Fight Hate: How Someone Like Me Ended Up Starting Something Like This

Eighteen years ago, my wife and I took our 2-year-old daughter and 6-month-old son to Israel. My wife had been to Israel a dozen times and lived and studied there for a gap year, but it was my first time. We then had another four children, and with work and the kids, it would be almost two decades before I would return.

This time I went with my entire family to visit that 6-month-old baby, now an 18-year-old doing his gap year in Israel. The eight of us traveled throughout Israel for two weeks and it was impossible for me not to fall in love with this country I had only previously understood from afar. We arrived home from Israel on October 4th. That next Saturday morning my honeymoon with Israel came to a devastating end. Like most Jews, in an instant, everything changed. My infatuation turned to grief, fear, and anger.

Over that next week, time seemed to warp and life grinded to an uneasy halt. With the ungodly acts committed by Hamas, and the violent eruption of antisemitism in America, it was difficult not to conjure up the worst moments in Jewish history, including the Holocaust. My wife and I immediately discussed booking a flight back to Israel to be with our son. But I had a trip planned for months to meet my closest college friends, and we were still unsure about flights back to Israel at the start of the war.

I ultimately went to Ann Arbor that next weekend to watch a University of Michigan football game and spend time with my friends. The seven of us have been friends for 30 years, and although this bond pales in comparison to the devastation that took place in Israel, it too was important to me. Relationships like ours are hard to come by and need to be prioritized. But the truth was I spent most of the trip thinking about Israel. The children murdered in their beds. The women violently raped. The hostages beaten and brutalized. And yes, the innocent Palestinians who were bearing the brunt of what their cowardly leaders, hiding in tunnels, brought upon them. 

The day after the football game, while waiting to return home, I booked my flight to Israel. Like so many people going back in the weeks after October 7th, I brought duffel bags full of needed medical supplies and equipment. Honestly, I was surprised that I wanted to—felt the need to—purchase supplies and bring them to Israel. I was no Zionist—not in the traditional sense of the word. I was a progressive opposed to many Israeli policies. But October 7th changed that. How couldn’t it? How couldn’t Hamas’ brutality, and the hatred of those who cheered them on, not change me?

The flight to Israel was otherworldly. The flight attendants were so happy to have a half-full plane and people talked during the flight like they had been friends for years. CNN’s Jake Tapper was on my flight along with a CNN producer carrying a military-grade helmet. There were documentary filmmakers trying to capture the historic moment, IDF soldiers returning from America, and of course, regular moms and dads like me just wanting to be with our children as Hamas continued to indiscriminately fire rockets at civilian targets in Israel.

The airport in Tel Aviv was a ghost town, but the military and medical base I visited in Tel Hashomer was bustling with activity. The first thing I noticed in pulling up to the base were the guards. Most were women of color. They held powerful automatic weapons and were entrusted with protecting the military personnel and civilians inside. That was Israel—the Israel I fell in love with just two weeks earlier. Diverse. Progressive. Empowering to women and people of color. A vibrant democracy where the majority of citizens are of African and Asian descent. An imperfect nation like ours, of course, but one where 21% of the population are Arab-Israelis with full citizenship rights.

Yet back home, this story of Israel, as well as the role American Jews have played in building a diverse and progressive democracy in America, had been hijacked. Self-appointed progressive voices on college campuses and in social media told a narrative of white European colonizers stealing the lands of indigenous people and powerful Jewish elites in America manipulating the strings of power to keep these indigenous people down. These antisemitic tropes rolled so easily from the tongues of college students and professors with little or no understanding of history.

I spent another 10 days in Israel staying with my son, visiting friends and family, and doing what I could to help. But back home, an equally dangerous threat to Jews was taking hold. At universities throughout the country, Jewish students were being harassed and attacked simply because of their religion. Incidents of antisemitism exploded on college campuses and social media. My daughter, a sophomore at New York University, was confronted daily with antisemitic attacks. I heard stories from my college friends about antisemitism on the college campuses they sent their children, including the University of Michigan, where my son will soon go.

As I flew back from Israel, I knew I wanted to do something. It was odd that someone like me—a left-leaning political junkie who was often critical of Israeli policies—wanted to do something to get the word out about Israel’s vibrant multiracial democracy and the role of American Jews in progressive causes. It was also odd in the sense that I have only personally experienced antisemitism once in my life. I was at a basketball camp in a rural part of Pennsylvania. There was constant antisemitism and I got into fights during and after games throughout the week. On the last night of camp, our bunk, which included just three Jews, was surrounded by a mob of angry players chanting: “We’re going to burn your books, Jews!” But other than that, I have experienced very little antisemitism, and naively, I thought we were safe in America. October 7th, and the onslaught of antisemitism that followed, taught me otherwise.

I started Fight Hate because I learned—the hard way—that there is little daylight between anti-Zionism and antisemitism. Those of us committed to Jews and Palestinians having homelands can debate government policies and criticize Israeli actions. But when criticisms of Israel turn to hate, lies, and threats of violence in America, we know antisemitism lies just beneath the surface. How quickly did the tragedies of October 7th turn to celebrations of Hamas’ “resistance” or denials about Israeli women being raped. How quickly did the criticism of Israel’s military actions turn to tearing down posters of innocent children taken hostage by Hamas. How quickly did our college campuses and social media fill with lies and hate about Jews.

I started Fight Hate because I am a father who does not want to see his children grow up in a country where Israel is a permanent pariah and where Jews are scared to send their kids to America’s best universities. I started Fight Hate because I do not want our children going to colleges filled with intellectually dishonest professors. I do not want them bombarded with hate-filled lies on TikTok and Instagram. I want my children to be able to go to a university without worrying that swastikas will be painted on their dorm’s doors. I want simple things for my children. I want them to be lucky enough to meet lifelong friends like I did. Thirty years from now, I want my son to fly back to Ann Arbor to meet his college friends. I want him to be able to watch a football game and not worry. I want him to be able to just hang out—without the fear that his kids will be hated simply because they are Jews.

Jay Schiffman
Founder & Executive Director