Thursday, January 05, 2017

Are Orthodox Jews Racist?

Mordechai Ben David (Forward)
I don’t know which is greater. My anger or my sadness. I feel both emotions competing with each other for dominance.

I have come to the conclusion that there are wide swaths of Orthodox Jews that are racist. That’s right. You read that correctly. Wide swaths! When a popular Jewish singer that is clearly religious can refer to a fellow human being with a racial epithet  - to a cheering crowd full of religious Jews - that tells me something. And it isn’t good. I don’t think the term Chilul HaShem would be misplaced as a description of that. Which is too bad because I have been a fan of this pioneer of Jewish music for decades.

The Forward reports that Mordechai Ben David used such a slur about our President during a recent concert in Jerusalem. There is no  doubt that he did. He can be heard saying it in the video below. He called him a ‘Kushi’ which is commonly used to slur black people among Hebrew speakers.  Kushi means black man. Much the same way the word ‘Shvartze’ does in Yiddish.

There is no explaining this away. You cannot say he was just matter of factly referring to him by his color in a non pejorative way. Jewish racists that use the word Shvartze try to explain it the same way. That will not work. He used that term deliberately as a pejorative to the cheer of his adoring fans. He may as well used the ‘N’ word. He would have gotten the same cheer. Just because you say it in Hebrew or Yiddish does not make it any better.

It also doesn’t matter that one doesn’t agree with the President’s policies… even with respect to Israel. Nor does it matter that he is now viewed by many Jews, including me, as stabbing Israel in the back by allowing the UN to pass a resolution condemning it. One can criticize his policies. I certainly have – especially on this issue. But there is never any excuse to call someone by a racial epithet.

Unfortunately I see this all the time. Even among some of my own friends. In an unguarded moment they will refer to the President as ‘that Shvartze in office’. I’ve heard that - or something akin to it - more than once. By more than one person. And from religious Jews of all Hashkafos. From Charedi to Religious Zionist. They may pay lip-service to not being racist. But they are. Or else they would never refer to the President in racist terms no matter how much they hate his polices.

I have also come to the conclusion of late that it is very likely true that the problems a lot of religious Jews have with the President are motivated by racism. At least subliminally. Obama never had a chance with them. They will vigorously deny that and and say that just because you disagree with the President doesn’t mean you are a racist. Fair enough. I disagree with him too. But that does not explain the venomous - almost irrational hatred I have seen expressed by people from the full spectrum of Orthodox Jewry. To these people even the things he’s said or done that they would normally support are spun into an irrational explanation – denying him any credit.  They accept nothing less than he’s an antisemite. No evidence to the contrary will convince them. Refusing to be rational about the man is the greatest proof of that racism.

In my humble opinion this all stems from a racism that is inherent in far too many of us. 

To the best of my knowledge no one has protested what Mordechai said. As if to say they agree with him. The only thing I agree with - is that the President is leaving office - soon to be replaced by someone far more sympathetic to Israel’s current democratically elected leadership than has been the case for the last 8 years. But with one word, he has negated any support I might have expressed.  It is racism pure and simple and it seems to be in the DNA of far too many religious Jews. That was made clear by the cheering crowd.

Why are there so many racist Orthodox Jews? Some of it seeps in from the general culture. There is still a lot of racism out there. Some of it is taken from bad experiences they or their parents and grandparents have had living in dangerous neighborhoods where black gangs thrive. Where muggings and the like have happened to them.

The truth is that there is a lot of black crime out there, too. But there is a lot more white crime. That there may be more black crime as a percentage of the whole has many explanations… none of which have to do with the color of their skin. It’s just too bad that so many people fear encountering a black man in a dark alley more than they do encountering a white man. That fear extends to black people. Ask Jesse Jackson. Why? Because statistics show that there is more black on black crime than there is white on black crime. But there is absolutely no genetic predisposition to evil or violence just because someone’s skin is black.

And yet that is exactly what Mordechai’s statement said by referring to the President as a Kushi. He is saying that the President is evil because of the color of his skin. He can deny it all he wants. But that is the only real explanation for what he said. The cheering crowd can deny it all they want too. Had he not used that word, the cheering may have been acceptable. I may have cheered right along with him by a statement of ‘good riddance’. But the use of that word should have gotten boos. Not cheers.

I am embarrassed, sad, and angry at this state of affairs – and have no clue what to do about it.