The anti-Semitic invective on public display in Charlottesville, Va., was vile during the recent Unite the Right protest of the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee. As Jean-Paul Sartre observed in his book about hate, “Anti-Semite and Jew,” anti-Semitism is the poor man’s snobbery. In current terms, we could refer to it as the cockroach of quasi-political thought.
Our Passover haggadah reminds that in every generation there has arisen a major threat to the Jewish people. The sad reality is that anti-Semitism rises and recedes in almost a cyclical fashion. Like the cockroach, it is never eliminated. The question thereby shifts from “Why now?” to “How do we respond to it effectively now?”
First, we must continue to support organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. They put a spotlight on these hate-filled cockroaches, who initially revel in media exposure but wilt as their tired act becomes repugnant to most level-headed people.
The fact is that their outlook is exclusionary and hasn’t worked politically. Moreover, when World War II Germany became the living embodiment of this approach, it was militarily defeated after great loss of life among Allied nations as well as Germany and its Axis allies.
The notion of Aryan purity as a political philosophy has been widely rejected by the vast majority of European countries. Here in the United States, it stands for nothing positive or progressive. It is diametrically opposed to the values of opportunity for all that America has come to represent.
Second, we have a series of vowels that serve as an acronym for how we can respond:
- A — “Ally” ourselves with others who advocate for values that we hold dear. Advocate for laws where hatred or prejudice is the basis of a crime.
- E — Support organizations that “educate” our nation and the world about respect for the character and positive actions of others regardless of race or religion (ADL and SPLC). Also, support organizations that take names and kick butt in the legal system (SPLC).
- I — Remain “individually” engaged in our education mission daily through personal interactions with non-Jewish friends, neighbors and business associates as opportunities arise. This pays homage to the prophetic directive that Israel (the Jewish people collectively) will be a light until the nations.
- O — Recognize that our generation must “own” the responsibility of combating hate just as other generations have before us.
- U — “Understand” that we will not likely see the destruction of anti-Semitism in our lifetime. Nevertheless, we are not relieved of the obligation to confront it forcefully through established political institutions, the legal system, and educational and advocacy organizations.
Why select vowels as a guide to action? Vowels, working together with consonants, provide words that advance communication and create understanding. Being a part of connecting to the outside, non-Jewish world reminds us of a time-honored activity of Jewish presence in other societies and cultures.
Over time, we Jews have contributed far more to the societies in which we have lived than our numbers would suggest. Just look at the number of Jewish Nobel Prize winners. Countries that devalued Jews or our contributions usually contributed to their own downfall.
Let us agree with the hate-filled supremacists in their chant “Jews will not replace us.” Instead, we will displace them and drive their ideology from the bold headlines of the front page of public consciousness to small, insignificant filler on Page 14, where they belong.
— Rich Lapin, Dunwoody