Essay: Our Lens Post-Oct. 27, 2018
With fresh wounds in our hearts over the recent tragedy in Pittsburgh, how can American Jews ever see things the same from now on? How can we not view the future a bit differently or look to the past and not re-examine acts of anti-Semitism or the silence of those who tolerated it?
Our lens was reset on Oct. 27, 2018, for better or worse, and it’ll never be the same again.
A few weeks before Pittsburgh, Louis Farrakhan once again engaged in an anti-Semitic rant. That was hardly news to anyone familiar with his antics. The Nation of Islam leader is nothing if not predictable in his contempt for Jews, Judaism and Israel. That’s what he does. This time, the guy who once called Hitler “a very great man” and labeled Judaism a “gutter religion” made an equally vile statement, comparing Jews to “termites,” a line that elicited laughter from his Detroit audience.
No one is claiming that the killer at the Tree of Life synagogue was influenced by Minister Farrakhan. But who can deny that Farrakhan’s words are just part of the insidious rise of anti-Semitism in America? The post-Oct. 27, 2018, us cannot now recall his hateful words — as well as the reaction of his audience — and not be even more circumspect.
Labeling Jews as “termites” is more than a hateful slur; it is hauntingly reminiscent of Hitler’s frequent description of Jews as “parasites,” a tactic that he and his minions used to first dehumanize Jews in the eyes of the German people. In Mein Kampf, in fact, the book Hitler wrote eight years before his rise to power, he even named a chapter “The Jew is a Parasite.” To Hitler, dehumanizing Jews was a necessary first step to the unspeakable crimes that soon followed.
After Farrakhan’s latest rant, the CEO of the ADL rightly implored people to “speak up” and, in many instances, they did. There were some articles and tweets not only about the remark itself but also about the audience’s reaction (Chelsea Clinton said that it made her “skin crawl”). But in this post-Oct. 27, 2018, world, how can there not be a thunderous outcry against this man’s hatred from all Americans, regardless of one’s race, religion or political leanings?
But, of course, there’s a larger lesson here. Condemnations of Farrakhan are certainly necessary, but to only condemn anti-Semitism seems to be missing half of that lesson. Of course, Farrakhan’s words were hateful and, of course people need to speak out. That’s the easy part. The hard part is to look in the mirror with a new lens and ask if we can get equally outraged at other instances of brazen hatred as well as those who tolerate it.
The examples are, sadly, around us all the time:
- Last March, the Chief Sephardic Rabbi of Israel, Yitzhak Yosef, called black people “monkeys” during his weekly sermon. Did we decry that?
- In September, Steve Alembik, a prominent Jewish backer of the Florida nominee for governor, posted on twitter that Barack Obama was a “f***ing Muslim n****”. The candidate, Ron DeSantis, denounced the tweet but the campaign refused to return the donation. Did we decry that?
- According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, more than 100 mosques a year are targeted with threats, vandalism and arson in America. More Muslim children than any other group report being bullied when outside their community, according to the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
- The co-chairs of the Woman’s March, Linda Sarsour, Tamika Mallory and Carmen Perez, supporters of Farrakhan, refuse to disassociate themselves from him and have called for a “one-state solution” in Israel, which translates to the end of a Jewish Israel. Mallory was present when Farrakhan referred to Jews as “satanic,” yet she remained silent and has never condemned him for that remark.
- In July, a woman beat a Hispanic man with a brick in Los Angeles and told him to “go back to his own country.”
Hate crimes are spiking in America, across the board, whether it’s anti-Semitism, racism, anti-Hispanic, anti-Arab, anti-LGBTQ and so on. All are vile and unacceptable. No moral code allows Jews to condemn some instances of hate and then turn a blind eye to others.
Farrakhan is just another Jew hater; Jews have dealt with guys like him for centuries. He will continue to spout off, just as surely as it’s going to rain again. When he does, and when there are future words and acts of anti-Semites (which indeed there will be), we Jews will once again be demanding outrage and carefully assessing whether the non-Jewish world is sufficiently vocal.
But in our outrage, we can remember a broader message. We can be reminded that hate is hate in whatever form it appears, regardless of whom it targets and whether that person is black, white, red, brown or yellow, or wearing a yarmulke, a saree or a burka.
It’s all equally vile, unacceptable and offensive and must be condemned by every single American. Period.
Isn’t that the whole lesson of Pittsburgh, and shouldn’t that be the permanent focus of our new post-Oct. 27, 2018, lens?
Mark Jacobs is the AIPAC Michigan director for African American Outreach, a co-director of the Coalition for Black and Jewish Unity, a board member of the Jewish Community Relations Council-AJC and the director of Jewish Family Service’s Legal Referral Committee