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Before Jewish immigration began to the United States, let’s look back to the late 19th Century and a train has been stuck somewhere in Russia surrounded by swirling snow and bitter cold for hours.
A Cossack officer storms up and down the aisle, growling menacingly that this is “all the fault of the damn Jews.”
An observant Jew respectfully approaches the angry Cossack and asks, “Excuse me, sir. I, too, have been freezing without food for many hours just like you and everyone else. So why would you blame the Jews for our misfortune?”
The Cossack sneers, “Why not?”
Why not, indeed? Anti-Semitism is the smorgasbord of hatred, open to all tastes. It transcends religions, race, ethnicity, national boundaries and political ideologies. For some 3,500 years, we’ve been targeted for crimes such as monotheism. Killing Jesus. Serving Satan. Using the blood of unbaptized children for our rituals. Usury. The Black Death. Cold-blooded capitalism. Godless Communism. Disloyalty to any country foolish enough to allow us to be citizens. Controllers of the media, Hollywood, banks. Architects of the slave trade. Oppressive Zionists. Creators of the Corona virus, so we can make a buck selling the vaccine. You know how good we are in business.
I am sure that I have forgotten something. The Jewish plot behind halitosis revealed! According to polls and research, anti-Semitism is rising worldwide. I disagree.
Sadly, Jew hatred has always been there as Clifford May recently wrote. It’s never gone away. Just pull aside the curtain on the Wizard of Hate. What’s changed is that now it’s okay to attack Jews as long as you use the proper coded language. Again. Anti-Semitism is becoming acceptable. Again. In some circles, respectable. Again. Welcome to the face of that most ancient disease anti-Semitism, the Dorian Gray of prejudice.
In a way, our success works against us. Although a scant two percent of the American population, Jews often over-achieve in many fields. Whereas success can loosen prejudice against other groups, with Jews that merely fulfills the caricatures of endless mysterious achievements. You can’t have sympathy for someone doing well. But you can resent the heck out of them.
Perhaps that’s why 50 percent of the annual hate crimes are directed against this two per cent of the population. Unlike other minorities, there is little zero tolerance for Jew hatred. Unless there’s a slaughter like in Pittsburgh or Monsey, New York, which even the media cannot ignore, there’s just a lot of discomfort and tongue-clucking.
In the Monsey Massacre, that most distinguished news site of record suggested understandable resentment against Hasidic gentrification may have contributed to this atmosphere of mistrust.
Few lose anymore by making anti-Semitic comments. All you have to do is conduct a brief apology tour. I wager Mel Gibson would have fared better in this new/old atmosphere.
When DeSean Jackson of the Philadelphia Eagles touted fake Instagram quotes from Adolf Hitler warning that Jews want to deny American blacks their equal rights – yeah, the Fuhrer was a big fan of African Americans, see Jesse Owens, 1936 Olympics – that stirred up some controversy.
But not for long. Jackson deleted the hate posts, and was forced to perform insincere penance. Pay a fine. He is still with the team.
What would’ve happened if an NFL player had boasted Nazi poison about African Americans, Asians, Hispanics, the LGBTQ community? Absolute justifiable outrage. So why is it different when it comes to the Jews? If you cut us, do we not bleed?
Or how about the Oakland Athletics bench coach Ryan Christenson who gave his players the Sieg Heil salute after homering since, with social distancing, you can’t high five. What else would he do? Christenson received full support at a team meeting. Nary a fine. The Athletics issued a statement condemning racism with not a mention of anti-Semitism. With all the Jewish Major League Baseball owners, no one said a word? Christenson later said his Sieg Heil salute was “unintentional”.
You might not have heard that story. It was swept away into the sounds of silence (thank you Paul and Art).
Against this background of casual prejudice, Jew hatred is no longer on the fringe, but increasingly mainstreamed through the media and political system under the pious canopy of moral equivalency. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, both anti Semites, regularly spew vile canards that are defended (with Jewish Senator Bernie Sanders as the chief defender) because they are persons of color as if suffering oppression gives you the right to inflict it on others. The House of Representatives couldn’t bring itself to pass a resolution condemning anti-Semitism. Politicians ignoring an opportunity to suck up to a constituency with an empty vote?
The days of Jews as a key conservative voting bloc have been fading. We have been replaced by more understandably sympathetic groups, exacerbated by the corrosive decline of Jewish self-identity and comradeship with Israel. You really don’t need our vote and you really don’t need our money and we don’t make good entertainment anymore. Other than The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, how many movies, television shows or stage plays explore Jewish themes? The programming that takes on Jewish storylines almost always locks onto anti-Semitism through Nazis, such as Hunters and The Plot Against America.
Increasingly we’re peeling wallpaper, a reminder of a different America where baseball was the national pastime that is considered outdated and wrong on many levels. American Jewry is now just so many baggy flannel uniforms.
One distinctive contemporary issue fueling Jew hatred are the larger vicious attacks on faith and God-based religions targeting Christians and Christianity. Catholic public officials are increasingly accused that they cannot serve this country because of their religion. Are you or have you ever been a member of the Catholic faith?
Do not expect that the next generation will provide hope. A recent nationwide poll of Millennials and GenZ on the Holocaust was particularly disturbing. Put aside that half of the respondents couldn’t name a concentration camp. That’s more a function of the failures of the educational system which tolerates and promotes ignorance of the most basic facts among Americans concerning their own history. Uh yeah, the Bill of Rights, the Bill of Rights. Of course, you can only fit so much history on a Tweet.
The laconic Anti-Semitism among the young that should raise the greatest concern is that roughly 63 percent did not know that six million Jews were murdered by the Third Reich. That’s long been accepted based on meticulous German records. If you won’t believe that, you must think it’s a lie. If it’s a lie, who is lying? In other words, who gains the most by generating sympathy?
Right. Among New Yorkers, a city where I can attest a fair number of Jews live, approximately 20 percent of these bright shining examples of the Youth of America, to borrow Casey Stengel’s phrase, believe that the Jews were responsible for the Holocaust. Exactly how we would have done that is baffling, but I’m guessing it’s because we deserved it. Why? If you think Jews deserved mass extermination less than 80 years ago, do you still believe that? Look no further than pre-pandemic college campuses where virulent Anti-Semitism raged under the banner of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement whose goal is the elimination of Israel.
Israelis = Zionists = All Jews = Apartheid/Nazis = Delegitimization = justification for violence. That leans into the distinguishing nature of this ancient disease.
There is a wealth of literature throughout the ages pointing to the sinister dangers posed by the all-powerful Jews, logical reasons drained of ugly pejoratives which are designed to appeal to intelligent people. The puppet masters of the Elders of Zion.
Ultimately it’s not the hate merchants we need to fear. I know what Minister Louis Farrakhan and Richard Spencer want. I fear the good people who allow all strains of bigotry to flourish by giving it the veneer of respectability. They look away, comforted by festering suspicions demonizing others as “those people” because somehow, “those people” are less than us. And if they’re less than us, they can be treated differently. Just don’t do it where we can see it. Hate can be so messy. Mass graves, whether Jews, Tutus, Cambodians or Bosnians, provide moral blindness for decent people who won’t face the consequences of their bigotries.
I explore this prejudice of decent people in my new funny drama about racial harmony, A Black and White Cookie, which will premiere post-lockdown at New York’s Theater for the New City. In the play, Harold Wilson, a gruff, conservative African American senior, finally reopens his newsstand following the coronavirus pandemic, only to be hit with an exorbitant rent increase which forces him to close his East Village business after 30 years and reluctantly retire to Florida with his niece. Enter long-time customer Albie Sands, an eccentric 1960s Jewish Communist, who persuades Harold to fight the landlord. But first, Harold must get past his anti-Semitism.
In our society, increasingly we can’t explain why something happened without being accused of embracing that point of view. We can’t discuss unpleasant historical events or why we voted for a candidate without generating anger and accusations. A society which is afraid to think and consider different points of view will inevitably degrade its ability to understand. Then what? I walk a precarious line in A Black and White Cookie by daring to show the origins of a prejudice without justifying it, while maintaining sympathy for the character overall.
To tell this story, I chose African Americans from a personal dismay at the sad fraying of this once strong alliance in the fight for equality. In the Freedom Summer of 1964, for example, about half of the white northern volunteers who flocked to violently segregated Mississippi to register black voters were Jews. Two of them were murdered by the Klan. Though there are a long list of applicants, Jews and blacks are the two peoples who have been most royally screwed by the world. That makes the growing black anti-Semitism all the more painful.
Perhaps the reason Anti-Semitism never goes away is that the world needs someone they can all agree to hate. There is some dark unity in the increasing freedom to blame Jews with impunity. We are, after all, the Chosen People. That is an historical given. As it is a given that with this hate comes an equal determination to survive honed from thousands of years of running out of places to go. American Jews think we are safe.
They are wrong. The great dramatist Paddy Chayefsky said all Jews need to keep a packed bag in the hall closet. That was the grim fear of our grandparents, our parents. Now American Jewry thinks we are safe. Not anymore. Many of us will just wear dirty undies when the time comes.
The Jews will not disappear, so the world will speak kindly of us at our eulogy. You should be thankful. We remind everyone that while we may be “those people,” chosen or not, so are all of you for whatever the checklist of hyphenations. The hate that lashes out at us from all directions can just as easily consume you. When one group suffers, all suffer. When they come for us, ultimately they will come for you. That has also proven to be an historical given. Someone has to turn out the lights.
Remember that while Anti-Semitism is the world’s most ancient disease, it is also highly contagious.
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