Thursday, May 03, 2012

Anti-Semitism in America

One of the recurring themes featured on this blog is the fact that Americans genuinely accept their Jewish fellow citizens on equal terms.  Except for some fringe groups like the Neo-Nazis and the KKK or an occasional individual  - there is no real anti-Semitism of consequence in this country.

Our acceptance has been amply demonstrated many times in many different ways. I am not going to repeat the many examples I have given for that – nor the reasons why this is so. Suffice it to say, that I am absolutely convinced that in all of Jewish history, there has never been a country like the United States – that is built entirely on religious tolerance and - in the 21st century is living up to that principle.

There is so much evidence of it – that I reject the notion that America is no different than any other country both past and present  - countries that have made life very difficult for a Jew. To say the least.

I reject the notion that Esav Sonei L’Yaakov applies here to the vast majority of non Jews – although I think that is still true in Europe, especially Eastern Europe as well as many South American dictatorships like Bolivia and Venezuela.

I am always challenged about this. Claims are often made that ‘our time will come here - just like it did in countries that hosted us in the past.

There were periods of great tolerance and acceptance only to be followed over time by periods of great disaster for the Jewish people. The example almost always cited is Spain. That “Golden Era” for the Jewish people lasted for hundreds of years. Jews had it great there then, just like we have it here now. And then the inquisition happened. One way or another the same thing will happen here someday. Then they will quote Esav Sonei L”Yaakov to bolster that claim and say, “They all hate us whether we realize it or not.”

It’s hard to argue that if one looks at Spain as the model. But America is not Spain. There is no religious component to our system like there was in Spain. Although religious teachings may (and should) inform our leaders morally and ethically, that plays no part in how citizens of different religions are treated.

I should think this is obvious.

On the other hand it has been reported that there has been an increase in anti Semitic incidents in this country. The focus is on university campuses. Some of the rhetoric is vile and sometimes thinly disguised anti-Semitism.  An argument can be made that this phenomenon foretells our future here as Jews. Some of these professors have great influence over their students who look at them as very wise mentors. Where will our future leadership come from if not from our best universities? Those future leaders will take that anti Israel attitude with them.

Is this really what our future leaders will be like? One might thinks so if the descriptions I just gave are in any way accurate.

But I am not so sure they are. At least not in any significant numbers. How do I know? I don’t. But someone who is directly involved in a major university probably does.

An article in last week’s Ami Magazine features an interview with Professor Alan Dershowitz. He holds the Felix Frankfuretr chair at Harvard and his current passion is defending the Jewish State. He was interviewed on this very subject. When asked about whether antisemitism has gotten worse in recent year in the world of Academia, he answered that the exact opposite is true. It has gotten much better.

The examples he gave for that are hard to deny. Among them is the fact that just looking at Harvard, the past President was Jewish, The last 2 law deans were Jewish, and the student body is about 30% Jewish! If anyone were to express an anti Semitic view today, he would be ostracized. There was one professor that did. He was despised and left the university.

Back when Dershowitz was a student, Harvard’s President was an anti Semite. He didn’t like Jews and didn’t allow them to use Harvard’s facilities to get married! There was a joke floating around  Yale at that time that if you could read Yale’s motto  “Urim V’Tumim”  which was written in Hebrew  you would not be accepted. That is obviously no longer the case.

What about all those reports of anti-Semitsim on American campuses? Dershowitz responded that what we see now is radical anti Zionism that morphs into anti-Semitism. Some of it coming from Jews!  He cited being called an “Israel Firster” by N.J. Rosenberg of “Media Matters”.  And Rosenberg’s accusation that AIPAC has dual loyalties. Or worse has no loyalty to the US at all! Imagine the millions of Americans who belong to or support AIPAC being called disloyal to their country!

One sees this kind of anti-Semitism in people like Steven Walt, and John Mearshimer who focus only on the Israel lobby and not on the Saudi lobby or other lobbies.

Dershowitz adds that anti Israel rhetoric is not necessarily a mask for antisemitism. If one disagrees with the Israel’s policies at any given time, they have a right to express that without being called an anti Semite. Criticizing the Israeli government does not make them anti Semites anymore than it does when half the population of Israel criticizes their government. Which they constantly seem to do.

I think he’s right. That said we must always be vigilant. The lessons of Jewish history require nothing less of us. But we should in no way become paranoid and see an anti Semite lurking behind every corner. The reality is not like that. There is no point in seeing every non Jew as an anti Semite until proven otherwise. That may have been true in Europe of the past – perhaps even Europe of the present. It may have even been true to a lesser extent here in the past. But it is definitely not true now. God bless America.