Good News from Western Washington

StandWithUs is reporting that the student government at Western Washington University unanimously voted yesterday not to consider boycotts, divestment and sanctions (BDS) based on national origin.  The Student government’s “Resolution Regarding International Divestment, Boycott, and Sanctions” is an extraordinary response to the BDS resolutions adopted at other schools. In a powerfully written statement, the Western Washington student…

Left, Right, and “What’s Good for the Jews”

The resurgence, now on both sides of the Atlantic, of what is usually interpreted as extreme conservative politics—but might better be called right-wing populism—is likely to spark a new debate about present and future threats posed by political extremism to Jews.

Since the Revolution of 1848—when according to a story an Orthodox rabbi with a long beard who preferred to sit on the left side of the Frankfurt Assembly was asked “why” and answered “because Jews have no Right”—the predilection of Jews to believe that they have enemies only on the Right has been demonstrated and documented. Sometimes, it has had disastrous consequences as with the Old Left’s blind spot to Stalin’s anti-Semitism and the New Left’s flirtation with Stokely Carmichael’s.

But the history of Jews in relation to right-wing politics has yet to be fully written. The reflexive anti-Semitism of the European Right—from France’s Dreyfus Affaire to the Russia’s “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” to the pre-WWII French Right’s declaration “Better Hitler than Blum”—is of course well known. There is even an American parallel in the propensity to anti-Semitism of late nineteenth-century American Populists obsessed with the world’s crucifixion on “a cross of gold,” though New Left historians are still arguing that Populists like William Jennings Bryan (who wanted the U.S. declared “a Christian nation”) were somehow immune to anti-Semitism because their “progressive” economic nostrums somehow cancelled out their right-wing religious and racial prejudices.

Does Anti-Semitism Threaten American Jews?

The following article by LDB President Kenneth L. Marcus is distributed via JNS.org.

JNS.org — In a recent issue of Time magazine, Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, former president of the Union for Reform Judaism, writes that anti-Semitism is “not a threat to American Jews.” He could not be more wrong.

Let us start with the obvious. Any threat to world Jewry is a threat to American Jews.

According to the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) important newstudy, there are now one billion adult anti-Semites in the world. As Rabbi Yoffie acknowledges, this is fully a quarter of the world’s adult population. Can American Jewry shrug this off?

One can quibble with the ADL’s methodology, but it is not far-fetched. ADL considers a person to be anti-Semitic if they give a positive response to six out of 11 survey questions like these: “Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars,” “People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave,” and “Jews have too much control over the United States government.”

Consider the magnitude of this finding. In 2012, according to the Kantor Center for the Study of Contemporary European Jewry at Tel Aviv University, there were 686 reported incidents of physical violence, direct threats, and major acts of vandalism against Jews and Jewish institutions worldwide. This is bad enough on its own, representing an increase of approximately 30 percent over the prior year.

Worse, these figures understate the problem. According to the European Union’s Fundamental Rights Agency, 64 percent of European Jews who have experienced physical violence or threats do not report even the most serious incident.  If this holds true for Jews elsewhere, the actual incident rate is approximately three times higher than reported, reaching 2,000 serious incidents annually.

But it gets worse. Even the adjusted figures suggest that Jews and Jewish institutions are enduring only one serious anti-Semitic incident per 500,000 anti-Semites annually. This means that in any given year, the overwhelming majority of anti-Semites are not acting on their aversions. Their reasons may be lack of opportunity, want of courage, fear of consequence, or adherence to convention. Economists call this “pent-up demand.”

As the post-Holocaust taboo against anti-Semitism erodes, the ramifications are troubling. Suppose that one in ten thousand anti-Semites should physically harm or threaten Jews or Jewish institutions in a given year. Under this scenario, serious anti-Semitic incidents would increase to 100,000 per year, even if anti-Semitic attitudes remain constant. In other words, things can get much worse.

Terrorism and Anti-Semitic Violence: Complex New Realities Defy Simple Ideological Labels

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that we live in an age when almost every headline story has become a Rorschach Test for spin doctors on cable news or in cyberspace. Their purpose is not to promote dialogue leading to some sort of shared understanding but to further fuel current political polarizations with wildly different, ideologically driven interpretations.

A case in point: Elliot Rodger who went on a killing spree near UC Santa Barbara. He was a product of America’s misogynist culture. Or he was a gun fanatic acting out violent video games or shock films like “American Psycho”—the moral: censor pop culture and more gun control. Or he was a psychotic loner driven by homicidal-suicidal delusions—the moral: more mental health spending. Prepackaged, often contradictory theories were offered up almost before the crime scenes were roped off.

Another dynamic fueling polarization is built into the psychic economy. Across the political spectrum, there seems to be a compelling need to prove novelist Charles Dickens’ at least half right when he wrote: “These are the best of times. These are the worst of times.” Our current updates of Voltaire’s arch-optimistic Dr. Pangloss believe that—despite the last century’s calamitous wars and economic depression—human life has never been healthier, longer-lived, or more literate and economically advanced than today. But we also have our Doomsayers who see Apocalypse around the corner because of climate change or the next pandemic or a new nuclear-chemical-biological-cyber world war triggered by global inequalities.

The Horror of Holocaust Denial

Over the last few weeks, the Holocaust has appeared surprisingly often in the news.  In most cases, the reason has been the surprising degree of ignorance or denial that so many people have about this cataclysmic event.  The most disheartening reports have addressed the role of educators in spreading misinformation.  Worse, they have illustrated that Holocaust denial is not just an ordinary form of ignorance but rather a modern cloak for the return of old-fashioned anti-Semitism.

The Anti-Defamation League’s much-heralded ADL Global 100 survey showed that 35% of adults worldwide have never heard of the Holocaust.  Of those who have heard of it, 21% think it was a myth or exaggeration.  One may quibble about the ADL survey’s methodology,  but this study presents the best available evidence that we have about global attitudes.  This revelation has been accompanied by three disturbing recent stories over the last few weeks.

First came news that the Rialto California school district had assigned 2,000 eighth-graders at five middle schools in the Rialto Unified School District east of Los Angeles to compose an essay on whether or not they believe the Holocaust was “an actual event in history, or merely a political scheme.”  The district thought this to be an appropriate assignment to teach “critical thinking” skills.

Although the district has subsequently apologized, its apology reflects little understanding of why the assignment was so obscenely inappropriate.  People who debate the Holocaust are not merely foolish or ignorant, like those who insist that the earth is flat.  Rather, Holocaust denial is a particular form of bigotry.  In order to deny anything as vast and well-documented as the Nazi Holocaust, one must assume that the world’s peoples have been victimized by a hoax of extraordinary proportions.  Such a hoax could only be perpetrated by an enormously powerful and malevolent group of deeply crooked people who are able to control global media for their own sinister purposes.  Unsurprisingly, these outlandish claims perfectly correspond with traditional anti-Semitic stereotypes.  In encouraging students to debate this topic, as if it were merely a difference of opinion, Rialto gave credence not merely to absurd misinformation but also to virulent ant-Semitic defamations of precisely the sort that led to the Holocaust in the first place.

Next came reports that Temple Adjunct Professor Alessio Lerro was arguing that Jews are exaggerating the extent of the Holocaust to obtain policitcal advantages.  In the course of supporting the Modern Langue Association’s new anti-Israel resolution, Lerro wrote this about the Holocaust:  “6 million? Mh … we all know [ or should know] that the counting of Jews is a bit controversial.””  Lerro is a reportedly a gamer, and CBS Local’s Don Giordamo reports that “mh is internet slang for map hack, a term meaning cheating to gain an advantage. In other words, Lerro is arguing that Jews are “gaming” the Holocaust numbers in order to gain a political advantage in public debates.  Lerro also reportedly accused “Jewish scholars” of manipulating academia and charged that it is “time that Zionists are asked to finally account for their support to the illegal occupation of Palestine since 1967.” Here we have a fine example of the ugly stereotypes that underlie Holocaust denial and Holocaust minimization.  It is highly disturbing to finds these stereotypes circulated by a university professor.

Holocaust Survivors, Too, Need to “Check Your Privilege”

In a twitter exchange with MSNBC host Touré Neblett, a child of Holocaust survivors asked: “How much do I owe for what Dems did in the first half of the century, while my family was in Europe running from Nazis, or in Dachau?” In other words, Jewish victims of the Nazis don’t owe “reparations” to African Americans for the injustices of the Jim Crow Era when “Dems” controlled the South.

Neblett responded: “The power of whiteness.” This follows a tweet by Ed Schulz, also associated with MSNBC, that gays “really [were] the ones being persecuted in Hitler’s Germany.”

Tal Fortgang, a Princeton student who refuted the blanket demand that whites “check your privilege,” wrote in the college paper that his family of Holocaust Survivors gave him the upbringing that paved his way to the Ivy League without any “privilege” except one: “It was their privilege to come to a country that grants equal protection under the law to its citizens, that cares not about religion or race, but the content of your character.”

An essay could be written on the growing cottage industry accusing Jews—even Holocaust Survivors—of enjoying “white privilege” compared to African Americans. After all, if even Hitler’s victims were “privileged,” then the argument is confirmed that all Jews must be.

Stung by criticisms, Neblett has since apologized for “oversimplifying.” But the implication remains. The question is where does such a distorted view—and related notions diminishing the Holocaust compared to the alleged “sixty million” (a figure inflated by around 50 million) victimized by the Atlantic slave trade—come from?

Anti-Jewish Hate Crimes Prosecuted in Texas, Utah and New Mexico

The U.S. Department of Justices’s Civil Rights Division focuses on anti-Jewish hate crimes in the lead article to the new May 2014, Volume 60, issue of “Religious Freedom in Focus.  The following excerpt from the new issue presents the Department’s view of anti-Semitic hate crime:

U.S. Department of Justice logoAnti-Jewish hate crimes remain the most reported religious-based hate crimes in the United States, representing 674 out of a total of 1,099 religious hate crimes recorded for 2012 in the FBI Hate Crime Reports. In April, public attention was focused on anti-Jewish hate crimes as a result of the April 13 shooting in Kansas City, during which two people were killed at the Jewish Community of Greater Kansas City in Overland Park and one person was killed at a Jewish retirement community nearby. The accused shooter is being prosecuted by Kansas authorities with the assistance of the FBI.

We have seen such anti-Jewish shootings before, such as the shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles in 1999, which resulted in the wounding of three children and two adults and the murder of a postal worker in the aftermath, and the shooting at the Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. in 2009, which left a security guard dead. Both cases were prosecuted by the Department of Justice.

In addition to such shooting cases, the Department also regularly prosecutes a variety of cases of anti-Jewish hate crimes and other hate crimes against religious groups and individuals. In April alone, the Department prosecuted three anti-Jewish cases:

Call for Applications for Anti-Semitism Research: Tel Aviv University – Stephen Roth Institute

Our colleagues at the Stephen Roth Institute in Tel Aviv are posting this Call for Applications for research students, post-doctoral fellows and scholars who focus on the study of anti-Semitism and racism.  Given the paucity of institutional support for anti-Semitism research, this opportunity is worth noting.  The Roth Center’s call appears in full below:

CALL FOR APPLICATIONS: Tel Aviv University – Stephen Roth Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism 

The Lester and Sally Entin Faculty of Humanities

The Roth Center for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism Invite MA and PhD students and postdoctoral scholars at TAU to submit applications to:

The Roth Institute Research Group on Antisemitism and Racism 2014-2015

The group will serve as a forum for research students (MA, PhD), post-doctoral scholars and faculty at Tel Aviv University whose research addresses various aspects of racism and antisemitism in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Brandeis Center Presses Vassar College to Hold Student Group Accountable

 

The Brandeis Center has urged Vassar College President Catherine Bond Hill to take penalizing action against the college’s chapter of SJP, Students for Justice in Palestine. In a letter to Vassar President Catherine Bond Hill on May 19th, 2014, “We believe that this incident may raise serious issues concerning federal civil rights law.” SJP recently posted a Nazi propaganda poster on their Tumblr page.

The posters are German from 1944 and they portray a monster in a Star of David loincloth with many hands, wearing a KKK (Ku Klux Klan) mask, holding a little man grasping a moneybag, and attached to an American plane wing while it destroys a European town. It is entitled “Liberators.” The Brandeis Center urges Vassar President Bond Hill to take swift action against this group.

The Center made it clear to President Bond Hill that this incident at her school is a step backwards in the fight for respectful discussion, saying, “More broadly, this incident is deeply offensive and antithetical to basic notions of civil discourse.”  Brandeis Center lawyers added, “we urge you to take additional prompt and effective action to address this problem including taking strong disciplinary action against SJP.”

This incident at Vassar comes just days after its chapter of SJP Vassar posted other material on its Tumblr page concerning the Holocaust and the UN’s response. This cartoon shows major powers during the creation of Israel. It shows the Jews moving Palestinians in 1948; upset, the Palestinians ask why the Jews can do that, and the major powers respond with “Holocaust, Holocaust indeed.” This is propaganda to suggest that any so-called “illegal action” by Israel is justified by the Holocaust.

Debating the Holocaust*

Recently, an assignment, designed by teachers and approved by an administrator, at Southern California’s Rialto School District sought to improve critical thinking skills of 2000 eighth graders by having them debate whether the Holocaust really happened or instead was “a plot” to falsify history. Now, Charles C. W. Cooke has made a case in the “National Review” that pressure to change the assignment was a symptom of narrow-minded political correctness, and that an opportunity has been missed to allow young teens to develop the argumentative skills of Oxford University debaters.

Summing up Holocaust victims’ worst fears, Terence des Pres quoted an inmate of Dachau: “The SS guards took pleasure in telling us that we had no chance in coming out alive, a point they emphasized with particular relish by insisting that after the war the rest of the world would not believe what happened; there would be rumors, speculations, but no clear evidence, and people would conclude that evil on such a scale was just not possible.”

Those Nazis were proven wrong. Their destruction of Europe’s Jews was and is the most documented crime in human history. Historians every day add to what we know about the Holocaust by working to uncover previously unknown facts. They debate the mechanics of the Holocaust—but not whether it happened any more than historians debate whether Nazi Germany Blitzkrieged Poland on September 1, 1939.

If a “debate” whether the Holocaust happened was needed, it came a decade ago when self-styled historian Clifford Irving sued for libel in a London Court scholar Deborah Lipstadt for calling him a Holocaust Denier. During a protracted, expensive trial Lipstadt chose to rely on the testimony of historical experts—not Holocaust Survivors. Her lead witness, historian Richard Evans, systematically exposed Irving’s claims that there were no gas ovens at Auschwitz as premeditated lies and purposeful falsifications of the documented historical evidence. The Judge censured Irving in the harshest terms, and “the debate” over the Holocaust had been won.

By all means, eighth graders should be taught about the Holocaust in the context of World War II. In our Internet-dominated world, it is indeed necessary to promote critical thinking. Soon enough (if not already) eighth graders will be exposed to the ugly fact that even governments like Iran’s deny the Holocaust ever happened, while other bigots use websites to argue that black people exploited on Southern plantations were “contented slaves.” We must teach young people how to study history and learn the truth without making the classroom in a platform for legitimating pseudo-history and teaching hate. Jews aren’t promoting their “special version” of the Holocaust. It is teachers throughout Western Europe who are being pressured not to teach about the Holocaust, supposedly not to offend Muslim students.