Anti-Semitism as a political issue
October 19, 2018
There was a time when “real” anti-Semitism was alive and doing well in the United States. I have written before that had we moved to Shaker Heights, Ohio, two years earlier than we did, we could not have bought a house there. It was not until 1948 that the “No Jews” restriction was declared illegal.
At that time there were quotas on the number of Jews allowed in many medical and law schools around the country. Most country clubs did not allow Jews (we retaliated by opening our own country clubs and not allowing gentiles). Before the war, Jews from Europe fleeing the Nazis were turned away and sent back to certain death.
Well, we’ve come a long way. Two Jews serve on the Supreme Court (ladies, yet!). Quotas and religious qualifications are pretty much all illegal. But like roaches in the walls, it still exists. We are living in a political atmosphere that is designed to pull people apart. We have become tribal once again.
Political discourse has become toxic. When personal attacks become the norm, when in our social media world there are no rules about truth or sources, we tend to protect ourselves and our own.
In this election year, all the stop signs are pulled down. Truth takes a back seat to nuance and attacks. There are a plethora of fringe organizations that are blatantly anti-black and/or anti-Semitic. God help the candidate that is endorsed by them—unless of course they strike a chord that the candidate themselves endorse—if only by innuendo.
We all say and do stupid stuff. Many of our beliefs and attitudes are based on what we heard at the dinner table when we were kids. It is tough as we grow and live in a world different from the one in which we were raised to change certain ideas and patterns.
The world around us has changed drastically during the past two generations. Race and religion do not have the restrictive borders they used to. However, unfortunately, the extremes are still there.
So, as Jews we ponder. This candidate seems to follow my political ideas, seems to call for the changes I’d like to see. BUT—he is quoted as saying something detrimental to Jews in a speech or a conversation at some time.
So? How important is this if the candidate’s platform and stance on issues agree with our own. For some of us, one statement, one quote that is detrimental or even borderline about Jews is enough to disqualify that candidate. For others it is dependent on the time that the statement was made.
Look, I was raised in a time when racial jokes were part of the daily lexicon—even if we bore no antipathy to the race we were demeaning. Today sensitivity is greater to any remark, joke or statement that might offend someone. So, no more black jokes, Polish jokes, Italian jokes—or, God Forbid an anti-Jewish joke. Unless of course we are joking about our own ethnicity—and with a fellow Jew. Of course.
Funny, isn’t it? Jews can make jokes about Jews, Italians about Italians—but we dare not joke about anyone else’s ethnicity, religion, or cultural quirks. Anti-Semitism, of course, is different. In its most violent form it created the Holocaust. In its more subtle form it created quotas, discrimination and the occasional spray-painted swastika on a suburban garage door.
Jews, by taking the high road and integrating themselves into society through grit, determination, and yes, skill; have, in most of society, taken our rightful place. But, just below the surface, the beast still breathes.
There are nations in the world in which few, if any, Jews live—but where anti-Semitism is rife. Why? How? Well, in many cases it is religiously driven. The record of the Catholic Church in the Second World War is far from stellar. Much of the Muslim world is totally anti-Semitic.
Traces of it of course remain in sections of our society. Whether created by religious belief or jealousy or just plain “gotta blame somebody!” It’s here.
So, if a political candidate made a statement or said something and was overheard no matter when—it is something to take into consideration. We must be aware. We must be awake. And yes, it should be.
Anti-Semitism is and I’m afraid will always be a political issue.