|Is Orthodox hatred of former President Obama based on racism?|
I am just as disgusted by the denials, whether actually believed by those making them or not. The kinds of denials that use excuses like the following. The word ‘Shvartza’ is only the Yiddish word for a black person: The word ‘Shvartz’ means black and the word ‘Shvartza’ means black person.
Technically true that. I wish that is all that was meant. But honesty demands of us to acknowledge the truth. Which is that the word ‘Shvartza’ is a word is rarely used in any other way than in a demeaning or pejorative way.
I also remain unconvinced by the argument that any negative reference about a black person is really only meant as a general attitude about ‘the Goy’ – white or black. While that too is a Chilul HaShem, I don’t believe that is even true. Because if it were, they wouldn’t use the word ‘Shvartza’. They would use the word ‘Goy’.
What I will grant is that the racism expressed by so many of us is not meant to harm them in any physical way. I doubt that any black person has ever been attacked by an Orthodox Jew.
Nor do I believe any Orthodox Jew wishes to hurt them mentally either. In the vast majority of cases - a racist attitude about a black person would almost never be expressed to his face or even publicly. But in private the racism is there. And when I hear it I am appalled by it. It is wrong - plain and simple!
I say ‘almost never’ because I am sorry to report hearing such racism made in public. It was during the 2009 Presidential campaign. I attended an event that took place on Shabbos where I heard a prominent Rosh Yeshiva warn everybody to ‘vote - lest that Shvartza gets elected’. I was shocked to say the least. Shocked that he felt this way and even more shocked that he expressed that view publicly.
To this day, I am convinced that the Orthodox animosity to President Barack Obama is fueled by racism. Just as I firmly believe that it will be denied – and ‘explained away’ as not being racist at all. Just about being opposed to his anti Israel policies. (Even accusing him of being an antisemite by some.) This is patently false. Obama is neither racist nor antisemitic. Unless one considers half of Israel anti Israel and antisemitic. (Just as Obama hated Netanyahu, so too does half of Israel.)
While it is true that I too did not like some of his policies on Israel (especially the one that allowed the UN Security Council to condemn Israel), it cannot be denied that he was more generous with American aid to Israel than any of his predecessors in either party - and he had advanced military and intelligence cooperation between our 2 countries to unprecedented levels.
When it comes to racism - our liberal non Orthodox Jewish brethren are way ahead of us. The vast majority of them are not racist at all. Not publicly and not privately.
We can speculate about why so many Orthodox Jews us are racist. But none of these explanations (or better said – excuses) mean a thing. Racism is wrong. Thinking less of a person because of his color is not logical. It is based on emotions that begin with seeing people that look different as inferior human beings. An attitude that is fed by society that has been around since at least the days of slavery.
I bring all this up as a wake up call in the context of an article by Rabbi Yitzchok Adlerstein in Cross Currents. Rabbi Adlerstein is the interfaith director for the Simon Wiesenthal Center. He writes about his observation of the waning support of Israel by Evangelicals whose youth are less scripture oriented and more inclined to follow the liberal and the more politically correct view that gives more credence to the Palestinian narrative than it does to the Israeli one.
He calls this development gloomy but not desperate. At the same time he was encouraged by the support of black Evangelicals. Which remains high.
But his bubble was burst a bit by what he encountered when he addressed one such delegation to Israel led by a black pastor who spoke to him before the presentation. He was dismayed by what he heard:
(W)hen my host casually mentioned to me before the presentation formally began that at least two members of the group had walked into places and were told that they were not welcome – they assumed, because of their color. And they had been there less than two days. The worrying increased when an Ethiopian spoke of the years of what he perceived as racism he and his family had experienced since arriving – leading him to convert to Christianity.
After hearing this, Rabbi Adlerstein says that the conversation quickly deteriorated to the racism they experienced from Orthodox Jews in America. The description of what they experienced is similar to my own observations.
I take no pleasure at all in making this observation public. I would prefer it were not so. I would prefer that these attitudes were the exception that proves the rule. (Who knows? Maybe these are actually the exceptions which Rabbi Adlerstein and I just happened upon. But I tend to doubt that.)
There is however a purpose in telling the truth. Which is an attempt to force ourselves to look in the mirror. And at the same time consider the antisemitic attitudes some people harbor about us as Orthodox Jews. We too are different. We make a point of looking different by - at the very least - wearing a Kipa in public. Some of us wear our Tzitzis out. And some of us – Chasidim mostly - wear clothing that is radically different than the rest of society.
The more different we look, the less people will see us as equals. While from our own perspective there is the ‘dignity of difference’ (as Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has so poignantly said) - to many non Jews (and even to some secular Jews) the opposite is true. And it doesn’t help matters when there have been so many media reports about Orthodox Jews being caught in a variety of bad behavior - whether sexual or financial.
Here’s the thing. We need to change not only our behavior, but the actual prejudice some of us have about people that look different than us. To put it the way Rabbi Adlerstein did:
(A)s Torah Jews… we have to be both: right, and effective. That means increasing our sensitivity to the way others perceive us, whether we think those perceptions as justified or not. It should not be all that difficult, at least with those who are not anti-Semitic, and actually pro-Israel.
The alternative is that we will not only lose their support, but will inadvertently be put on a collision course with groups increasingly stuck on their own parochial narratives. We should be smart enough to realize what the consequences of that might be.
Indeed we should!