Shift the Tide

After living in America for 350 years, through the ups and downs of anti-Semitism, it seems like we are entering a period when it is getting less comfortable to be Jewish in this country. Things have certainly been much worse, but perhaps in the decades following WWII we were spoiled as anti-Jewish behavior and feeling seemed to recede.

Perhaps I was foolish enough to think that the ebbing of anti-Semitism was a permanent phenomenon. I don’t think I believed it would ever be eliminated in the United States, but maybe that it would continue to become a vanishingly small force. Unfortunately, in the last few years we have seen the opposite.

It is important to remember our history and understand that America has always contained these anti-Jewish elements. This month marks the 80th anniversary of a major Nazi rally that took place at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Fox News recently refused to allow an ad for an Oscar-nominated short film about the event to be shown on the network because the CEO felt it was “not appropriate for our air.”

The Gothamist website has reported on a surge in swastikas graffiti in New York and New Jersey. It seems that people feel emboldened to share their bigotry and hatred. And they also likely feel inspired by the type of language and imagery they see from their leaders.

This week the newly elected member of the House of Representatives from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, posted on Twitter that Republicans supported Israel because of the money they receive from AIPAC. The comments reinforce the anti-Semitic idea that Jews are able to control the government with their outsized wealth.

Fortunately Omar apologized after the political firestorm she created, but she has a history of making such statements, and it is not clear she has learned from her mistakes. The other side of the isle is no better: House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, who criticized Omar for her tweet, has not apologized for a tweet he posted months ago that implied Jewish billionaires were trying to buy the November election.

Anti-Semitism has always been, and probably always will be, a part of the American experience. We cannot change that, but in the recent past bigotry and stereotypes began to be seen as socially unacceptable. Perhaps people held these beliefs, but they kept them hidden.

When political leaders, left and right, voice anti-Semitism it gives license for others to express similar ideas without fear of retribution. As in the case of Representative Omar, we must swiftly respond to these comments so that hopefully soon we can shift the tide away from the darkest impulses of our country.

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