Over the past eight years, we became convinced that anti-Semitism no longer existed, and are now astounded at its re-emergence. Why?
What We Were Led to Believe
The Obama administration informed Americans that anti-Semitism in the United States was no longer a major issue under his watch. The real hatred that the country needed to confront was the targeting of Muslims and immigrants, not Jews.
The American media reported that anti-Semitism in Europe was barely perceptible. The real issue there was the persecution of refugees.
Jewish leaders and Israeli officials explained that the Jewish State of Israel assumed the role of the World Jew, and attacks on Israel were the new socially-accepted form of anti-Semitism. So when the political left educated everyone that criticizing Israel on the world stage was something that friends do – not anti-Semites – it was obviously a tremendous relief.
There was clearly no more anti-Semitism remaining in the world.
But suddenly, as the sun set on the Obama ride, the old hatred suddenly appeared again. Not surprisingly, the left-wing told us it was all related to the rise of Donald Trump.
Anti-Semitic incidents jumped in the days after the election, mostly from vandalism. The most vocal and visible display of Jew-hatred will happen next week, as the small town of Whitefish, Montana hosts a march by armed white supremists on January 15. The organizer is a vocal supporter of Trump, cementing the pairing that Trump and his supporters are anti-Semites (or “deplorables” according to Hillary Clinton).
And so we are led to believe that the anti-Semitism which was supposedly vanquished under the Obama years, is rearing its vile head as Trump assumes the presidency.
That narrative is not reality. Anti-semitism has always been present in the US and Europe, but simply ignored. Some of the hatred now being seen in America is simply more public and overt. It’s your father’s anti-Semitism. Old School Jew-hatred.
Over the eight years of Obama’s presidency, an average Jew in the USA was statistically twice as likely to face a hate crime as an average black or Muslim person. Obama just chose to not discuss it, and the media sought to distract attention away from it.
In Europe, the year 2014 saw waves of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel riots and actions, even as Israel tried to broker a peace deal with the Palestinian Arabs. However, the media tried to downplay the Jew-hatred. Obama refused to even acknowledge it.
As for the Nazi marches, they are not new in America. They marched in Obama’s home state of Illinois in 1977, when Democrat Jimmy Carter was president. And Bill Clinton was president when anti-Semitism came through Montana in December 1993.
During Chanuka 1993 in Billings, Montana, someone threw a brick through the window of a Jewish home that had placed a menorah in the window. The people of the town responded to the vandalism by cutting out paper menorahs which thousands of people pasted in the windows of their homes and stores as a common call to combat hate. The hatred did not go away, and more windows displaying menorahs were broken by rocks and bullets. But the silent protest continued. The photographer Frederic Brenner took the iconic photograph above of the townspeople of Billings hoisting menorahs, as featured in his incredible work, Diaspora.
Obama focused his presidency on repairing America’s relationship with the Arab and Muslim world and deliberately chose to not focus on the more common anti-Semitism that has always pervaded society. The liberal press followed his lead and lulled people into a false sense that anti-Semitism didn’t live here anymore. Believing themselves beyond anti-Semitism, the liberal art scene celebrated Arab terrorists that killed an elderly handicapped Jew as “a masterpiece.” In the smug shroud of self-righteousness, liberals couldn’t conceive that such actions and statements were the embodiment of anti-Semitism.
It is against this backdrop that people consider the “alt-right” and Nazi marches. Something completely alien and faraway.
It is false perspective.
Frederic Brenner’s “Diaspora: homelands in exile,” included a second book called “voices” which included commentary of many writers, historians and philosophers about Brenner’s photographs. Here are condensed reflections from two people on the Billings, MT photo:
“There, at the crossroads in the barren landscape of Montana, the citizens of Billings are brought together…. The menorah is a mark of Jewish difference. By everyone adopting a menorah on this occasion, this difference no longer distinguishes Jews from others…. We cannot hear the music, but “America the Beautiful” blares from the loudspeakers that the photographer brought to the shoot…. In this photograph, which has been shot through a glass pierced by a bullet, the citizens of Billings mass to a vanishing point marked by the bull’s-eye of violence.”
“Never forget; never forget to see that through which you see, the apparently diaphanous element of visibility. Here that element is broken. The photograph is taken through the broken glass of a window. There is always the risk of not seeing the medium through which a view is taken. Here the medium that risks passing unnoticed, being simply omitted from the description, is the signature or the wound, not to say the scar, of an event: the breaking of glass…. The menorahs they are holding high, the seven- or eightbrached candelabrum (and not the star of David) recalls a particular event, a local violence: the brick thrown from the street through a window, December 2, 1993, against a symbol of Jewish faith. Is not the photo taken from the point of view of this window, through the broken glass itself? From the place of violation?”
These writers observe the protesters of Montana, calling for unity in the face of anti-Semitism. But they note the importance of the photograph itself, that it is taken through the broken glass that was the violence. It placed the viewer squarely in “the place of violation,” not as a casual observer.
And we have lost that.
In the effort to reach out to Muslims, America sanitized its anti-Semitism. Americans have now been trained to only recognize the most outrageous Jew-hatred – something foreign and obscene – as if from a different place and generation. In doing so, Americans watch the violence as voyeurs, not as engaged participants. Protests come in mumbles, not in screams. The expressions lack empathy.
Jacques Derrida continued about the photograph of the protest against Jew-hatred a generation ago: “in the background, one can see the American flag. The large star-spangled banner recalls at once the vocation of the witness (multiethnic, multicultural, etc.) of a nation that, despite the racisms and anti-Semitism that have continued to disfigure its history, takes over from the chosen people and inscribes freedom of religion and opinion in its Constitution.” America’s promise for religious freedom is actualized by Americans that take the responsibility upon themselves. And they do it the face of – and in the place of – the violence itself.
Can America truly protest in common cause with Jews when it doesn’t recognize the violence and anti-Semitism prevelant in society? After the last eight years of willful deceit, it is more likely that people will protest the president-elect and his supporters, than the anti-Semitism that they themselves have chosen to ignore.
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