Posts Tagged ‘Anti-Semitism’

SAY NO TO FEAR

In April 2015, I wrote two posts on the issue “Should the Jews Leave Europe?” I based them on Jeffrey Goldberg’s article in The Atlantic. Given the Trump presidency’s legitimization of the alt-right, the white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia and a similar rally here in San Francisco tomorrow (which will close most of the Presidio National Park), some American Jews ponder if we should leave the U.S. Not me.

Anti-Semitism is not new to America. It surged in the 1920s and ’30s with an economy that challenged many white Christians while fascism and Nazism developed in Europe. America became more open to Jews in the ’60s. Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War altered perceptions of Jews. We became tough guys (we’d already produced plenty of combat veterans and gangsters). I experienced amazing respect from non-Jews when I was stationed at Fort Sam Houston.

Today, American Jews are integrated to the point of potential disappearance within the open arms of assimilation. But Jewish memory is 3,700 years long and filled with tragedy. Some young Jews may short-circuit that memory and feel distanced from the Holocaust, but their parents and grandparents understand that Jews in the Diaspora may always be perched on the razor’s edge.

Now, many American Jews have grown nervous. Read the Southern Poverty Law Center’s “Intelligence Report,” and you know why some Jews think about fleeing. Israel accepts anyone with a Jewish grandparent or any convert. Across the border, Canada beckons. It’s a democracy, and most Canadians—including French speakers—speak English. Some Jews have left the U.S. but far fewer in relative numbers than European Jews, who face a much darker situation. America, however, is not 1930s Germany.

Still, some voices at my synagogue express only fear. Although not planning to leave (that I know of) they ask, Can a Holocaust happen here? That any American feels the need to ask that question should trouble the nation. I don’t believe we’ll face a Holocaust, but I can’t guarantee that.

To Jews—and the great majority of Americans opposed to white-supremacists in all their variations—I offer a simple message: This is our country, too. We’ve bled for America. We’ve sweated for America. We’ve made a positive impact on the nation in far greater proportion than our numbers. (Jews—religious, cultural and/or secular—constitute roughly only two percent of the population.)

Should we keep tabs on the situation? Absolutely. Should we be reduced to trembling? Absolutely not! Instead, we must inform government on all levels of our concerns, pressure politicians when we must, support organizations that bring to light the truth of white supremacists’ aberrant ideas and make clear that they will be denied the victories they hope to obtain—sowing fear and provoking violence to gain media coverage.

I hear messages about what a terrible week it has been, how sleep eludes so many. Yes, we are challenged. But we are not weak. In the face of publicly expressed hatred, Americans of all ethnicities are uniting as we haven’t in decades. Together, we’ll not only secure the gates against the barbarians, we’ll expose them and drive them back into their holes.

So, let’s be watchful but keep our heads. Let’s also remember the words of President Franklin Roosevelt: “We have nothing to fear but fear itself.”

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CHARLOTTESVILLE

You know the old saying, “There are two sides to every story.” Donald Trump repeated that last Tuesday. Regrettably, such clichéd adages lend themselves to ignoring horrible injustices.

Last weekend, white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the city’s proposed removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee. Some carried Nazi flags and wore Ku Klux Klan regalia. Counter-protestors rallied. Tempers grew hot. Violence ensued. One man drove a car into a crowd of counter-protestors and killed a 32-year-old woman.

Trump bemoaned the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides—on many sides.” Is it bigotry to oppose the belief that non-white, non-Christians should be classified as second-rate citizens or sub-human? Charlottesville does not represent opposing but legitimate principles.

Not until Monday did Trump condemn white supremacy and hate groups by name—just as his American Manufacturing Council began to unravel in disgust. On Tuesday, he circled back and again defended the pro-statue protestors. “There are good people on both sides,” Trump said.

Two sides to every story? I once served as a juror on two criminal trials—a shooting and a stabbing—and a civil trial—a suit against a supermarket chain. These properly represented two sides to each story because jurors were mandated to decide the outcome based on facts. At no time did a judge suggest that any party deserved to be found guilty or innocent, or liable or not at fault, because of who or what they were.

In the criminal trials, the District Attorney’s office was required to make a case against the defendants’ actions, not their characters. In the civil case, the plaintiff’s attorney had to demonstrate wrongdoing by the company, not present an anti-corporate screed. The criminal trials led to convictions. The civil case was dismissed. The juries, after lengthy deliberation, based their decisions on the evidence. The characters and beliefs of all parties played no role in those decisions.

Donald Trump abhors facts. His statement about bigotry on both sides offered legitimacy to the grievances of neo-Nazis against Jews because Jews are, well, Jews. Likewise, he offered white supremacists of all stripes a measure of understanding. In doing so, he implied there must be a measure of truth behind their hatred of African Americans, East Asians, Latinos, South Asians—and Jews.

One could extend this kind of thinking to Hitler. Yes, he ordered the killing of six million Jews and millions of others. But he must have had his reasons. Should we thus tolerate statues of Hitler? By Trump’s logic later in the week, yes. After all, Hitler was a historical figure.

For centuries, American whites enslaved blacks. Weren’t slave owners simply capitalists promoting, like any good conservative, the South’s agricultural economy? Therefore, shouldn’t we maintain statues of Lee, Stonewall Jackson and Jefferson Davis as icons of a bygone, if misguided, culture? Trump also says yes to that.

Each week, I evaluate topics about which to write. With disturbing frequency, Donald Trump preempts them. I could ignore him. But how in good conscience can anyone overlook the moral chaos continually fomented by the White House? If Mr. Trump truly wishes to drain the swamp in Washington, he can resign and go back to flushing gold-plated toilets in Trump Tower.

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SWEDEN CLARIFIED

Two weeks ago, President Trump cited a terrorist attack in Sweden. No such attack took place. Mr. Trump backtracked, saying he’d referred to a report on Fox News. Trump opponents leaped on the issue. But there’s more to the story than meets the eye.

Sweden has undergone major changes since admitting large numbers of refugees. That includes growing anti-Semitism, partly from right-wing ethnic Swedes but mostly from Muslim immigrants. In April 2015, I wrote two posts on the issue, “Should the Jews Leave Europe?” I asked my Swedish-Jewish friend for an update. He emailed this (slightly edited for length):

“It’s not that Sweden is a more dangerous country to live in than any other country (Sweden is probably more safe). However, I do think Sweden is becoming more similar to other countries (like the US) with segregation, “bad neighborhoods,” gang violence, etc. When I grew up in the 80s there were very few neighborhoods like that, now there’s a lot. I think our country is moving in the wrong direction in many respects.

“The welfare state (which we are all very proud of) is only sustainable if there is a low unemployment rate and if the majority of the people feel like they are a part of society. That’s not the case right now in several neighborhoods and cities throughout the country. One reason is that we have had a large influx of immigrants over a short period of time (largest number of immigrants per capita in the EU), many of whom have very low education, don’t speak the language, etc. We have relatively few “easy jobs” to offer, partly due to the fact that we have very strong unions and high thresholds to the labor market. This creates parallel societies which is not good for a country. I think the anti-Semitism is the same as before, although there haven’t been any new attacks lately (thank God).”

What about immigration to the United States? We should continue taking in immigrants, including refugees. Much larger than Sweden and far more heterogeneous, we do a good job of turning immigrants into Americans. But it’s time for a rational discussion of immigration policy. The m idle ground: We can fulfill our moral obligation to take in some refugees while retaining the right to choose what kind of immigrants we want and how many.

Middle-ground positions remain unpopular in this political era of far-left battling far-right. Last Sunday, speakers at an “Empty Chair” town hall meeting in East Oakland condemned California Senator Dianne Feinstein, a Democrat, as too centrist and thus unable to oppose President Trump. Nonsense. Swinging to the far left rather than seeking common ground only further polarizes the nation. Harmful Trump initiatives should be opposed without question. But common sense should prevail over ideology.

Exodus 23:3 offers the commandment to not favor the rich in legal matters, “…nor shall you show deference to the poor man in his dispute.” Every deliberation should look at the facts and lead to an objective solution. Analyzing Sweden’s challenges and our own regarding immigration obligates us to step back, take a breath and view the situation as it is, for good and ill. Only then can we arrive at policies that are both practical and humane—and that people of good will can support.

One highly partisan opinion: You’ll enjoy my new novel The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht coming soon.

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SHOULD JEWS LEAVE EUROPE? — PART TWO

Last week, I wrote about a young Jewish couple in Sweden confronting anti-Semitism. Sara and Michael were shaken by the February shooting outside a synagogue in Copenhagen, Denmark, close to their Swedish home. Michael likens their feelings to those of frogs cooked in a pot of water. Lukewarm water slowly comes to a boil.

The shooting left Sara wondering if the next time she went to synagogue, there would be a massacre. She had thought that she and Michael could live as Jews in Sweden. When they have children, they could send them to Jewish camps. Now she wonders whether they can go to synagogue or Jewish activities without encountering someone with a weapon.

Michael has experienced a gradual rise of discomfort. No one has said anything anti-Semitic to him, but “I don’t walk around outside with a kippah (skullcap). He cites a Swedish TV reporter, not Jewish, who wore a kippah in Malmö’s city center. A hidden camera revealed severe harassment—before the shooting. “We could stay in Sweden and live in a nice neighborhood with like-minded, highly educated people. We could put our kids in a nice school where the risk of being bullied for being Jewish would be low. But I’m more scared about not being able to go to services at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur or any place Jews gather without fearing being killed.”

Sara worries that if she and Michael don’t feel safe going to synagogue, then “even if we could still have a Jewish identity, it doesn’t feel like our kids would still be Jewish or our grandchildren. If you can’t wear a Star of David or anything, you’d have to keep secret from everyone. It would be such a traumatic thing. That’s not the Judaism I want my children to grow up with.”

Daily, the couple discusses leaving Sweden for the United States. That would mean leaving their families behind. Michael is an only child. “His parents couldn’t handle that,” says Sara. She’d also have to chart a new career path. It would be hard to find a job. Her parents, now divorced, each considers the possibility of leaving—her mother to South America and her father to Israel. Michael’s career is transferable to the U.S., but it might take five or six hard years before he could resume his professional career at its current level.

Being human, Michael and Sara find that the shock of last February’s shooting is wearing off a bit. “It’s hard to forecast Sweden’s future,” Michael says. Will it get better? “Probably not, but you never know.” Sara agonizes over what will happen if they stay. Can they still live a Jewish life? If they have children, can they live with the decision to stay if things become worse? “It would be so much easier for our children if we left now instead of waiting until it’s too late and we’re all stressed.”

Michael adds, “The nightmare would be if we had to flee and move really fast. And what if we can’t go to the U.S.?” Israel remains an option. Still, they think about America. But that requires a lengthy application process, finding a job and applying for a green card. They also worry about what comes after. “What would our life be like?” Sara asks.

As the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg points out, this isn’t 1933 Europe. European governments support their Jewish populations. But both Sara and Michael emphasize: there is no easy answer.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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SHOULD JEWS LEAVE EUROPE? — PART ONE

In the April 2015 Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg’s cover article asks, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe?” Goldberg surveys anti-Semitism, particularly in the context of Europe’s Muslim population. His question is timely. The answer is challenging.

Part of Goldberg’s article analyzes Sweden’s southern city of Malmö with a population of 300,000, including 50,000 Muslims and fewer than 1,000 Jews. Anti-Jewish feeling runs high. Rabbi Shneur Kesselman, a Chabad emissary from Brooklyn and the city’s only rabbi is the one recognizable Jew in the city. Distinguished by his black hat, black coat and beard, he is constantly targeted for verbal abuse and worse. “I asked Kesselman whether he was scared to stay in Malmö. ‘Yes, of course I’m scared,’ he said.”

Malmö’s other Jews blend in. But do they experience anti-Semitism? And should they leave Europe? I asked two young Swedish Jews about their experiences and the conundrum they face.

Sara and Michael are young professionals. (I’ve changed their names and blurred details for their security.) Sara is Jewish by birth. Michael, an ethnic Scandinavian, converted to Judaism. They met in university. Sara’s family is “pretty traditional.” They went to synagogue for the High Holy Days, occasionally for Shabbat. They kept kosher. Michael’s family, like most Swedes, is secular. Growing up, he had no Jewish friends, but his grandfather was friendly with the leader of the local Jewish community in his suburb. As a teen, Michael loved Jewish comedians like Woody Allen, Jerry Seinfeld and Gary Shandling.

Sara knew that being Jewish was different and perhaps dangerous. People would call Jews names and write hateful graffiti. Still, she never experienced hostility. She did notice, however, that security was plentiful at the cheder—small religious school—she attended. Israel was—and still is—a sensitive subject. She does not involve herself with Israeli politics but maintains a warm, “family” feeling towards the country. She believes the general mood of Sweden to be anti-Israel. “They think the matter is black and white. There are so many other conflicts in the world; there’s too much attention paid to it.”

Today, some of Michael’s friends and acquaintances are academics—leftists who are anti-Israel. When he told a colleague he was going to visit Israel—he has traveled much of the world—he got a strong, “weird” reaction. “I think it’s okay to be Jewish in Sweden as long as you don’t say anything about Israel,” he says. At the same time, he believes that some, but far from all, Swedes tend to overlay anti-Israel sentiments with anti-Semitism.

As to Sweden’s growing Muslim population, Michael relates that the majority of Swedes support the current, open immigration policy. “From the moral perspective, it’s a good policy to help people fleeing from wars. But it may also affect another minority in a secondary way.” Sara notes that some Middle Eastern Muslims have been in Sweden for generations. The new wave of immigrants poses challenges. “Many politicians are talking about how to integrate immigrants regarding learning Swedish and getting jobs.”

The couple might have accepted their shaky status as Jews if not for a shooting outside a synagogue in nearby Copenhagen, Denmark (where Sara has a close relative) this past February. A gunman—identified as a Danish Muslim—murdered a Jewish security guard and wounded two police officers. Michael and Sara started serious discussions about whether they have a future in Sweden.

Next week, Sara and Michael offer a heart-wrenching analysis of their situation.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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THE CAMPUS DISEASE

Cairo’s Al-Azhar University is the Muslim world’s preeminent Sunni religious institution. The University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) provides outstanding higher education in the United States. Both seem quite different. Yet both share something in common besides being well-known universities. It’s cause for concern.

Last Sunday in Mecca, Ahmed al-Tayib, Al-Azhar’s grand imam, addressed leading Sunni clerics from around the world. He called for Muslim educational reforms to halt the spread of religious extremism. “The only hope for the Muslim nation to recover unity is to tackle in our schools and universities this tendency to accuse Muslims of being unbelievers.”

So far, so good—unless you’re uncomfortable with the word “unbelievers.” And maybe the fact that al-Tayib spoke only to problems among Muslims. In the same address, according to Agence France-Presse, al-Tayib “blamed unrest in the region on a conspiracy by what he called ‘new global colonialism allied to world Zionism.’” What’s the cause of the bloodshed in Iraq and Syria; Afghanistan and Pakistan; Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Nigeria? It’s the Jews.

Something just as disturbing emerged from UCLA. On February 10, the school’s Undergraduate Students Association Council considered the application of sophomore Rachel Beyda to serve on that body. At least one council member specifically questioned Beyda about whether she, as a Jew, could neutrally judge campus policies. It seems that despite what’s happening in the countries I just mentioned, and the usual issues faced by colleges and universities, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is of preeminent importance on the Westwood campus. Might Beyda’s Jewish involvements, she was asked, create a conflict of interest?

This line of questioning seemed odd given that several students on the Judicial Council have names suggesting they might be Muslim. Do they have a conflict of interest? Interestingly, council president Avinoam Baral is Jewish. So maybe this whole incident is overblown. But I doubt it. Last May, UCLA’s Muslim student newsmagazine, Al-Talib, attacked Baral for being part of a Jewish program that helps young Jews visit Israel because it “actively (contributes) to violence against Muslims.” If that’s valid, should we assume that visiting the West Bank or Gaza contributes to violence against Jews? Should Muslim students who do so be banned from university government?

Across America, college campuses are rife with anti-Semitism. Jewish groups and individual students are harassed continually. Muslim and other students—including leftist Jews—see Israel as the fulcrum of the world’s problems. Jews can do no right. Muslims can do no wrong. But is that so?

Last Monday, a Federal District Court jury in New York found the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization liable for six terrorist attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004. It awarded the plaintiffs $218.5 million—to be tripled to $655.5 million under U.S. hate-crime provisions. Dr. Mahmoud Khalifa, PA deputy minister of information, said the PA would appeal. “We are confident that we will prevail, as we have faith in the U.S. legal system and are certain about our common sense belief and our strong legal standing.”

Unless, of course, the Jews, who control the courts and Washington—along with Wall Street, the banking system, the media and the arts—undermine the appeal. Sounds far-fetched? If you can believe Ahmed al-Tayib and too many college students across the U.S., you can believe that.

Read the first two chapters of FLIGHT OF THE SPUMONIS here at www.davidperlstein.com. You can get a signed copy from me—$20 plus $3 postage if required—or order a soft cover or e-book at Amazon.com.

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