Last week, a friend posted on Facebook that Bernie Sanders won Indiana’s primary. I commented that, like Jon Snow on Game of Thrones, Bernie was back from the dead! It was Holocaust Remembrance Day, and my Hebrew name and profile picture of the Israeli flag in the background of the arm of an elderly Holocaust surviver, tattoo depicted, grasping tightly a toddler’s hand, gave me away as a Jew and a proud dual Israeli citizen. A woman soon replied to my comment by calling me a “f**ktard” and saying I should be one of the first to “go in the ovens” and followed it with: “#DonaldTrumpBringOnTheOvens.”
I was shocked, to say the least, but not simply due to the graphic nature of her comment. The rise of antisemitism has become pervasive this election cycle and from the unsuspecting candidates’ supporters: Bernie Sanders, a Jew himself, and Donald Trump, whose daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren are observant Jews. At a speech given in Harlem, an audience member asked Sanders about the Jews who “control the media and banking industry.” An elderly German immigrant supporting Trump at a Chicago rally gave the “Heil Hitler” salute to a protester, and another, at a later rally, who told a protester to “Go back to Auschwitz!”
Disturbed by these acts of antisemitism, I decided that it was a few bad apples reported, meant to smear Trump as the modern-day Hitler, the comparison of which offends me because it diminishes what holocaust victims endured. So, I dismissed it and honored Holocaust Remembrance Day by posting an article about the 250,000 disabled lives lost in the holocaust, to remind the world that the holocaust was not about religion but about ethnic and genetic cleansing.
A few days later, in honor of the upcoming Israeli Independence Day, I posted a video on little-known facts about the young state of Israel, referring to it as “the holy land” as so many Jews and Christians do. The video succinctly listed facts, from Israel being the birthplace of life-changing medical and communication technologies to it being top ten in the world for beautiful women. Before there was even enough time to have watched the video after, an old high school classmate of mine, who is African-American and supporting Donald Trump, commented, asking me why it’s called the holy land when it’s only existed for 70 years and from where the name Israel came. Despite having given me prior inclination that he harbored antisemitic animosity, I decided to respond in an effort to educate him on the religious and historical foundations of the names. I quickly learned that he was trying to set me up to delegitimize the Jewish claim to the state of Israel and smear the Jewish people with typical antisemetic defamation.
The Common Lies of Antisemitism:
Some of his lies, and these are direct quotes:
1. “Why aren’t the Ethiopians and African Hebrew not being recognized and not allowed in the state of isreal?” Note that he didn’t ask, “Are the Ethopians being recognized?” No, he cited a FALSEHOOD and asked WHY that falsehood was happening. Israel has rescued every Ethiopian Jew from persecution, even air lifting them to safety, and has granted them full citizenship to Israel and cherishes them to no end. They are some of the kindest and most wonderful people you could meet. I helped them learn to pray in synagogue as new immigrants with very little knowledge of the religion, for which they kept traditions for generations.
2. “Yes they have only possessed the land for roughly 70 years…There is no physical historic proof of their true existence in that area.” THIS IS FALSE. There are actual artifacts – dated by science – carbon dating – with Aramaic and HEBREW writings on them – that prove that the land now known as Israel was populated by Jews/Hebrews as many as 5,000 years ago. That goes without mentioning the meticulous records of the ROMAN people from at least 2100 years ago, again, detailing the Jews living in the area now known as Israel. In fact, the name “Palestine” is a result of the Jewish-Roman wars (which took place in the years 66-135 CE). After the war ended, the then-Roman emperor, Hadrian, renamed the land “Syria Palaestina” in an attempt to erase the historical ties of the Jews to the land. I guess it worked rather well, huh?
3. “Are you aware of the Zionist movement that began in 1921?” Zionism, as a movement, has been around since the 1800s when antisemitism was on the rise in Europe and Russia with tragedies like the pogroms, making Jews in the region, rightly so, feeling unsafe, only foreshadowing to the Holocaust.
4. “How did the Jews end up in Germany and not anywhere else?” Again, he didn’t say “DID the Jews end up in Germany and not anywhere else?” No, he asked a question of “HOW” this thing happened, when this “THING” in question is a FALSEHOOD. The Jews disbursed across much of the globe as a result of the Diaspora. Jews ended up living throughout Europe, the Mediterranean, and even Asia, constantly seeking refuge from persecution, giving us the name “wandering Jews.”
5. “The holocaust is Soley revolved around the Jews and no one else.” Again, completely false. Jews make great efforts to remind people that ELEVEN MILLION PEOPLE were killed in the Holocaust – SIX MILLION OF WHICH were Jews. Holocaust museums across the world recognize the Polish, disabled, gypsy, gay and black victims of the holocaust. The biggest holocaust museum in the world, Yad Vashem, in Israel goes further by recognizing the righteous Gentiles, who risked their lives to save potential victims of genocide.
6. “When these people (the other minorities) talk about it and bring it up, no one listens because these people don’t have the same power and wealth as the Jews.” And this is where it really became offensive. WEALTH AND POWER? Are you kidding me? Jews make up less than two-tenths of one percent of the WORLD population. We were stripped of EVERYTHING in the holocaust, down to our hair and teeth. We continue to be persecuted, murdered, made fun of, slandered, and used as scapegoats every single day. How does that translate to wealth and power?
7. “I’m not claiming Jews were responsible for every bad thing in this world, but all parties go hand in hand.” The implication is clear with the word “but” here. Here’s how this translates: “I’m not saying I’m anti-Semitic and the Jews are responsible for all their persecution, BUT…”
8. “[the] majority of media is controlled by Jews.” And he points to an Internet link of SEVEN jews who are CEOs (not company share-holders or owners) who are Jewish in Hollywood and television, none of which are news sources that have any control over how and what news is disbursed.
The reason for his resentment and hatred became clear, however, in his arguments that came next. He began bringing up all the atrocities African slaves and their descendants endured, particularly in the United States. They SHOULD be in our conversations and historical textbooks far, far more than they are. I firmly believe our greatest blemish that our country suffers from today is its refusal to properly recognize and memorialize African slavery, segregation and the terrorism of the KKK, who lynched and bombed so many black Americans, white Catholics, Jews and southern liberals. I have been a champion in civil rights, both as an advocate and as an attorney at the Innocence Project, which, predominantly, obtains exonerations for prisons of color with the use of DNA evidence. (As a side note, Jews have always been a part of the fight for civil rights in the United States, even when many black activists didn’t want us joining their movement). I would never insinuate that black slavery and segregation were anything less egregious than they were.
He continued with his anger for the fact that Africans lost their ancient language, culture and traditions and stated this was not so for the Jews, evidenced by the fact that we still have Hebrew and our ancient traditions. Thus, African slaves endured worse atrocities than the Jews. First, why is it even a competition? But regardless, again, this is another falsehood.
Jews were forcibly converted all throughout the Crusades, Hebrew became a dead language for hundreds of years, Europeans and Russians burned our Torah scrolls, religious texts and synagogues in incidents like Krystal Nacht. And Jewish women were raped by our persecutors since at least the third century, forcing the rabbis to change Jewish heritage from patrilineal to matrilineal, because our fathers, so often, could not be determined. Hebrew was revived by one of Israel’s founding fathers, Ben Yehuda, when Israel was created. Lost and forgotten words had to be borrowed from English, French and Arabic. And every Jewish immigrant and their children forced themselves to learn and speak only Hebrew, despite a natural inclination to revert back to our mother tongues, from whichever part of Diaspora we came.
The ONLY reason why Jews have survived all this prosecution and come out with our traditions, religion and original language is because we went to great lengths to: only inter-marry; write down and preserve every oral tradition we had for fear our persecutors killed too many of us to sufficiently pass it down orally; hide our identities; forego circumcision; secretly keep tradition; hold prayer services where we blow the shofar at specific covert locations at safer times of the day, less likely to be detected; and fled practically every country we’ve lived as refugees.
He concluded that slavery and segregation was the reason why he and the black community have failed to make notable progress ever since these times (he does not recognize Obama’s achievement because he isn’t a descendant of slavery) and suffer from systemic racism. I don’t deny the existence of systemic racism and our need to eliminate racism in our criminal justice system and public schools. I strongly support ending this racist war on drugs and the disintegration of our intercity schools. But he went further to say that I could never possibly understand growing up in poverty as a minority in the south from a broken family. And that, as a result, is the only reason why I was able to get a BBA and JD from an elite private university as opposed to him who couldn’t.
This only demonstrates the profound misunderstanding blacks and America have about white poverty, much less the intersectionality of disability. I was born to a single mother, who only had a GED, and ran away from home as a teenager. At the age of 3, I was diagnosed with a rare neuromuscular disease that was meant to kill me by the age of 5 and made me lose the ability to walk by the age of 11. My mother, out of desperation to provide for her disabled child, married a (non Jewish) abusive alcoholic, who beat my mother and me and often used food and money deprivation to control. There were times when she fled, but we then lived in total abject poverty with, at times, no heat in the winter or running water.
Having the spirit of my Jewish ancestors, I refused to let my past and present struggles dictate my future. So I studied eight hours every day after school. I took every AP class the school offered. I joined every extra curricular activity I could and served as president of many. I practiced flute so diligently I was in a gifted youth symphony at 17 and made first chair at my university symphony my freshman year. I went to the public library and used the newly invented Internet to research how to go to and pay for college, which tests to take and which books by which I could study, because I couldn’t afford to take a prep course.
I ended up graduating in the top ten of my class, going to a top ten university and paying for it all myself with scholarships, financial aid and student loans. His excuse for not going to college or doing that well in school was because his parents never told him college was an option, he didn’t know financial aid even existed, despite going to the same exact school I did, he never heard of the SATs, and no one in his community or family ever went to college. Essentially – ignorance and imitation. I recognize the fact that college is often considered unattainable among the poor, which is why I support free or heavily subsidized public college education. But I had the determination to break the pattern of generations of uneducated women and figure out how to accomplish it. He did not.
The Rise of Donald Trump:
Trump is telling a great deal of truth about the problems facing this country and the world. He points out the bad trade deals we’ve made, which have obliterated our manufacturing jobs. He identifies, when no one else will even admit, our problems with radical Islam. He discusses the real threat that ISIL poses, which Obama wrongly leads the American people to believe are just thugs on the back of trucks. (ISIL is heavily armed with tanks, grenade and missile launchers, and rockets. And they have organized government based on sharia law, from which they sanction the death penalty by beheading.) He points out correctly that our economy and unemployment are actually not as good as the GDP and unemployment figures would lead us to believe, due to an imbalanced distribution of wealth and high numbers of workers who have completely left the workforce. He accurately points out the “PC” pendulum has swung too far to the left where we don’t even call “radical Islam” by its name…where we are obsessed with how to refer to each minority – African-American or black? Disabled or person with a disability? Hispanic or latino? They or he and she? We are so afraid to say the wrong thing for fear of inadvertently being insensitive or discriminatory.
Every successful con artist, however, tells 95% of the truth and the rest are malicious lies. Hitler pointed out the horrible state Germany was in after WWI and the humiliating treaty of Versailles. But rather than take responsibility for that mistake, he spread antisemitic defamation in his national campaign, professing as fact that Jews were the reason for Germany’s problems and controlled the media and banking industries. He later added to his campaign of hate that gypsies, disabled, blacks and homosexuals were ruining the master race, which birthed the “Final Solution” of extermination and/or sterilization. He focused on banning immigration, mass deportation of Jews and immigrants and forcing Jews to wear special identification.
So, too, Trump blames all of the country’s and the world’s problems on someone else. He blames illegal aliens for taking American jobs when the jobs Americans have lost have been almost entirely due to globalization and outsourcing, of which Trump profited from greatly. He blames crime in this country on illegal immigrants, calling Mexican immigrants “criminals and rapers,” and Muslims committing terrorist attacks. However, native born citizens are TWICE as likely to commit crimes than legal and illegal immigrants, and from 9/11 to 2015, Muslim terrorist attacks have accounted for 0.02% of murders in this country and none have been by Muslim refugees. (Thanks to increased security and immigration screening adopted by the Israeli model) He blames global warming on the Chinese for inventing in a massive conspiracy theory.
He proposes very few solutions to any of the issues he identifies, other than banning Muslim immigration, mass deportation of illegal immigrants, and making Muslims carry special identification. Sound familiar? In reality, the problems he identifies and about which his base is excited are due to an enormous amount of income inequality in this country caused by a rigged economy, set up by the oligarchy of big money lobbyists drafting our legislation for the benefit of the 1%. And issues like the creation and existence of ISIL are a direct result of our perpetual warfare in the Middle East and insistence on regime changes.
Additionally, he blames all his personal issues on others. He blamed Fox News for being tough on him at the first debate because Megyn Kelly was on her period. He was called out for lying about seeing thousands of people cheering in the streets of NJ on 9/11 by a disabled journalist for the NYT, who he’s met multiple times and knows on a first name basis. Rather than admitting he lied, he implied that the journalist must also be intellectually disabled by saying “Now the poor guy, you gotta see this guy,” and then mocking him by curling his arms and hands similar to the reporter’s and flailing around like an idiot. He blamed his vile and misogynist posting of an unflattering picture of Heidi Cruz next to a nude picture of his third wife, Melania, an immigrant, on the fact that Ted Cruz started it.”
The strength of a people is in its ability to remember their history, learn from their past, uniting and forming tightly woven communities, while admitting their mistakes and responsibility. This is how the Jewish people have survived despite the worst genocide this world has ever seen. Descendants of the holocaust look like the Bernie Sanders of the world, whose parents came here with nothing but the clothes on their backs, and who has become one of the last remaining candidates for POTUS. They do not blame the problems of today on the travesty of their ancestors but rather work toward forging a solution to the issues.
Every minority who has, or continues, to endure persecution or discrimination (whether Jewish like me, or disabled like me, or black like my former classmate, or gay like my aunt) should unite within and between our groups and help each other when we need a hand. And we should all, minorities and majorities, find a solution to our problems and fight together to see them come to fruition. We shouldn’t resent one another because one group recovered from persecution or discrimination better or more quickly than the other has. And we shouldn’t scapegoat people like Jews, illegal immigrants or Muslims.
The rise of antisemitism, xenophobia and the ideology of shirking responsibility is both the cause and a symptom of the rise of Trump. We must reject this notion that our problems are the fault of someone else. This mind frame is the very essence of radical Islam – that the problems of the Muslim people are due to the West and Israel – and white terrorists like Timothy McVey and Adam Lanza. Antisemitism is always the warning sign before major terrorist attacks: see France with the preliminaryattacks on the kosher market and synagogue later resulting in the larger Paris attacks. If we deny the rise of this mentality and fan the flames of seething resentment and hatred, we are likely to see, very soon, major terrorist attacks by white America and Islamists and major uprisings of violence on our homeland.
Our first step is to admit that antisemitism is alive and well, as is racism and xenophobia. And the next should be to reject those beliefs, and those who dispel them, and work together on a solution. We must fight to “never again” repeat our ugly past.