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Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate

Photo credit: timesofisrael.com

Anti-Semitism, Racism, and Anti-immigrant Hate

Published at CounterPunch on February 15, 2019

Growing up in a small town in New England, I never thought much about anti-Semitism. I was, however, aware of the differences that marked the Jewish presence in a town in which most residents were first and second-generation children or grandchildren of immigrants who had come from Canada, Ireland, Portugal, and from several countries in Eastern Europe. One black family lived in the town where I grew up. Most residents earned their living from textile mills, or from running shops in the business district. I never felt very uncomfortable because of the differences in background. People learned to get along with imperfection. The small Jewish community in which I grew up had seen dwindling numbers following World War II, but shopkeepers and a few professionals gave me the sense I belonged to a group that defined its own identity and was not molested in any way.

The textile mills in town had seen labor strikes decades earlier.

By the time I worked in public schools the sense of being different because of the strong presence of ethnocentrism was obvious. Before leaving public schools for work in community colleges, the kinds of anti-Semitism that I experienced were substantial. A neighbor with whom I had had a minor dispute said, “I’ve read your articles in the newspaper and Hitler should have killed all of the Jews.”

I had lost an adjunct teaching position at a college for what a colleague called out as being brash enough to address women’s rights in a school founded on sectarian principles, but this was only a minor issue since I had full-time employment to fall back on.

Despite the loss of that job, I never felt that my identity as a Jew was ever under any serious threat. I even felt confident challenging Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

Now with Trump, all of this has changed for the worse. Anti-Semitism has escalated to levels that make putting hate into perspective impossible. A few days ago, a probable anti-Semitic incident took place at an Orthodox-Jewish school in the Catskill region of upstate New York, with fire damage and swastikas spray painted on the outside walls of a school building. Visions of Nazi Germany came to mind as they had when 11 worshipers were killed at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in October 2018. Readers will remember that the gunman in Pennsylvania identified an immigrant aid society as one of the reasons for his attack.

I have closely followed anti-Semitic incidents as they have been reported in the press. There is an area of the lower Hudson Valley in upstate New York that has seen an alarming increase in anti-Semitic incidents, the suspicious school fire being the latest example.

The hatreds expressed in many of Trump’s statements are partly an attempt to enrage his base and drive them to act out the foulest kinds of behavior while the far right solidifies its grab of more power and more wealth. These trends are the hallmarks of a decaying society where inequality and meanness on the streets are the calling cards of the few and the wealthy and their sycophants like Trump. Recall his “very fine people” comment referring to some neo-Nazis and some white supremacists at Charlottesville, Virginia, and the neo-Nazi chants of “Jews will not replace us.”

While searching for information about the closing of a clothing store in a nearby town in upstate New York where I shopped, I found a disturbing comment from its former owner, a person with whom I often chatted while in the store. He talked about his suspicion that when an incident of arson took place at the store in the middle of the decade of the 1980s, he strongly suspected that the motivation for that arson may have been the targeting of a business owned by someone Jewish.

The business owner pointed to the fact that at the time of the fire at his store, a similar fire took place at a clothing store in a nearby town in Connecticut. There were two issues that stuck in the business owner’s mind about the second fire: The clothing store in Connecticut was owned by a Jewish individual and that fire took place on Hitler’s birthday. Although no proof of anti-Semitism has come to light in these arsons, enough information is available to draw tentative conclusions.

I met with a religious leader near the community in which I live to discuss a number of incidents near my home that I considered to have some elements of anti-Semitism. The area has many Jews who have relocated from the greater metropolitan New York area. The rabbi I spoke with observed that when Jews come into conflict with long-time residents of the area, in any number of ways, that sometimes innocuous contact may be seen by people as interfering with their established control over some of the aspects of living, working, and governing in the hill towns that comprise most of this geographical area.

As nativism and populism grow on the right worldwide, along with economic uncertainty, anti-Semitism, racism, and anti-immigrant actions and attitudes have once again become prominent.

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”*

Women’s March Photo credit: Howard Lisnoff

“If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution.”*

Published at CounterPunch on December 31, 2018.

The Women’s March is not immune to the same forces that have confronted the political left in the U.S. for decades. The larger women’s movement itself, that sprang from the antiwar movement and civil rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, carried flaws along with its development that are not new to left political movements in the U.S.

Looking in as an outsider during the late 1960s and early 1970s, I noticed that much of the women’s movement was made up of upper-middle class professionals and well-to-do students who gave short shrift to large segments of women in the U.S. who did not have the advantages of middle-class or upper-middle class upbringing and the professional school degrees and advantages that that background afforded many in the women’s movement, particularly those in leadership roles. That the women’s movement has attempted to address some of these shortcomings in recent years is testimony to the vibrance of that movement, but the fact that most white women without college degrees voted for Donald Trump, the dyed-in-the-wool misogynist, is a an undeniable and valid criticism of the women’s movement’s effectiveness.

I have marched, along with my family, for two consecutive years at the Women’s March in New York City. It felt good being on the streets in solidarity with others, the cause was noble, but during both marches I felt that the marches were accomplishing little besides saying “Hooray for our side.” If the proof is indeed in the pudding, then the nomination and confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, with echoes of attacks against Anita Hill in the person of Christine Ford, is evidence of how the women’s movement’s power has changed little over the ensuing decades.

But now another issue has reared its ugly head as the second anniversary and third women’s march draws closer in January 2019. “Several people involved in planning the march say that at a November 2016 meeting, Women’s March co-chairs Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez ‘asserted that Jewish people bore a special collective responsibility as exploiters of black and brown people’” (Vox, December 21, 2018). Another Women’s March leader, Cassady Fendlay, who was present at the 2016 meeting, stated that the allegations of anti-Semitism are false. Also, one leader of the march has refused to cut ties to Minister Louis Farrakhan, a leader in the Nation of Islam, who has made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. At a February meeting, at which a Women’s March organizer was present, Minister Farrakhan “espoused anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.” Farrakhan has compared Jews to termites: “I’m not an anti-Semite, I’m anti-Termite.” Farrakhan stated, in a 2014 speech, “…the satanic Jews who control everything… ” Some may say that these issues, related above, amount to guilt by association, but the strength and frequency of anti-Semitic remarks by Minister Farrakhan cannot be dismissed.

As a Jew and a member of the political left, I am still reeling from the effects of the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in which 11 people were killed by an avowed anti-Semite and anti-immigrant madman. It’s a raw wound that has been apparent since Trump and some of his supporters began kowtowing to, and facilitating the growth of far-right neo-Nazis and white supremacists. The chants of “Jews will not replace us,” and Trump’s obscene comment, “but you also had people that were very fine people” among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia at the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, is enough to bring images of the Holocaust to a position at the front and center of most Jews’ attention.

The Minister Louis Farrakhan issue and the Women’s March is reminiscent of an early demonstration on the Boston Common in Boston, Massachusetts following the attacks of 2001 and the U.S. mobilization for war. The first speaker to address the crowd of protesters identified herself as Palestinian, a people with whom most Jews in the U.S. feel connected to in terms of decades of persecution. But the speaker’s opening remarks targeted Jews as being responsible for just about every sin that could be imagined on the international stage. The speaker portrayed Jews as some sort of evil cabal and I knew instinctively that this demonstration and rally was not one I felt that I could get up and dance to. I left, feeling that my identity (not to be confused with identity politics) was being hammered away at by the speaker.

With all of the brouhaha associated with this new twist in the women’s movement, an alternate group… March On… is but one example in an array of groups that has sprung up to answer an alleged unacceptable turn in this necessary and vital part of the movement of protest in the U.S. It may be true that if two leftists are gathered in the U.S., they will not be able to agree on either the time of day or the season, or the fact that the sky is generally blue on a sunny day, but it seems fairly obvious that casting one’s lot with those who speak words that support intolerance and create a loss of solidarity on the left are to be avoided.

Anti-Semitism, racism, and misogyny are all symptoms of the underbelly of humanity. We need to get the connections between that hatefulness correct on the left.

* Emma Goldman

Howard Lisnoff is a freelance writer.

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