Something’s Happening Here

Frankfurt. A large number of Orthodox Jews are not allowed on a plane, identified as part of a group because they looked Jewish. Kentucky. A graduate at the university spotted an obviously Jewish man across the street and screamed out “you know, all the kikes should be killed.” Buffalo. A young man, spouting the Great White Replacement Theory, walked into a food market and shot 13 people, killing 10. And these things all happened in the first two weeks of May.

Robert Mnookin, in his book, The American Jewish Paradox, remarked that American Jews are no longer persecuted for being Jewish. He pointed out that especially between about 1900 and 1950, Jews were barred from schools, professions, and neighborhoods, but by 1960 quotas were largely gone, and today institutionalized discrimination has essentially disappeared. He acknowledged that there are obviously still antisemites in America, but his premise is that their hostility is no longer expressed through American institutions that hold the keys to power, prestige, and inclusion. He said these things in a book released in 2018. I wonder what he would say about the white supremacists who marched through U Va shouting, “Jews will not replace us,” and the president of the United States, who said there were “fine people on both sides.” Is not the presidency such an institution?

Several legislators have spouted the Great Replacement Theory, and Tucker Carlson appears to be a proponent. Are congress and the press not two of the greatest institutions of our democracy? So what kind of antisemitism are we facing today? Is it creeping back into institutions, or being raised to new levels in new institutions? Is it me, or is it getting worse? Or is antisemitism just being emboldened to come out of the closet? What it is, ain’t exactly clear.

It is true that Yale no longer has a quota on its admission of Jews. And my great-uncle Lou would not have had to change his last name because stock brokerages frowned on hiring obviously Jewish people. But my kids, who never considered or confronted antisemitism as young children, now watch the demonstrations, the postings, and the killings, and wonder how safe they are. Who is to blame for it? What can we do?

It’s easy for me to blame social media. After all, I am an old guy who doesn’t use it. It has given license to people to anonymously spout antisemitic theories that now reach easily persuadable people, and in fact the algorithms used are designed to attract and addict specific people to a single group of sources.

When I was still teaching in law school (so this is a while ago), we had a presentation on data aggregators, and the expectation of privacy. The presenter explained to us why we received advertisements about things that already interested us. But he also warned us that the technology would get better at drawing us in, and when used for political purposes, the technology could become dangerous.

With the state of today’s social media, and the news sources reinforcing our already existing opinions, I believe he was right. It is dangerous out there, and I am frightened. I also blame the former president and his party. I remember talking with one of my relatives before the election in 2016. This is a person who thinks FDR was one of the worst presidents in history, so you can imagine his view of most Democrats. Yet he said we should not elect Trump. He said after they finish with the Muslims and the immigrants, they will come for us Jews. I thought about his words in the aftermath of Charlottesville. Are we in danger? Clearly not all Republicans go along with that. But their silence in response is deafening. Are we to be one of the victims of politics that has become so partisan that politicians won’t acknowledge when someone on their side says something that is very, very wrong?

Originally, in my mind, the blame I placed on social media, politicians, and news sources was only for letting the few maniac racists that were always there, go public with impunity. I now think I was very wrong. I think we have permitted those racists and antisemites to find an audience that would join them, and has joined them. A new Associated Press–NORC Center for Public Affairs Research poll found that 32% of Americans believe that “a group of people is trying to replace native-born Americans with immigrants for electoral gains.” This figure includes nearly half of Republicans polled. Chew on that for a while.

What do we do? Anything and everything we can. You’ve got to be aware. Report anything and everything you see that concerns you. Speak out against antisemitic jokes and slurs, and avoid using that language yourself. Lobby, support lobbying groups, and write to our government officials. Insist on classes in our public schools, and support programs at our colleges.

I could go on, but it is easier to have you use Google: I did and quickly found Anti-Semitism: 90 Ways You Can Respond, published by one of the Jewish Federations in California. And I saw ADL  handouts on Responding to Antisemitism and Taking a Stand Against Antisemitism, with great tips on how and when to respond.

If the internet is being used dangerously, let’s turn the tables and use it to combat that danger. Use it to educate yourself, to teach your children, and use it to spread our message. Use it to counter antisemitic postings and debunk antisemitic rumors.

Antisemitism is present and can no longer be ignored. It must be fought, with all our might, and all the years of our accumulated wisdom. We are never too old to fight for the right to pass our freedoms to the next generations.

Keep up the good fight.

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