Sunday, April 28, 2019

Free to hate

Later this week we will commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day for the millions of Jews tortured and murdered by Hitler and his many willing European accomplices.

Is it coincidence that a Der Sturmer style cartoon like this runs in a mainstream respected publication like the New York Times and not long afterward yet another Jewish synagogue is attacked by a shooter driven by anti-Semitism?

The point is not whether a West Coast teen would have been reading the high brow NYT, the point is that when the NYT deems it acceptable to publish a deeply anti-Semitic cartoon like this which supports the age old anti-Semitic canard that Jews are bent on world domination and are behind the scenes pulling the strings of world leaders, then the NYT is sending a message that this type of anti-Semitism is legitimate.

If the NYT believes that this Protocols of the Elders of Zion anti-Semitism is legitimate than it is also legitimate for US politicians like Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to stand up give voice to similar anti-Semitic tropes and if it's fine for respectable members of the US Congress to give voice to such theories than it becomes fine for these ideas to be spoken of in public forums everywhere, including educational frameworks like colleges.

And if these ideas are being granted such widespread legitimacy then why shouldn't a 19 year-old in California and a middle aged malcontent in Pittsburgh decide that clearly these anti-Semitic lies are in fact true and the only way to solve the problems of the United States is to take up arms and and start killing Jews, starting with their places of worship?

And if you start saying, well, it's OK for the NYT and Congresswoman Omar to say such things because they are progressive, and we know that all progressives mean well even when they are inciting hatred against Jews, but it's only dangerous when white supremacists say the same thing in slightly different language because people on the right are always evil then you are missing the point. Anti-Semitism in both Europe and the US has become accepted in polite company again, whether that polite company is old school reactionary or left-wing progressive today they can unite around at least one issue - Jew hatred, anti-Semitic conspiracy theories and scapegoating the world's ill on the Jewish people.

Since early childhood I remember the dark humour of the bittersweet running joke between my uncle and one of his closest friends, a joke that stretches back to my grandmother and the mother of this friend who were also best mates. The two friends had very different political views, the friend and his mother were devoted Communists, active members of the British Communist party and in the trades union movements, to this day the son is a a card carrying Communist. My grandmother and uncle, devoutly religious Jews, always leaned Conservative, and had deep respect for figures such as Churchill, Margaret Thatcher and the British royal family,believers in free markets and classic liberalism, active in the campaign for Soviet Jewry and for the rights and freedom of anti-Communist dissidents behind the Iron Curtain.

Many a Shabbat or Sunday afternoon political discussion over tea and biscuits would get heated and intense but always at the end they would shake hands and say to one another "At the end of the day our world views make no difference, when the anti-Semites take power they will line us up against the wall side by side to be shot because it doesn't matter if we are Communist or Conservative, internationalist or patriotic Brits, when the anti-Semites come to get the Jews we will be lined up and shot side by side simply because we are Jews."

As a child and young adult I would hear this and view it as a product of a generation who had lived through the dark days of European fascism, who had seen Mosley's Brown Shirts march through Jewish neighbourhoods of London, both before and after the Second World War, who had seen their relatives in central and eastern Europe murdered in the Holocaust. The dark humour of firing squads and anti-Semitic executioners seemed an anachronism leftover from those horrific times, far away from the new democracies rising from the dust of the fall of the Berlin Wall and an end to authoritarian governments the world over. At least that is how it seemed.

Now? I am not going to stand here and forecast the rise of a new Hitlerian world order bent on genocide against the Jewish people. As a Jew that possibility is not one that can ever be ruled out because we have seen it too many times in our history and our families have too many gaping holes in them to say it could never happen again.

In the week in which we commemorate Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Memorial Day, what I am saying is that if among progressives in the US, like the NYT, this type of anti-Semitism is considered fine and dandy then we are in trouble. A trouble that even if it doesn't yield another full blown Holocaust, is nevertheless a portent of dangerous times for Jews in yet another free and democratic country in which they believed themselves to be safe from such historic woes.

This trouble, this danger, it isn't a big bam that has happened overnight. It's a slow, incremental chipping away at what was acceptable in public, in polite society, in respected publications, on college campuses. Like the lobster in the pot the water has slowly been getting hotter and we were happy to make excuse after excuse to dismiss the change in temperature as anything to merit concern. The Jewish community, so assimilated, so educated, so comfortable could not see that in France and in the UK and Canada and the US the threat wasn't the stereotypical radical right, ethno-supremacist crowd, but the toxic anti-Semitism was spewing forth from precisely the progressive groups with which so many Jews identified.

The Jew hatred we are experiencing is a pincer movement coming equally from the far left and the far right, catching Jews in its grasp. We need to wake up and see it for what it is. Once again we are the scapegoat of choice, pro-immigration activists to be blamed by anti-immigrant America firsters, but capitalist bankers and businessmen the socialist left can blame for every social and economic ill under the sun. We are at once the internationalists who are contaminating a "pure white" America, and the financial wizards willfully twisting the global economy in our favour.

We are damned if we do and damned if we don't, we are the wicked religious Jews who clearly caused Trump to be elected and we are the wicked progressive Jews who want to make America Communist and flood the country with refugees and migrants of the wrong skin colour. And in the end what you have is an anti-Semitic miasma polluting the discourse, and it doesn't even matter anymore from which side because even in this polarised society there is a consensus echoed from both extremes and merging back together. Blame the Jews.