There is entirely too much hate going around. Orthodox Jews assaulted in New York City, an ultra-Orthodox Jew on life support after a machete attack in Monsey. Jews killed in Jersey City. Most of these particular incidents were perpetrated by African-Americans. It has been excruciatingly difficult for Jews to navigate this minefield of hate without lapsing into racist hate themselves.
ADL survey showed 34% of Blacks were antisemitic-only 9% of Whites were antisemitic. Something must be done.We must find out why in the Black community there are 4 times as many antisemites as in the White community. Is it their leaders- Farrakhan,Sharpton, Jackson,Rev Wright,etc https://t.co/JekxxsG329
— Morton Klein (@MortonAKlein7) December 27, 2019
This is causing some right-wing Jews to lose their minds. Dov Hikind, Mort Klein and their like are spewing foul racist rants against our minority allies. They hold all African-Americans guilty for the acts of a few tortured souls. On the contrary, the Jersey City killer was an army vet and drifter who’d latched onto the views of a hateful sect, and the Monsey attack was perpetrated by a man who is profoundly mentally ill.
Making African-Americans the enemy is not only profoundly wrong, it is dangerous. Even singling out the entire Black Hebrew sect as violent and anti-Semitic, as the NY Times did in its coverage, shows no knowledge of the spectrum of beliefs within even this group.
Blacks are not our enemy. We do have enemies. They are not Black. They are white. Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and those who abet them like the President of the United States. They are the ones killing us. They are the ones who hate us enough to engage in mass murder in Pittsburgh and Poway. Not that statistics should matter in this circumstance, but whites are many times more likely to kill Jews than Muslims or Blacks.
These attacks, whether by white or Black, divide us. They set us apart. They provoke distrust. They weaken us in our respective struggles. That is why it’s so easy to arouse fear and loathing among Jews when they hear Reps. Ilhan Omar or Rashida Tlaib allude to the power of the Israel Lobby; or when they endorse BDS and a one-state solution. Once again, they are not the enemy, though groups like Stopantisemitism.org would have you believe otherwise (they named Omar “anti-Semite of the Year“). These African-American, Palestinian and Muslim-American political leaders are only saying what every progressive in America is saying, including many Jews. Singling them out and lashing them with charges of anti-Semitism, as the House Democratic caucus sought to do to Omar, only weakens the Party and weakens the chances of electing a Democrat in 2020. It also weakens us in the battle for social justice here and in Israel.
Orthodox Jews Who ‘Get’ Intersectionality
The statement by a survivor of the Monsey attack is both moving and teaches us what must be the way forward from such tragedy:
Vile attacks and murders bring out the horror in a small amount of people, but they much more bring out the beauty and nobility of the great majority of God’s creatures.
The hero of the Monsey story, Yosef Elyah Glick…[offered] his message to the political leaders…They must do their duty to condemn anti-Semitism and violence in all circumstances, and not use their positions to incite negative emotions among races and communities…
That is…the strongest message that can be taken from the attack. The natural friends of Orthodox Jews are other minority communities next to whom we live. A large part of the black, Latino and Muslim communities, our neighbors, look at us religious Jews as their natural allies against a world of enmity and hate.
Regrettably, some hotheads and pundits try to fuel hatred among the various communities for their own political interests. But I cannot count how many times I personally have received favors from members of minority communities. Take away the self-serving political officials who pit one community against another due to vile political interests, take away the demagogues, and you have terrific communities who live side by side in harmony and happiness...
We also do not need any help from demagogues who are busy after every attack with ridiculous finger-pointing, whether there is more white anti-Semitism or more black anti-Semitism, if the Jew haters are more likely to be found in the right camp or more on the left, and which parties are taking the danger to Jews more seriously.
Jewish blood is flowing like water and these people are busy with political accounting…
…We must be wary of those who say that guns are the answer. From the time that Haredi children are very small, we learn to despise weapons.
[In] the Talmud…the sages say that a person is not allowed to go around with a weapon on the Sabbath because their purpose is “shameful,” they are a disgusting item. We always heard from our religious leaders that the weapon of a Jew is the voice of Jacob (Genesis 27:22).
They educated us to be pacifists and talked to us about how nice it will be when the Messiah comes, when “nation shall not lift the sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.” (Isaiah 2:4)
The great majority of Haredi Jews do not want to take up weapons.
…It is critical that there should be stricter laws to ensure that no…deadly weapons come into the hands of criminals, anti-Semites and terrorists who will use them to hurt innocent people.
This is just a direct result of propaganda from pundits and media figures who use their positions to incite hate, panic, chaos and hatred, and convince Americans to support issues directly antithetical to their interests.
…In their warped minds, we Orthodox Jews are not good Jews unless we condemn political officials who they consider insufficiently pro-Jewish. They will not rest until they create a gigantic division between us and the nearby communities, and between us and our responsible political leaders.
The good news is that our communities are gifted with responsible leaders who shake off the politics of enmity and hate — and who do not allow for outsiders with blind intentions to overcome us and ruin our friendly relationships.
Causes of Black-Jewish Conflict
Why does this hate exist? To be honest, while the Jewish and African-American communities historically both faced massive discrimination and violence, there has also been great hostility between us. The slumlords who rented apartments to Blacks in Harlem and Bedford Stuyvesant were largely Jewish. Here is James Baldwin’s account of life in the ghetto for him and his family:
When we were growing up in Harlem our demoralizing series of landlords were Jewish, and we hated them. We hated them because they were terrible landlords, and did not take care of the building. A coat of paint, a broken window, a stopped sink, a stopped toilet, a sagging floor, a broken ceiling, a dangerous stairwell, the question of garbage disposal, the question of heat and cold, of roaches and rats–all questions of life and death for the poor, and especially for those with children–we had to cope with all of these as best we could. Our parents were lashed to futureless jobs, in order to pay the outrageous rent. We knew that the landlord treated us this way only because we were colored, and he knew that we could not move out.
The grocer was a Jew, and being in debt to him was very much like being in debt to the company store. The butcher was a Jew and, yes, we certainly paid more for bad cuts of meat than other New York citizens, and we very often carried insults home, along with the meat. We bought our clothes from a Jew and, sometimes, our secondhand shoes, and the pawnbroker was a Jew–perhaps we hated him most of all. The merchants along 125th Street were Jewish–at least many of them were…
Not all of these white people were cruel–on the contrary, I remember some who were certainly as thoughtful as the bleak circumstances allowed–but all of them were exploiting us, and that was why we hated them.
In 1968, when Black residents of Ocean Hill-Brownsville took control of the local school board, New York’s teacher’s union called a citywide strike. The largely Jewish union fought tooth and nail against local Black communities’ increasing power to impact education in their districts. This rancor that ensued provoked deep mistrust and animosity, curdling inter-ethnic relations for decades to come.
Later, as the Lubavitch and other Hasidic communities grew in Brooklyn neighborhoods, they pushed out Black residents who’d lived there for years, if not decades. The ethnic makeup of communities changed and the ultra-Orthodox became predominant. Gentrification prevailed, rents increased, poor Blacks could no longer afford to live in neighborhoods which had been home for decades.
In 1991, the Lubavitch rebbe’s motorcade struck and killed a Black girl. The death provoked many nights of violent protest by local Blacks. In one incident, an Australian rabbi was killed. This was perhaps the nadir of relations in the city. It has improved somewhat since then. But these tensions continue to exist and will not disappear.
This historical background informs and motivates some of the more aberrant elements in the community. While the vast majority of African-Americans understand the complexity of the relationship and don’t fall prey to violent impulse, there are those whose thought processes are so twisted or diseased that they permit their instincts to explode in violence.
There is an important social dynamic at work here: for a person or community to resort to race or religious-based violence there are multiple factors at play including fear, ignorance, poverty, a sense of powerlessness and hopelessness. When the world appears closed to you, when you feel you have nothing, that’s when grievance subsumes rational thought. This even leads some misbegotten souls to lose normal inhibitions and lash out in anger or violence.
In some instances, these attackers are mentally ill (though we must not make the mistake of believing that violence is inherent in their condition). That was the case with Grafton Thomas in Monsey and Naveed Haq, who murdered a Seattle Jewish federation staff member and wounded six others in a 2010 attack. I opposed the life sentence given to Haq because, though he did shout anti-Semitic slogans during his attack, his warped thoughts and ideas were caused by his illness.
In the Monsey attack, Thomas is being charged with federal hate crimes. Investigators have discovered that among his other internet searches just before he left on his journey to darkness, he did a keyword search on “Hitler” and sought to identify synagogues as targets There are those who believe this is prima facie evidence of anti-Semitic motivation, and that is enough to treat these attackers as terrorists. But anyone who treats or knows the mentally ill, understands that they do not have the capacity to reason as normative individuals do. Picking up a machete, finding directions to a synagogue, even killing people does not turn the mentally ill into Adolf Hitler. They may do monstrous things, but they are not in their right mind when they do them. Their punishment should and must be different than those white supremacists motivated by pure calculated rage at Jews. These mass murderers are not ill. Their thought processes are clear.
Let He Who is Without Sin Cast the First Stone
It is critical to remember that Blacks are not the only ethnic group whose members harbor such hate. We have no farther to search than within our own community. In the 1960s, it was leaders like Meir Kahane who fanned the flames of racism. He planted seeds that germinated later, setting the stage for the racial violence that was to come in New York City.
When Kahane made aliyah to Israel, after serving a prison sentence for conspiring to make bombs, he brought his Judeo-Nazi ideology there. He came in 1971, just after the 1967 War, as the settler movement was laying down its first roots. He also attracted thousands of New York Orthodox disciples to follow him. They formed the nucleus of what become the most rabid settlements of Tapuach, Yitzhar, and Hebron.
Gradually, the ideology of Jewish racial supremacy has infected the entire Israeli body politic. Ministers, even prime ministers now say things no one in their position would have said in 1971. They mouth the ideas of Meir Kahane, which have reached into the halls of power. Kahane has won. Jewish hate has triumphed in Israeli society. The rejectionism, mass violence and extremism personified by Kahane now rules. I’ve written here at least once that had he not been assassinated I believe it’s likely he would have become prime minister (look how many other former Jewish terrorists did!).
So when pro-Israel ideologues paint the Black community as riddled with anti-Semitism, remember that the latter is not alone in harboring these foul ideas. We’ve caught the same disease.
Bret Stephens and “Ashkenazi Genius”
Recently, NYT columnist, Bret Stephens, penned an especially pernicious op-ed (links to his original, uncensored version) boasting of Jewish genetic superiority. Though readers rightly reacted with outrage, these notions have existed in the Jewish community for decades. One regularly reads of people who boast of how many Nobel laureates are Jewish, how many Wall Street billionaires and Hollywood celebrities are Jewish. In some cases, this is merely an expression of tribal pride.
But in cases like Stephens (and Kahane before him), it becomes a much deeper and more troubling claim. The idea that one religion or race is genetically superior to another is the fruit of a poison tree. It led to the murder of 6-million Jews by the Nazis. When a Nazi or a Jew advances such notions, they are equally noxious.
Stephens buttressed his argument by offering a study of intelligence which claimed that Ashkenazi Jews scored higher on IQ tests than other ethnic groups. Unmentioned was the background of a co-author of the study, Henry Harpending. He was a known white supremacist and supporter of eugenics. The study was originally published in a journal that, until 1968 was titled Eugenics Review.
Only after Stephens piece was published and after social media sleuths researched the claims in the column, did these facts come out. Instead of apologizing for the entire column and retracting it, as any decent scientific journal would after realizing it had published quack science, the Times doubled down. While it did remove the reference to the study in the article, it refused to concede any other problem with the content. It refused to acknowledge that at its foundation it was riddled with the rot of Judeo-supremacism. The “editor’s note” appended to the revised version of Stephen’s column was almost worse than if they had remained silent:
An earlier version of this Bret Stephens column quoted statistics from a 2005 paper that advanced a genetic hypothesis for the basis of intelligence among Ashkenazi Jews. After publication Mr. Stephens and his editors learned that one of the paper’s authors, who died in 2016, promoted racist views. Mr. Stephens was not endorsing the study or its authors’ views, but it was a mistake to cite it uncritically. The effect was to leave an impression with many readers that Mr. Stephens was arguing that Jews are genetically superior. That was not his intent.
This is unfortunately not surprising. The Times is, after all, owned by a wealthy Jewish family which clearly harbors belief in its own entitlement, its own ethnic superiority. While the Sulzbergers have been members of the New York elite for generations, the temptation to justify one’s wealth and privilege with nostrums like those offered by Stephens is too tempting to resist.
I wrote a post in 2018 noting the romance the Times editorial page was conducting with alt-right/pro-Israel columnists. This editorial urge, expressed as a desire to broaden the political diversity of the op-ed page, led the editor, James Bennett, to lie down with some real dogs, who gave him a bad case of fleas. Among those I noted were Stephens, Bari Weiss and Quinn Norton. Bennet plucked Stephens from the Wall Street Journal (he had earlier been the managing editor of the far-right Jerusalem Post). Fresh from her rabble-rousing Islamophobic activism at Columbia University (with a short detour to Tablet), he plucked Bari Weiss. She recently wrote an exceedingly slim and unpersuasive book on anti-Semitism.
Though I commend the effort to pressure the Times to fire Stephens, it won’t work. Not only does he have the full backing of Bennet, but the latter has the full backing of the Sulzbergers. As a side note, Bennet reports not to the managing editor, Dean Baquet, but to the publisher, Arthur Sulzberger.
In short, the family has bought into the toxic notion that their status in life derives in some small way from their ethnicity.
Another troubling aspect of Stephens’ piece was the claim that Jewish genius was confined to Ashkenazi Jews. No mention whatsoever of Sefardi or Mizrahi (“eastern”) Jews. Of course, one may argue that the only ethnic group tested as part of the study was Ashkenazi Jews. But that won’t wash. The reason they didn’t include other Jewish groups was because of the prejudice among the study authors (and among Ashkenazi Jews like Stephens and the Sulzbergers), that Ashkenazi Jews are superior to other Jews.
Herzl as Anti-Semite
This isn’t surprising at all. One of the primary notions underpinning the Zionist enterprise from its inception, is that the first pioneer generation, almost solely Ashkenazi Jews, were the elite. They were the best educated. They ran government. They led the army. They predominated on the university faculty, they dominated among the professional classes. So of course, there is an ‘Ashkenazi genius.’ It has been implicit in Israeli society for generations (though this has been dented somewhat by assimilation and the growth of the Mizrahi population in Israel).
It’s darkly ironic that before Ashkenazi supremacy was enshrined in Israel, the early Zionists saw Eastern European Jews in much the same way Ashkenazi Jews see Mizrahi Jews. In other words, leaders like Herzl saw the Eastern Europeans as the Great Unwashed: they were (in his perception) poor, uneducated, diseased, steeped in primitive superstition. These early Zionists were themselves anti-Semites who hated their own brethren. They saw the new State they envisioned as a way to exile these Bad Jews to a place where they could be acculturated and civilized. So perhaps at some later time they might be admitted within the confines of polite western society.
Religious Hate Knows No Boundaries
Hate is an equal opportunity emotion. It is not confined to a single religion or ethnic group. Unfortunately, in many cases it’s embedded in our holy books themselves. Recently, the imam of a local Northwest mosque delivered a sermon based on a troubling passage from the Quran. It recounts a story of a “town by the sea” whose Jewish residents set fishing nets out before sundown on Friday and waited till the end of Shabbat to collect the fish. The text says that for their “transgression” they were turned into “apes and monkeys.”
One critical aspect of the verse which Islamophobes rushing to judgment avoid, is that the Quran is not disparaging Judaism. Just the opposite, it is disparaging a small number of Jews for not upholding their own traditions of Shabbat observance. And in fact, the Bible and other sacred texts warn Jews of far worse punishments for dishonoring the sacred laws of Moses. A much longer discussion of the verse and issues surrounding it with Rabbi Tovia Singer is available on YouTube.
As many have pointed out about this verse, the Quran either deliberately or inadvertently ignores Jewish law in the matter since the rabbinic School of Hillel had ruled specifically that Jewish fishermen may set nets before Shabbat. Hillel’s rulings are definitive on issues of law. But it would appear that the Quran and its later interpreters were seeking to set Islamic law apart from Jewish law by saying that they prefer the stricter School of Shammai, which argued against setting nets before Shabbat.
I am personally mystified why any imam would use this as a text on which to base a sermon. Just because a passage exists in a holy book doesn’t mean that it should be taught, unless you are seeking to explain why it is offensive in a contemporary context; in the same way that the Biblical precept calling for stoning two men who engage in homosexual acts; or a married woman who commits adultery, is a belief almost all non-Orthodox Jews find odious today.
MAPS has issued its own apology for the incident as has the imam himself. But the damage was done, and the Islamophobic media site, MEMRI, discovered the sermon and featured it prominently. Last week, a local alt-right radio host released his own hate screed about it and featured it on his show. Undoubtedly, it will become yet another exhibit in the desperate campaign by global Islamophobes to smear one of the world’s most important and respected faiths.
Religion and Politics: a Toxic Mix
We also should not lose sight of the fact that conflict between Islamists and Jews, which have thankfully not taken hold in this country as it has in France and other European sites, is bound with the Israeli-Arab conflict. To the extent that Israel’s leaders have transformed it into a religious conflict between Judaism and Islam, it has sucked Muslim and Jews into its vortex. Further, Israel’s leadership presumes that it represents not just its own citizens, but all the Jews in the world. This false notion turns every Jew into a potential target of any Islamist blaming Israel for defiling Jerusalem’s holy sites and killing Muslims.
Before we Jews cast stones, let’s note the ‘sin’ within our own faith: our own Bible is riddled with hate and violence both against our own tribe and outsiders. There is a long list of neighboring tribes existing in the Land of Israel which were either assimilated or annihilated when the Children of Israel took possession of it. Amalekites, Jebusites, Moabites, Edomites: the Bible indicates we had no mercy in our rivalries with them. And when an Israelite king did show mercy, he was severely rebuked by no less than God himself.
Today, this same sort of hate runs through Israeli Orthodox Judaism when the late Chief Rabbi Ovadia Yosef called Palestinians “donkeys” created by God to serve Jews. In another sermon, he called young Black children in New York City “monkeys.” Nor did he imply or infer any respect toward Palestinians or African Americans in his homily, as the Quran passage did toward Judaism.
Of course, there are tales of supreme love and mercy in our Tanach as well: the Book of Ruth is one of the most touching accounts of the devotion between an Israelite woman, Naomi, and her Moabite daughter-in-law, Ruth, in which the latter says so movingly:
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’
The lesson to be learned is: no religion is all good or all bad. Religions are as good as the human beings who follow them. Just as no human being can be perfect, so no religious faith can be. We must strive to make our religions as loving and tolerant as we can. We must allow them to respect other faiths, and not declare that our own has every answer and must exclude the truth of others.
And before we rail against the perceived sins of other faiths we must examine our own for the same imperfections. Once we humbly do so, we can meet other religions and all of us can find the common ground that is so vital for human dignity.