The feature image (above) of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial is quoted from Dr. King's Letter from the Birmingham Jail – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”
“I don’t speak because I have the power to speak; I speak because I don’t have the power to remain silent”Rabbi A.Y. Kook
Over the Labor Day holiday, I saw a Facebook posting which disturbed me. At a local Peachtree City, GA fireworks display, a man was walking around bare-chested with a very large swastika on his torso. Since this is one of the most affluent and ethnically diverse communities in the Atlanta area, I was taken aback. We as a nation have really gone downhill in just 4 years.
Jews are one of the better accepted and prosperous minority groups in the USA. Being Jewish has generally not been a point of contention in 21st Century America, at least until recently. Many of our better-known and most respected Americans in science, politics, business, entertainment and so on have been Jewish.
Certainly, anti-Semitism has decreased from I was a NYC youth in the 1950s and early 1960s, when I heard enough bad taste remarks about Jews to last a lifetime. That is, it decreased until the Trump era.
Anti-Semitism is once again on the rise, stoked by the nationalistic rhetoric spouted by our President. Even worse, the attacks are coming from both the left and right. And, too many of us sit back and just watch…and when good people fail to act, evil grows.
Per the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), there were 1879 incidents in 2018, a near record high. These included the Pittsburg synagogue shooting in which 11 Jewish worshippers died and 2 were injured.
In my current home state of Georgia (I’ve lived all over the nation), there were 30 anti-Semitic incidents in 2018, down from 58 in 2017. But, that’s still 30 too many. Many were simple vandalism, but there were a large number that were harassment. There were even several bomb threats over the last few years. And, our institutions of higher learning are not immunity to the threat. Emory University, which has a large Jewish undergraduate population including my granddaughter, recently had a university sanctioned incident (anti-Semitic cards hung on the doors of Jewish students). And, there have been similar problems at UGA and Ga Tech.
But these anti-Semitic acts have not been confined to red, conservative states. Frankly, that fact does not surprise me given that as a youth the worst anti-Semitism that I have ever witnessed was in liberal downstate New York, coming from blue collar ethnic groups consisting of relatively recent European immigrants.
I was a poor blue-collar kid (and the only Jew, but one who looked stereotypically Italian, my mother’s influence) in the local Police Boys Club. I even heard offensive remarks from the Irish American cop, otherwise a nice guy, who was our advisor.
California, my home before returning to Georgia, is a liberal state with a large Jewish population… but had a record number of reported incidents, 341. And, I lived less than an hour away from Poway, the site of another right-wing synagogue shooting. Many non-violent attacks were from the left, combining verbal assaults on Israel with anti-Jewish statements, particularly at San Francisco State University, but elsewhere as well.
I’m a progressive, writing 200 generally left of center columns annually. Many are specifically about racism and bigotry in general. That’s why it pains me when I go on social media and find that many of my liberal compatriots are not only anti-Israel, but anti-Semitic as well. For some strange reason, the left has decided that it’s OK to ignore Arab and Muslim atrocities and just criticize the existence and actions of the one Jewish state in the region (note: I am not a Netanyahu or a settler movement supporter).
For a good example of this trend, take a look at the AFSC (Quaker) newsletter which is filled with anti-Israel propaganda… but never mentions Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Iran and other Muslim areas of bloody conflict where thousands die every year. Or China, which is murdering and incarcerating millions of ethnic Muslims. Isn’t zeroing in on the only Jewish state and ignoring the Muslim ones and China, anti-Semitic?
As Americans, we must be vigilant and not let the plague of anti-Semitism grow in our state and nation, regardless of whether it comes from the left or right. If you hear someone say something bigoted (whether about African Americans, Latinx, Jews or another group), stand up and say something back to the offender. Don’t leave it to the next guy (or lady). Never again!
If you know of anyone harassing Jews any other minority… report them to the proper authorities. As Hillel wrote: “If I am not for me, who is for me; and if I am (only) for myself, what am I. And if not now, when?”
Image Credit: the feature image of the Martin Luther King Jr Memorial - Washington DC was taken by Alan English CPA (flickr/Creative Commons) and is from Dr. King's Letter from the Birmingham Jail – “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”