Opinion | Susan Knopf: Antisemitism in America
For The Record
This week is Hanukkah, and so it seems an interesting time reflect on what it means to be Jewish in America. For the record, an American Jew is more likely to be the victim of a hate crime than any member of any other faith, though Jews number under two percent of the US population. According to the FBI, attacks on Jews outnumber those against all other faiths combined. According to the Anti-Defamation League, anti-Jewish incidents increased nearly 60 percent in 2017. It’s the biggest increase in two decades. Boulder Rabbi Ruth Gelfarb said she was “shocked” when I shared the statistics with her.
I have been the victim of antisemitism, as has every member of my family. There are too many stories to tell. When I attended a small liberal arts college, there was an article in the student newspaper. The story touted diversity and described the demographics of two schools. It stated that our college, and a neighboring university, each had a student body of one third Jews. A student said, “That’s not true!” She instructed the other students to read the names of the editorial staffs of the two student newspapers. Superficially, the lists appeared to represent a cross section of the student bodies. The student said, “See!! They’re all Jewish!” In a Kafkaesque reference she said, “They don’t want you to know how may of them are crawling in and out of here.” There was some debate, but in the end the dissenters let it go.
Ironically, some years later the antisemite was the maid of honor at a Jewish woman’s wedding. The most interesting part is not that she was prejudiced, but that she was selective about the prejudice and didn’t see her own disingenuous process. Her Jew-hate was a way to sort others, and she remained steadfast in her prejudice even as she called a Jew her best friend.
This portrayal is more common than you imagine. I’m a big fan of a couple movies that explore the topic: “Gentleman’s Agreement” and “Enemy Mine.” They would seem to be very different movies. Both address implicit prejudice, the hatred of the other, the marginalizing of the other. These tacit, accepted norms are hurtful and counterproductive. Instead of protecting society, fear, loathing and separation from the other is destructive to that which we desire to protect, our civilization. It is the opposite of what many believe is true.
We see many forms of prejudice against the other; antisemitism is perhaps the most pernicious spanning the centuries. Harvard Professor Emeritus Ruth Wisse, rejects the ideas of many scholars, that it is merely a repertoire of hateful speech and expression. Instead she believes it to be a convenient political device. We have seen that demonstrated locally with swastikas drawn on Sheriff Jaime FitzSimon’s campaign signs and Lord of the Mountain Lutheran Church tagged with swastikas following the election of President Trump. Throughout time it was a convenient common ground hatred to politically unify the masses.
“The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” is a fabricated antisemitic text purporting to be a Jewish plan for world domination. It was first published in Russia in 1903, leading to Jewish programs in which thousands of Jews were killed, and driven out of their homes. Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, funded the distribution of 500,000 copies in the U.S.A. in the 1920s. Today this fictional work is still in global distribution and translated into numerous languages. In Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, white men marched through the streets, carrying tiki torches, and chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Today virulent antisemitism can be found on the political right, as well as on the left masquerading as social justice.
Antisemitism is clearly a convenient political device to distract people from their real concerns for economic security. Instead of grappling with the issues, let’s blame the other; let’s blame the Jew. The Jew is taking your job.
The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said, “When people criticize Zionists, they mean Jews. You’re talking antisemitism.” Antisemitic incidents on college campuses doubled for the second year in a row, according to the ADL. That’s due in no small part to the BDS movement: Boycott, Divest, Sanctions. Student councils at three University of Michigan campuses voted to divest from Israel. The BDS movement attempts to hold Israel accountable for oppression of the Palestinian people. Interesting how much attention this gets, yet far worse situations around the globe get little spotlight. Yemen, Turkey, Syria, Russia, China, Saudia Arabia and Myanmar all have institutionalized state-run programs intended to deprive thousands of people of their most basic human rights. While some campus programs address these issues, none has the national organization or recognition of BDS. It begs the question, why so much effort to delegitimize the only Jewish state in the world? The Board of Regents at the University of Michigan stated, “We strongly oppose any action involving the boycott, divestment or sanction of Israel.” In 2002, the President of Harvard University, Lawrence H. Summers said in reaction to an anti-Israel divestment campaign on campus, such advocacy is “antisemitic in their effect if not in their intent.”
Make no mistake. The intent is antisemitic, even when organizers say otherwise. The pretense is that it is political discussion. It’s really a political device fueling hatred, and using that ancient hate to accomplish some other hidden agenda, some jockeying for power. The same is true at the personal level.
The explicit expressions, tagging and demonstrations, are easy to spot and decry. Tacit antisemitism is perhaps more insidious and more ubiquitous. It’s easily explained away. What about those who spread malicious gossip? A classic antisemitic libel is “Jews have all the money.” When someone says, “You think you’re entitled,” when all pragmatic evidence points to the contrary, is that tacit antisemitism, a reference to an old lie? What about when someone scores a good deal, and says “I really ‘Jewed’ him down!”? It would be unthinkable to make an insulting remark regarding a person’s race or origin. Yet my husband’s former boss told him to “consider your heritage,” when the boss might have said, “Let’s reduce the budget on this project.”
So the next time you find a bit of negative thinking creeping into your mind, ask yourself some leading questions about your presumptions, your underlying values. In this season of Hanukkah, see if you can find a path of greater enlightenment, greater charity, a bigger view. Build yourself a bigger tent. Remember Hate has no home here in Summit County.
Susan Knopf is a Summit County resident. She has won awards from the Associated Press and United Press International for her news reporting.
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