An increase in anti-Semitic incidents is not the answer to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict
In Time Square in New York City, a group of men punched, kicked and peppered a 29-year-old Jew who was wearing a kippah. The group was shouting anti-Semitic statements.
On the Upper West Side of New York City, a Jewish man went to Trader Joe’s to buy food for the Sabbath. A group of teenagers followed him saying, “Yarmulke. I want to take this kippah. I want to hit him on the head and take this kippah. This Jewish baby killer.
In Brooklyn, another group of men harassed Orthodox Jews preparing for the Sabbath. The group shouted, “Free Palestine, kill all the Jews. The group knocked on the locked synagogue doors and when they couldn’t enter, smashed the mirror of a car parked nearby. A little while later, the group chased people perceived to be Jewish with a baseball bat and put a 17-year-old in a strangulation.
In Skokie, Ill., Someone smashed a window in a synagogue.
In Arizona, police are investigating someone who spray-painted a swastika and an anti-Semitic slurs on the door of a Tucson synagogue. It is the second synagogue in the recently vandalized city.
In Los Angeles, pro-Palestinian protesters attacked Jewish diners at a sushi restaurant.
All of these episodes occurred as a result of the May military conflict between Israel and the Palestinians. During those fights in May, the Anti-Defamation League followed a spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, including assaults, vandalism, harassment and hate speech. On Twitter, there were over 17,000 tweets using variations of the phrase “Hitler was right” between May 7 and May 14.
It appears that Jews are blamed around the world for the violence in Gaza. As in the United States, Jews in Europe have also seen an increase in anti-Semitic incidents. Anti-Semites use the Israeli state’s human rights violations against Palestinians as a cover for hatred of Jews everywhere.
As an American Jew, I am not responsible for the actions of the Israeli state. And 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 case, I don’t think one person’s position on Israel and the Palestinians is the issue.
In the American Jewish community, there is a wide range of views on Israel, but this is an issue entirely separate from anti-Semitism in the United States.
I am one of those progressives who were rocked by Charlottesville in 2017. The sight of neo-Nazis with their tiki torches chanting “The Jews will not replace us” was invigorating and a wake-up call. The Pittsburgh Synagogue shooting in 2018 made my feelings stronger.
Progressives, as well as everyone else on the political spectrum, have underestimated the anti-Semitic threat, and I think this stems from a weak historical understanding of anti-Semitism and fascism.
Anti-Semitic hatred is particularly deeply rooted. It has rightly been called the Longest Hatred. Think of the crusades, inquisitions, pogroms, bloody libel and the Holocaust. The death toll is huge, but there is a tendency to downplay the danger due to the relative economic success of American Jews. The myth that all Jews are rich figures prominently in the anti-Semitic playbook.
The truth has a certain complexity. While American Jews as a whole represent the highest paid religious group in the United States, more than half of American Jews earn less than $ 99,000 per year, and 31% earn less than $ 49,000 per year. Contrary to the stereotype, many Jews do not have a lot of money.
The stereotype that Jews are rich and greedy has a long history. Since the Middle Ages, Jews were subject to restrictions on their economic activity and were sometimes prohibited from owning land. The ruling classes placed the Jews in intermediate positions between those who held real power and those who did not. It was convenient for the ruling classes to place the Jews in positions where they could be the hotbed of popular anger that might otherwise be directed against the ruling class.
For more than 1,500 years, the church has helped generate a popular culture of hatred against Jews. Anti-Jewish legislation passed by the church became the law of the land throughout Christian Europe. Judeo-Christian marriages were prohibited, except in cases of conversion by the Jewish party. Property rights of Jews were curtailed. Jews were prohibited from practicing law, and Jews were barred from testifying against a Christian. In some countries, Jews have been forcibly baptized or expelled.
The character of Shylock in Shakespeare The merchant of Venice comes to mind. As an unscrupulous lender, Shylock portrayed the stereotype of Jewish greed. Jews, like the Rothschilds or George Soros, are still imagined to control the world’s financial systems. The cartoons of grotesque and obese Jewish bankers running the planet are epidemic. Conspiracy theories live on half-baked ideas and images.
In her podcast, actress Sarah Silverman directly confronted the anti-Semitic mythology that links Jews and money. She said, “The vanity that the Jews are rich is the reason the Holocaust happened. It was the idea they were pushing that led people to join Nazism. “
I think there is some truth to Silverman’s perspective. The Nazis played on the millennial hatred that had religious and economic roots. The scapegoat was at the heart of their project. Progressives who push anti-Semitism down the hierarchy of racism don’t know why it remains dangerous. The Nazis ultimately didn’t care whether a Jewish person was rich or not. Wealthy Jews also gathered on trains to Auschwitz, Sobibor, Dachau and Treblinka.
Interestingly, Sarah Silverman is from New Hampshire. She lived in Bedford. She described on her podcast how growing up she used to hear the phrase “Jews down”. In high school, when she was doing comedy, she recounts how she performed, laughed at and quickly got serious. She spits: “Jew is not a verb. It’s me, your friend. After that, she said among her friends that she had never heard Jew used as a verb again.
Hatred of Jews is like racial hatred or hatred of homosexuals. It is deeply irrational. Progressives who do not integrate an understanding of anti-Semitism with other racisms have a superficial understanding of forms of oppression. They also don’t listen carefully to neo-Nazis and white supremacists.
The white power movement sees the Jews as an almighty force behind the scenes, 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 puppeteers, pursuing the genocide of whites and the replacement of whites with minorities.
In acknowledging anti-Semitism, I would recognize that in America the history of oppression against African Americans, Native Americans, and Latinxes has been much worse. This is undisputed, but it does not minimize the hatred of the Jews.
America has a strong tradition of First Amendment religious tolerance. Compared to Europe, anti-Semites have had less success here. Yet Jews need allies who stand by their side and oppose anti-Semitism. Passive or indifferent spectators do not stop the aggressors. Recent experience shows that a threat remains. As with any other racism, anti-Semitism must be vigorously combated.
(Jonathan Baird lives in Wilmot.)