James Edward Johnson

my thoughts from right to left

Posts Tagged ‘antisemitism

Further thoughts on antisemitism …

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I am always a little surprised by how fast professed anti-racists will engage in antisemitism. I have never experienced this phenomenon to the degree I have experienced it here in Iowa City. Most people here are really good people, but there is a small group of very vocal ideologues who are apparently not deterred in their open acts of antisemitism. Here are a few tips for avoiding antisemitism that I have recently considered:

Conspiracies are rare. Most cooperation is in the open. When I say something I am not speaking for any other Jew – either collectively or individually. When I act I am not acting on any other person’s behalf unless I am explicit in doing so. If you are quick to infer a conspiracy between my and other Jews, your inference is antisemitic. I am always shocked when people assume I am part of a Jewish conspiracy and not simply doing what I think is right on my own and for my own purposes.

Members of minority groups usually are angered when they perceive bigotry directed towards their group. Responses to such perceptions are not typically cautious and reasoned and can often appear spiteful or vindictive. Expecting minorities to suppress their anger and respond more civilly is a bigoted expectation. If a fellow Jew gets pissed off at you for your lack of sensitivity I am not going to try to put a leash on them. I do not infantilize Jews or anyone else by pretending my calmer response is more “proper” or “better” than their angry response. It is not my place to tell them how they should respond to your bigotry. Expecting one Jew to prevent another Jew from expressing their emotion in a visceral fashion is antisemitic. Expecting a male to restrain a female is doubly bigoted because it reinforces sexist stereotypes.

There are many individual members of every group who behave poorly at times. Attributing the actions of those individuals to their group, their community organizations or any other member of that group is a bigoted attribution. Minority communities tend to be well connected internally because of their minority status. That one poorly behaved member of a group might have connections to other members of the group is not evidence of general debasement of the group. It is evidence of the group’s normalcy. Expecting otherwise is destructive of minority groups, bigoted, and in the case of Jews, antisemitic.

More locally, there are a few groups (seemingly attended by the same small set of people) that routinely engage in these sorts of antisemitism. They are ostensibly pro-Palestinian in spite of having very few Palestinian Arab members. In practice, they are a lot more anti-Jewish, anti-Israel, and antisemitic than they are pro-Palestinian. What a shame. Don’t be enticed by the superficially tolerant rhetoric of such groups.

Written by JamesEJ

Thursday, December 16, 2010 at 2:39 am

Posted in antisemitism

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Understanding and overcoming bigotry …

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Henry Ford helped popularize the myth of Jewish control in America in the 1920s.

… a synopsis of some recent correspondence

I have recently been discussing outbursts of bigoted statements in a variety of contexts.  In current events terms, these discussions have sprung from events ranging from the debate over Park51, the misnamed “Ground Zero mosque”, to Rick Sanchez’s comments that Jews run the media, to Juan Williams’ expression of fear about outwardly Muslim airline passengers.

Let me deal with these issues by talking more specifically about Sanchez’s allegations.

Sanchez basically repeated the old antisemitic canard that Jews control the media.  That many people might make such a quick assessment is not that hard to understand – moreso when one considers the cultural background of antisemitism common in most communities.

In Iowa, for example, Jews are only one in 500 people.  Most people either personally know zero Jews or a very tiny number of Jews.  They do, however, turn on their TVs and see a fair number of Jews associated with both the news media and the entertainment industry.  Given the contrast, a quick assessment might indicate either that Jews run the media or substantially dominate it.  That is because the relative concentration of Jews in such context far exceeds the presence of Jews in an Iowan’s day-to-day life.

However, a person employing their intellect can readily overcome such a rush to judgment.  First, while Jews in Iowa are about one in 500, Jews in the US are one in 50.  In media centers like New York and LA, Jews are more like one in ten.  So, even if there is no clustering of Jews in the media (and there might be some of that too), an Iowan should expect to see about 50 times the proportion of Jews in the media as in Iowa.  This is true merely on the basis that Jews in the media are representative of the localities in which they are employed.  That is, however, a shocking difference that is likely to provoke an outsized estimate of Jewish influence.  But, such outsized estimates are easily countered, again, by making informed observation and employing our intellects.  There is much more evidence than this, but we can start with the observation that CNN and Fox are both owned and run by non-Jewish heads.  Even when one looks narrowly to prominent Jews in the media it becomes clear that they have no coordination and little agreement and so the idea of a ubiquitous “Jewish control” is downright ridiculous.

And, this pattern plays out in a wide variety of bias issues. The initial prejudice is easily justified by a simple observed difference between a foreign context and a familiar context.  Human learning is predicated on our ability to generalize, but here such generalizations serve to create an imagined reality that wildly exaggerates true reality.  This can apply to issues like black crime or family malfunction, Jewish control or miserliness, Muslim terrorism or misogyny, gay male illness or sexual predation, female seduction or manipulation, … In order to challenge these stereotypes, we have to understand the different contexts that give rise to them.  The rampant prevalence of prejudice throughout human history clearly demonstrates that this is tied to human nature and that suggests that it cannot be ignored and is not generally self-correcting.

In Sanchez’s case, just a little education probably would have helped him understand why the myth of Jewish control of the media is an antisemitic prejudice.  Williams didn’t need the education and so he followed up quickly with an explanation of how an initial fear should not be employed to give rise to bigotry.  Acknowledging the fact of one’s fears and suspicions, however unreasonable such fears may be, is an important part of legitimizing the more rightful assertions against prejudice provoked by such fears.  We cannot combat bigotry without recognizing its fairly natural and common origins.

That said, if one asks only that we “understand” bigotry, they probably are promoting it.  If one asks for “understanding” that burdens the victims of bigotry with the responsibility to avoid it, they are probably promoting it.  We must understand bigotry, but only because our fight against it will be very difficult if we refuse to understand the natural propensity for humans to develop biases.  The challenge is developing a discourse that allows us to develop the latter understanding without encouraging the bigotry promotion inherent to the former “understandings”.

Written by JamesEJ

Monday, November 8, 2010 at 2:13 am

Posted in extremism

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The Ghetto … worse than the films.

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A Film Unfinished is showing now at the Bijou Theater at the University of Iowa.  The Israeli documentary covers the known and lost footage taken by the Nazis of the Warsaw Ghetto.

I saw it last night and it is a very powerful film that makes even those familiar with the Holocaust pause in consideration of the terror of Naziism … well before the Jews were sent to the gas chambers.

Here is a preview:

Go watch it at the Bijou … between now and Thursday.

Written by JamesEJ

Sunday, October 24, 2010 at 5:44 am

Evangelical Christians show more tolerance than the Left.

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John Hagee

Pastor John Hagee at the 'Night to Honor Israel' in the Quad Cities.

On Thursday, I went to the Christians United for Israel ‘Night to Honor Israel’ in Davenport. The 2,400 seat Adler Theater was filled nearly to capacity with conservative evangelical Christians. This is not typically my sort of crowd.  Conservative preacher Pastor John Hagee, who is among the best known conservative evangelicals in America, was the keynote speaker.  The crowd was filled with people who have a strict view of a different faith than mine and who have fairly severe differences with me on a wide range of social policies.

And yet, I was warmly welcomed, as a Jew, among these people.  Hagee made clear that his love and support for the Jewish people is not based on any expectation that we convert to Christianity or any other sort of compromise of our beliefs.  The crowd echoed that view.

And so, I wonder, why is it that among the supposedly tolerant and accepting people on the left here in Iowa City, I feel no tolerance; while among the typically less tolerant and conservative Christians, I feel real tolerance … even acceptance?

By way of example, a far-left Democrat from here in Johnson County, told me at the state Democratic Convention that I was a disloyal American and that I should leave and move to Israel.  I feared nothing like that on Thursday evening.  In fact, I experienced the opposite … my Jewish identity was seen as a patriotic expression of my American heritage.  God bless these people for showing me real acceptance.

 

Written by JamesEJ

Saturday, October 9, 2010 at 7:15 pm

Losing Iowa

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The Jewish WeekThe NY Jewish Week ran my piece today on the challenge facing Jews in Iowa over Israel and, to a lesser degree, other Jewish issues. Here’s a taste …

Iowa may be the Achilles’ heel in the fabled power of the Israel lobby. Unfortunately, Jews are losing the state.

Iowa’s first-in-the-nation caucuses give it disproportionate political attention. Any serious presidential candidate must make multiple visits to the state to be viable. The lack of a significant Jewish presence in Iowa presents a problem for Jews in this country.

Most importantly, anti-Israel activists seek legitimacy for their efforts to delegitimize Israel. This legitimacy-seeking activity provoked candidate Barack Obama to say during the 2008 presidential campaign, “Nobody is suffering more than the Palestinian people.” One of the leading anti-Israel activists in Iowa set the trap with a question and Obama stepped into it. The Des Moines Register dutifully reported the story without important context that would have undermined the anti-Israel framing.

Read the rest of Losing Iowa at The NY Jewish Week.

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 22, 2010 at 12:04 am

The Atlantic covers Persian Jews in America.

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Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Cyrus the Great allowing Hebrew pilgrims to return to and rebuild Jerusalem

Jews can trace their history in Persia back at least 2,500 years to the time of Cyrus the Great, who restored the Jews to Jerusalem from Babylonian exile.  Sadly, in the last several decades, the Jews in Persia have been reduced to one tenth their previous size.  Most Jews fled Iran because of the rising antisemitism and persecution that accompanied the Islamic Revolution and went to Israel.  A very large number also fled to the United States.

The Atlantic’s Elizabeth Weingarten has an amazing piece discussing the recent history of Persian Jews in the United States.  Here is what she reports on Persian Jewish thought on the possibility of a military strike on Iran:

“Its very difficult for us,” explains Hooshang Nemat, the executive vice president of the Iranian American Jewish Federation of New York. “You dont want to see your nation destroyed, and you dont want to see a conflict between your country of birth and the country that you sympathize with because of religion and because of shared history.” Nemat, a 67-year-old Mashadi Jew an small, ancient group from the Iranian city of Mashad, came to America in 1961 as a student at the University of Miami. He returned to Iran in 1972, and came back to the United States because of the revolution.

Like Nemat, most Iranian American Jews are against a military strike on Iran — whether it is from Israel or from the United States. But while theyd prefer a diplomatic solution, others say they would still support Israel in defending itself against a virulently anti-Semitic, and potentially dangerous, regime. Sam Kermanian, the former secretary general of the Iranian American Jewish Federation, believes that an Israeli strike “would be viewed as a justifiable act of defense,” adding that “the reaction of the Iranian American Jewish community wont be much different than the reaction of the majority of the people of Iran, who view the current regime as oppressive, and in conflict with the interests of the people of Iran.”

via Iranian Jews in America: Torn Between Homelands – International – The Atlantic.

This is just a small sample of what Weingarten shares.  The entire piece is worth reading and provides valuable insight on the views of religious minorities from Iran.

cross-posted at The View From Damavand

Written by JamesEJ

Wednesday, September 1, 2010 at 2:23 am

The lynching of Leo Frank.

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Leo and Lucille Frank during his trial, 1915

Leo and Lucille Frank during his trial, 1915

Jews have it pretty good in the United States.  Indeed, it is the only place where large numbers of Jews have lived as a minority with equal rights  and without having faced genocide or ethnic cleansing.

Even so, Jews have had reason to fear persecution in America.  General Ulysses Grant issued his infamous General Order 11 in 1862, expelling all the Jews of Tennessee, Mississippi, and Kentucky.   It was revoked within one month – after President Lincoln ordered its revocation.

Even today, hate crimes are disproportionately perpetrated on the basis of an anti-Jewish bias.  Only anti-gay bias is more disproportionate as a motivation for hate crimes in the US.

But, perhaps the worst (certainly the most notorious) hate crime perpetrated against a Jew in the US was the lynching of Leo Frank, 95 years ago today.

Frank was a pencil manufacturer in Atlanta and was accused of murdering a young girl who was an employee at his factory.  He was convicted in a show trial and sentenced to death.  Reports of the trial describe antisemitic outbursts in the courtroom.  There is little doubt that the conviction was the result of an antisemitic animus and that exculpatory evidence was ignored in the trial.

The governor of Georgia commuted Frank’s sentence to life in prison.  In an unsuccessful attempt on his life, Frank’s throat was slit by another inmate.

A group that would later form the (second) Ku Klux Klan began openly planning the lynching of Frank.  Dozens of people were involved.  They went to the jail where he was being held, removed him, and drove him in a motorcade 150 miles to near the home town of the murdered girl.  There he was hanged before a large crowd of onlookers.  No one was charged with his murder.

Frank’s lynching led to many things.  The perpetrators re-established the Ku Klux Klan.  Jews established the Anti-Defamation League.  Half of Georgia’s Jews fled the state.

Thankfully, no Jew has been lynched in America in the interceding 95 years.

Written by JamesEJ

Tuesday, August 17, 2010 at 5:30 pm