Archive for June, 2021

Anti-Semitism must be taken more seriously and opposed more vigorously – posted 6/13/2021

June 13, 2021 Leave a comment

In New York City’s Time Square, a group of men punched, kicked and pepper-sprayed a 29 year old Jewish man who was wearing a yarmulke. The group was shouting anti-semitic words.

In New York City’s Upper West Side, a Jewish man headed to Trader Joe’s to buy food for the Sabbath. A group of teens followed him saying, “Yarmulke. I want to take that yarmulke. I want to hit him in his head and take that yarmulke.That Jewish baby-killer.”

In Brooklyn, a different group of males harassed Orthodox Jews getting ready for Sabbath. The group shouted “Free Palestine – kill all the Jews”. The group banged on locked synagogue doors and when they could not get in they broke off the mirror on a nearby parked car. A little later, the group chased people perceived as Jews with a baseball bat and put a 17 year old in a chokehold.

In Skokie Illinois, someone shattered a window in a synagogue.

In Arizona, police are investigating someone spray-painting a swastika and an anti-Semitic slur on the door of a Tucson synagogue. This was the second synagogue in the city vandalized recently.

In Los Angeles, pro-Palestinian demonstrators attacked Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant.

All these episodes happened in the wake of May’s military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. During that fighting in May, the Anti-Defamation League tracked a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States including assaults, vandalism, harassment and hate speech. On Twitter, there were more than 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase “Hitler was right” between May 7-14.

It would appear that Jews are being blamed worldwide for the violence in Gaza. As in the U.S., Jews in Europe have also seen an uptick in anti-Semitic incidents. Anti-Semites use human rights abuses by the Israeli state against Palestinians as cover for hatred of Jews everywhere.

As a Jewish American, I am not responsible for the actions of the Israeli state. Just for the record, I am a progressive and an anti-fascist. I oppose racism, sexism and class oppression. I support LGBTQ rights. I have opposed the Netanyahu government and the occupation but in this instance, I do not think a person’s position on Israel and the Palestinians is the issue.

In the American Jewish community, there are a wide range of views about Israel but that is an entirely separate matter from anti-Semitism in the United States.

I am among those progressives who were jolted by Charlottesville in 2017. The sight of neo-nazis with their tiki torches chanting “Jews will not replace us” was bracing and a wake-up call. The 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue shooting reinforced my feelings.

Progressives, along with all others on the political spectrum, have under-estimated the anti-Semitic threat and I think that comes out of a weak historical understanding of both anti-Semitism and fascism.

Anti-Semitic hatred is uniquely deep-seated. It has been justifiably called the longest hatred. Think crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, the blood libel and the Holocaust. The body count is enormous but there is a tendency to downplay the danger because of the relative economic success of American Jews. The myth that all Jews are rich figures prominently in the anti-Semitic playbook.

The truth has some complexity. While American Jews as a whole represent the highest earning religious group in the U.S., more than half of American Jews earn less than $99,000 per year with 31 percent earning less than $49,000 per year. Contrary to the stereotype, many Jews do not have much money.

The stereotype that Jews are rich and greedy has a long historical background. Going back to the Middle Ages, Jews had restrictions placed on their economic activity and they were sometimes prohibited from owning land. Ruling classes set up Jews in intermediate positions between those with real power and those without. It was convenient for ruling classes to place Jews in positions where they could be a focus for popular anger that might otherwise be directed at the ruling class.

For over 1500 years, the Church helped generate a popular culture of hatred toward Jews. Anti-Jewish legislation adopted by the Church became the law of the land throughout Christian Europe. Jewish-Christian marriages were forbidden, except in the case of conversion by the Jewish party. Jewish property rights were narrowed. Jews were barred from practicing law and Jews were prevented from testifying against a Christian. In some countries, Jews were forcibly baptized or expelled.

The character Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice comes to mind. As an unscrupulous money-lender, Shylock depicted the stereotype of Jewish greed. Jews like the Rothschilds or George Soros are still imagined to control the world’s financial systems. Cartoons of grotesque fat Jewish bankers running the planet are epidemic. Conspiracy theories live off half-baked ideas and images.

In her podcast, the comedian Sarah Silverman has directly confronted the anti-Semitic mythology that connects Jews and money. She says:

“The conceit that Jews are rich is why the Holocaust happened. That was the idea they were pushing that got people on board with Nazism.”

I think there is truth in Silverman’s perspective. The Nazis played on the thousand year hatred that had religious and economic roots. Scapegoating was central to their project. Progressives who write off anti-Semitism in the hierarchy of racisms are missing why it remains dangerous. Nazis did not ultimately care whether a Jewish person was rich or not. Rich Jews ended up on the trains to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Dachau and Treblinka too.

Interestingly, Sarah Silverman is from New Hampshire. She lived in Bedford. She described on her podcast how growing up she was used to hearing the phrase “Jew them down”. In high school when she was doing comedy she tells how she was performing, getting laughs and she did a quick turn to serious. She spit out, “Jew is not a verb. It is me, your friend”. After that, she said among her friends she never again heard Jew used as a verb.

Jew-hatred is like other racial hatred or hatred of gay people. It is profoundly irrational. Progressives who do not integrate an understanding of anti-Semitism along with other racism have a superficial grasp of the forms of oppression. They are also not listening closely to the neo-nazis and white supremacists.

The white power movement sees the Jews as an all-powerful force in the background, controlling events and using other minorities and immigrants as pawns in their game. They do not see the Jews as white. They see the Jews as the puppet masters, pursuing white genocide and replacement of white people by minorities.

In acknowledging anti-Semitism, I would recognize that in America the history of oppression against African-Americans, Native Americans and Latinx people has been far worse. That is undisputed but it does not minimize Jew-hatred.

America has a strong First Amendment tradition of religious tolerance. Compared to Europe, anti-Semites have had less success here. Still, Jews need allies who will stand with them and oppose anti-Semitism. Passive or indifferent bystanders do not stop perpetrators. Recent experience provides evidence that a threat remains. As with other racism, anti-Semitism must be vigorously opposed.

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Almost summer – posted 6/12/2021

June 12, 2021 1 comment
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Race-norming and the deeper picture of racism in the NFL – posted 6/6/2021

June 6, 2021 5 comments

Since the 2013 settlement of the NFL concussion lawsuit, there continue to be legal skirmishes about compensation. Two black players, Kevin Henry and Najeh Davenport, sued after they were refused a payout under the compensation scheme for brain injuries. The players accused the NFL of racial bias in its administration of settlement funds through a practice called race-norming.

In its use of race-norming, the NFL compared a player’s cognitive test scores with the supposed norm for his demographic group. Under the methodology, black players were assumed to possess a lower level of cognitive function than the average white player. In order to qualify for compensation, the average black player had to demonstrate a greater level of cognitive decline than their white teammates. They needed to score lower to qualify.

To quote NFL safety Eric Reid:

“Race-norming equals blacks are dumber than whites so the brain injuries they suffered didn’t effect them as traumatically because they were dumb to begin with.”

The NFL defended its practice saying that race-norming was used to forestall bias in aptitude tests but then it announced it would stop using the race-based formula.

Judge Anita Brody, the federal court judge overseeing the concussion settlement, threw out the lawsuit filed by Henry and Davenport but she asked for a report about the use of a race-based formula to measure cognitive impairment and to determine eligibility for compensation.

So far, 2000 NFL retirees have filed dementia claims and there have been fewer than 600 awards. The vast majority of NFL retirees are black. Awards have averaged $516,000 for the 371 former players diagnosed with early stage dementia and $715,000 for the 207 players diagnosed with moderate dementia.

Even if not badly intentioned, the NFL’s practice of race-norming reeks of eugenics and our past societal history of scientific racism. While it is little remembered now, racists justified the enslavement of black people by spreading bogus “scientific” theories of black inferiority. Dr. Katherine Possin, a neuropsychology professor and researcher, responded to the race-norming controversy:

“One danger to the continued use of race norms is it perpetuates a false idea that there are genetic differences in intelligence that fall along race lines and that’s simply not true.”

The plaintiff Kevin Henry, now 52, who had his case dismissed by Judge Brody has described how life is different for him now:

“I had more friends. I was more social. I could carry on a conversation without repeating where I was in the conversation. I could find my way around the city better. I could drive without having accidents. Those kind of things have all changed. I am more of a reclusive person now.”

Henry sustained multiple concussions as a defensive lineman playing eight seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers. An NFL-approved clinician has diagnosed Henry with mild to moderate dementia but his claim was denied. Henry delineated how he felt watching the NFL’s PR portraying itself as a social justice ally:

“They come out with all these slogans like ‘We care’ and ‘Black Lives Matter’. And I’m sitting there, like, you’re lying. You’re lying out of your teeth. It’s so painful to sit there and watch, knowing that you know something totally different.”

I think the race-norming highlights how little progress the NFL has made in seriously addressing its institutional racism. The NFL owners sit atop a massive mountain of cash but their lawyers aggressively fight the claims of black retirees. Denying claims of black players is a money-saving scheme.

It must not be forgotten that the NFL worked for years to hide and minimize the danger of concussions.

To present an overview: of the 32 NFL teams, there are no black owners. Two people of color, Shahid Rafiq Khan, a Pakistani-born American who owns the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kim Pegula, a woman of South Korean descent who co-owns the Buffalo Bills, own NFL teams.

There are three black head coaches and two black general managers in the league. Players of color make up 73% of the NFL but there is a lack of diversity among higher-ups in management and in coaching staffs. There is an acute underrepresentation of African Americans in leadership positions.

This has happened in spite of the Rooney rule established in 2003 which was intended to address racial inequities at the head coaching level. The reality is that the Rooney rule has largely failed. As Jemele Hill has written, NFL owners who are almost all white men have not been willing to let African Americans call plays – either on the field or from the sidelines. Hill wrote:

“This is no different from when franchises presumed that black players weren’t smart enough to play quarterback and lacked leadership skills to command men.”

The NFL owners are representative of the broader American ruling class. They mostly pay lip service to Black Lives Matter. They fund some good social justice endeavors but they maintain the rich white male club just like most Fortune 500 companies do. They guard the 1 percent level money and power and they have a financial set-up they want to maintain. There is an exclusivity to their upper class network that is impervious to change.

I know that many may not be sympathetic to the NFL players but consider this: the average NFL player’s career lasts only 2.5 years. Many suffer brutal neurological and orthopedic injuries. The money is very good but typically very short-lived. About 80 percent of NFL players go bankrupt or suffer financial hardship within two years of leaving the game.

It was wrong when NFL owners blackballed Colin Kaepernick because he had the courage to speak up about unconscionable police brutality. But racism in the NFL cuts far deeper than what happened to Kaepernick. Racism is baked into the NFL. Uprooting it will require much more than slick PR.

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