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

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

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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