Jewish Ideals Stand Strong Amidst Occupy Wall Street Anti-Semitism

Posted on October 20, 2011 by

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What began on September 17th, 2011 at Zuccotti Park in New York City as a protest against purportedly greedy Wall Street executives has become a global mutiny of epic proportions. As of October 20th, demonstrators in nearly one thousand cities throughout the world fill the streets, demanding equality and retribution for their financial woes. The “Occupy Wall Street” movement has been picking up steam over the last few weeks, and it currently does not show any signs of abating. While I will refrain from disclosing my own political viewpoints and attitude towards the ideologies behind the movement to the best of my ability, I do wish to point out a disgraceful and sadly predictable pattern emerging from the (dis)organized chaos of the worldwide rallies.

In a well-written article published in The New American magazine on October 11th (I highly recommend reading the entire piece), Daniel Sayani brings the following to our attention: “The Occupy Wall Street movement has also included a fair deal of anti-Semitic protesters, who rely on classically leftist and communist anti-Semitic arguments associating Jews with capitalism.”

Stop right there. Before we move on, a brief digression.

A reader even vaguely familiar with Jewish history recognizes that Jews have been relentlessly branded and categorized by a frequently hostile society. Above all, however, Jews have been a perennial scapegoat for any perceived fiscal injustice and are often stereotyped as incurably avaricious. Over time, layers upon layers of such damaging typecasts have been sewn into the world’s cultural fabric and continue to pounce on opportunities to manifest themselves. For example, Jewish characters and their accompanying stereotypes in prominent literary works (i.e. William Shakespeare’s Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, Charles Dickens’s Fagin in Oliver Twist) have been conveniently packaged and rapidly propagated through the popular entertainment channel. Fagin was a crook, training young boys to steal money from upstanding citizens and collecting the plunder for himself, while Shylock made a living as a moneylender. As far as anti-Semitic stereotypes are concerned (even today!), the two professions are indistinguishable.

Indeed, Daniel Sayani notes that “an analysis of history and political thought demonstrates that anti-Semitism has always been a core element of anti-capitalist, socialist, and communist ideology.” In other words, monetary woes and hatred of the Jews is definitively established by history as an accepted and direct causal relationship. In 16th century Venice (among other locations with Jewish settlements), Jews were frequently restricted to work as moneylenders, which duly clarifies the origins of the tacit connection in peoples’ minds between Jews and the banking industry. Regrettably, it habitually remains unstated that strict regulation kept the permissible interest rates very low, making it very difficult for the early Jewish “bankers” to scrape by and refuting the popular misconception that Jews acquired wealth by charging exorbitant rates. Therefore, while this correlation is easily traced, its continued application is highly troublesome.

To bring us back to the main focus of this article, here is a short excerpt from the American Nazi Party, which has recently declared its full support for the protests:

“Seriously, people, just WHO is our enemy? The unemployed left-wing 25-year-old holding up a sign, OR the judeo-capitalist banksters who swindled the American taxpayers out of A TRILLION dollars in the “bailout” scam AND continue to oppress the White Working Class?!?”

Of course, this is an outrageous rant erupting from the black abyss of an abhorred and utterly immoral organization (in lieu of their self-proclaimed “struggle for Aryan racial survival”) – one which no sane individual would take seriously, right? Wrong.

I’m sure anyone who views this spectacle will gladly join me in a grand weep for humanity. As the protestor succinctly puts, “you’ve got the money, that’s why you’re fighting, you Jewish man.” Unfortunately, this camera-worthy exchange represents a small fraction of the anti-Semitic outbursts produced by the protests. Even more troubling is that long after the rallies have fizzled out, the sentiments will remain – the seed has already been planted.

Another video shows a demonstrator holding up a sign that says “Google: Zionists control Wall St.” In a separate video, he was able to encapsulate the crux of his self-stated problem in the following declaration: “Google Jews control Wall Street. Google Jewish billionaires. Google Jews in the Federal Reserve Bank. The small ethnic Jewish population in this country – they have a firm grip on America’s media, finances, and other areas of production…The fingerprints of these Jewish billionaires and hedge-fund managers and bankers [are] clear and convincing” (the entire manifesto includes about six minutes of analogous pronouncements).

As far as I’m concerned, what’s “clear and convincing” is that this man should consider spending less time on internet search engines. More puzzling, however, is how the “Jewish banker-crook” mentality keeps slipping into the subconscious of supposedly rational and ordinary Americans. He is (most likely) not a member of the American Nazi Party. This man did not break out of a mental facility (again, most likely). This man is standing together with other similarly motivated people, spewing an incomprehensibly ignorant message of hate. Adolf Hitler used this precise rhetorical style to incriminate the Jews in the economic collapse of a war-ravaged nation and proceeded to murder six million in cold blood. Why? Simple – blaming the Jews (a group with a rate of prosperity disproportionate to its tiny population) is convenient, safe, popular, and extremely convincing. I thought we had outgrown this as a culture, but apparently not.

Fortunately, Jews and non-Jews alike can work to invalidate the ridiculous allegations of Jewish greed and drown out the anti-Semitic din whipped up by these controversial protests. Granted, some people will always harbor an innate hatred of the Jews and nothing will alter the course of their blame-game, but one of the distinctive advantages of living in the United States is the right to free speech, so it is not up to us to silence them. Instead, we must combat the proliferation of anti-Semitic sentiments by proving their baselessness. There is no doubt in my mind that the relatively isolated incidents of anti-Semitism do not represent the mindset of the majority of Occupy Wall Street participants, and that’s why the those who take offense to the messages of hate must act to neutralize them. The issue is not confined to the Occupy Wall Street protests; in fact, the reality has nothing to do with the dichotomy at the heart of the political and economic policy debate.

While it is incontrovertibly unjust for the Jewish people to be forced into a perpetual defense against heinous crimes for which they are not culpable, exoneration can only be found by persistently demonstrating the Jews’ true character and intentions. In a Chicago Tribune article published on October 12th, Manya Brachear reports that “beneath a makeshift shelter of canvas and bamboo outside the Hyatt Regency Chicago on Tuesday, rabbis and community organizers sought to reclaim the ancient Jewish celebration of Sukkot by calling on the real estate finance industry to help families hold on to their homes.” What better time to disprove the anti-Semites than Sukkot (one of the most important Jewish holidays)? The belligerent protestor claiming to be in foreclosure in the YouTube video provided above might be shocked to learn that Jewish activists simply and peacefully wanted to “remind participants at the Mortgage Bankers Association’s annual meeting that they have a moral responsibility to protect struggling homeowners caught off guard by the nation’s housing crisis.”

Event organizers invited the mortgage bankers to partake in a Sukkot meal, listen to tales of economic distress from those affected, and discuss possible solutions. Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann added that “housing foreclosures are ripping apart one of the most important pieces of fabric of family life and American life.”

Most importantly, Rabbi Heydemann stated that “Jews can’t ignore the circumstances that stand in the way of creating a better world for everyone.” No matter what side of the political spectrum we may fall on or the economic policies we’d like to see adopted, I think we can agree that acts such as this one are of utmost necessity to show the world that Jews are always committed to caring about and helping everyone around them, irrespective of religious or cultural background.

As the anti-Semitic incidents from Occupy Wall Street have shown, while standing up for our beliefs is extremely important and encouraged by all means (it’s what makes America great), anger and frustration at the state of the economy can lead to an highly adverse social consequences, and it is vital to defuse the negativity coming out of such a movement before blindly joining its ranks.

Jews contribute to the world in a multitude of ways, but the vicious and swift anti-Semitism sprouting from the world’s economic troubles suggests that a well-publicized dedication to collaboratively improve people’s quality of life is more important than ever.

Fair or not, perhaps a little extra encouragement to make the world a better place is not so bad after all…

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Posted in: Jewish Society