of the means of deterrence. But the unjust killing of Palestinian civilians does not justify the killing of Israeli civilians. Even in cases when retaliatory violence does deter, it is an immoral tactic, and as such, does the Palestinian struggle for justice no favors.  

On a purely strategic level, little in Israeli history supports the idea that the prospect (or reality) of Palestinian violence discourages Israel from visiting vastly disproportionate violence on Palestinians. The deadly Palestinian bus bombing campaign in the mid-’90s hardly made Israelis more inclined to good-faith diplomacy; instead, it induced them to elect the virulently anti-Palestinian, anti-diplomacy Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister. One could just as easily conclude that the deaths of more Israeli civilians by Gazan rocket fire would provoke further Israeli aggression rather than mitigating it—a terrifying prospect considering the profound asymmetry in military capability between the two parties. If Palestinians had nuclear weapons, or at least the military capabilities of a powerful state, they might eventually affect deterrence, but this prospect is nowhere on the horizon.

The injustices that Palestinians have so long suffered, and the absence of a clear path to vindicating their rights, naturally leads to a nihilistic despair that settles for the satisfaction of whatever symbolic retribution may be available. But the road to equality and full valuing of Palestinian lives does not run through more civilian Israeli deaths, actual or prospective. Of course, Israeli dislike of the status quo is the sine qua non of progressive change, but an increase in annual Israeli deaths is hardly the key factor. I believe that for a deterrent to be effective against Israel’s military might, it has to threaten an unacceptable cost that cannot be countered militarily. Imposing such a cost will likely involve Israelis realizing that the occupation erodes their own democracy, in addition to a geopolitical climate intolerant of Jewish supremacy and a powerful nonviolent resistance movement organized by Palestinians and progressive Jews. To advocate for violent resistance instead is to play the game on the Israeli right’s home court.

Mitchell Silver
Jamaica Plain, MA

The letter writer is a member of the JC Council.