Columnist Sara Weinberger: Understanding anti-Semitism

Published: 9/18/2020 2:40:13 PM
Modified: 9/18/2020 2:40:02 PM

Jay Fleitman’s letter to the editor on Sept. 14 states that he is “furious” because Joe Biden visited Jacob Blake Sr. after his son was shot and paralyzed by police. Fleitman’s fury is driven by anti-Semitic and anti-white statements made by Jacob Blake Sr. on social media. Fleitman’s letter increases animosity between Blacks and Jews at a time when we desperately need to come together to defeat white nationalism.

Until white nationalists marched in Charlottesville in 2017, chanting “Jews will not replace us,” followed by the murders of Jewish worshippers at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, Jews were not viewed as an oppressed minority. Instead, they were viewed as a group receiving all the benefits of white privilege.

According to civil rights activist Eric Ward, white nationalists see Jews as a threat to preserving white American patriarchy. The legal and cultural changes during the civil rights movement, such as passage of the voting rights act and ending legally enforced segregation, necessitated a movement to enable white supremacists to take back their power.

The old tropes that suggested Jews controlled the banks and the governments and were working for world domination resurfaced. Today the fear of changing demographics that predict white people will be a minority by the middle of the 21st century has fueled the white nationalist movement in the U.S.

Jews are portrayed as aiding and abetting people of color in their efforts to achieve equality. They are viewed as traitors to the white cause. The racialization of Jews that enabled Hitler to turn non-Jews against their neighbors is rearing its ugly head.

Our president at best fails to condemn racist and anti-Semitic attacks and at worst actively rallies his supporters against these groups.

Since white Americans witnessed the brutal murder of George Floyd, they have begun to educate themselves about this country’s racist past and present, to better understand what it means to be Black in the United States.

Americans also need to gain a better understanding of anti-Semitism in order to become more sensitive to the impact it has had on the Jewish psyche. Though I don’t agree with Dr. Fleitman’s reaction to Mr. Biden’s visit with Mr. Blake, as a Jew and an adult child of Holocaust survivors, I too feel the sting and the fear associated with those who spread dangerous myths about Jews through social media.

However, continuing to separate ourselves from those who we don’t agree with only serves the cause of white nationalism by keeping Blacks and Jews divided, instead of helping to see that we are strong when we join together to stand against hate.

Dr. Fleitman refers to Mr. Blake as a racist. While his postings on social media are certainly anti-Semitic, racism describes the use of prejudice and discrimination by those who have the power and status to oppress others. Black people, who are marginalized in this country, do not have the power to engage in the systemic racism that has infected the United States.

The institutions and corporations that have engaged in racial profiling and violence against Black people, the criminal justice system that has disproportionately imprisoned Black people, and the corporate control resulting in practices that keep money and power in the hands of a white majority are the racism that all of us need to defeat.

In his July 16 op-ed in “The Forward,” Rabbi Mike Rothbaum points out that Black anti-Semitism is differentiated into its own special category. Blacks who make anti-Semitic statements are publicly condemned and punished, along with an expectation that the Black community denounce them.

The most recent examples of DeSean Jackson, Stephen Jackson and Nick Cannon’s anti-Semitic comments on social media were followed by outcries of condemnation by whites, even after they publicly apologized for their statements and took additional steps to educate themselves.

Rothbaum points out the lack of an outcry from white people last December, when President Trump appeared in public with white Evangelical pastors, Robert Jeffress, who has stated that Jews and other non-Christians will be condemned to hell, and John Hagee, who claimed that Jewish bankers “spread their net of financial influence over the working man” and that Jewish “rebellion” against Jesus “birthed the seed of anti-Semitism.”

Rabbi Rothbaum asks the question, “Who has more power over me as a Jew: an athlete, or a hateful pastor who has the ear of the President of the United States?”

I deplore the statements of Jacob Blake Sr. At the same time, I am able to feel compassion for a father, whose son was left paralyzed from the waist down after being shot in the back by police, in front of his children. Reaching out with compassion to people like Jacob Blake Sr. has the potential to open a door of mutual understanding, where we can really listen to each other’s painful histories.

It’s hard to hate somebody when you connect with them at a human level. The battle against white supremacy and white nationalism requires that we look past our differences in the service of fighting a bigger enemy that threatens our very existence.

Sara Weinberger of Easthampton is a professor emerita of social work and writes a monthly column. She can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.


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