Jonathan Foxman

Is It All Downhill from Here?

My grandfather told me he became a dentist because Jews of his generation believed that eventually antisemitism would block them from advancing in the corporate world. My father told me he became a lawyer for the same reason. I believed them, but that was their world. My world was different.

My non-religious Jewish parents sent me to an Episcopalian religious school for the first 14 years of my education.  From there, I went to a state university for a liberal arts degree, then a Jesuit university for an MBA.  These were the places where I made my life-long friends.  My wife was raised a Presbyterian.  Of our five kids, two went to the same Episcopalian religious school I did, one to a Catholic high school, and two to the local public school.  Religion didn’t seem to have any effect on my career, either.  I worked in many of America’s deep red, rural places.  It exposed me to countless people from all walks of life, all of whom were open with their friendship and never once made me feel different in any way.

My only run-ins with antisemitism were occasional negative stereotypes said in my presence or reported to me second hand by friends.  I knew that more hateful antisemitism existed, of course, but never did it seem an actual threat.  I watched news coverage of far right Neo-Nazi’s marching somewhere every so often.  It made me angry but I wasn’t afraid.  Everyone I knew and every talking head on television viewed those people with contempt and disgust, and maybe even a little dismissive pity.  As far as I could tell, everyone was on my side, not theirs.

It’s different now and it seemed to happen in the blink of an eye.  It’s young progressives who suddenly want to keep the world clean of people like me.  These are the people who claim to fight injustice and champion the oppressed.  Now they march in large numbers openly calling for a “Holocaust 2.0” and to “Keep the World Clean” and to “Decolonize by Any Means” and “From the River to the Sea” and various other clever slogans, all of which just mean eliminating Jews.  Clearly, their target is not Israeli government policies.  It’s me.  It’s my children.  College campuses are erupting with hatred and violence, led by organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine not merely justifying but celebrating Hamas’ torture and slaughter of innocent civilians, Jews.

A few university administrations have finally issued strong statements of condemnation.  A few have finally suspended some of these groups for hate speech and intimidation.  Those are commendable actions, for sure.  But they fall far short.  The student groups didn’t violate university policies.  Their student members did.  Let me know when these students or the professors that misinform and incite them are punished.

Things have changed since I was a student.  Universities now have expansive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) programs.  Unfortunately, these programs have adopted the anti-Semitic trope that Jews are wealthy and powerful and, therefore, always oppressors and never victims.  So, a religious minority representing 0.2% of the world population and only 2.4% of the US population, the victims of 60% of religious hate crimes in the US, and the victims of a genocide that turned six million human beings to ash in my parents’ lifetime is both excluded and attacked by the sentinels of anti-discrimination in America?

Something about how we humans are wired makes us take for granted that tomorrow will be pretty much like today.  It’s just not true, though.  History is full of examples of societies devolving into racial, religious, and sectarian violence.  It’s happened again and again all over the world.  So many of us here now, American citizens, are the descendants of those whose religious beliefs or minority status in their home countries one day became untenable.  Consider, too, the fact that nearly half of Israeli Jews are or are descendants of immigrants from Arab, Central Asian, and North African countries who were expelled or emigrated from those countries because life became unlivable there.

Between 1920 and 1970, some 900,000 Jews were expelled from those places due to the post-Ottoman rise of Arab nationalism and the conflict in Palestine.  Laws were enacted to disenfranchise Jews, to seize their property, to limit the professions they could work in, to limit their legal rights, to strip those who fled of their nationality, not to mention the violent attacks, arrests, torture, and murders.  This happened in places where Jews had lived for two thousand years.  Before that, it happened in the Russian Empire.  Centuries before, it happened in England and Spain and elsewhere in Europe.  It’s happened enough times and in enough places that I don’t doubt it could happen anywhere, even here.

Was the best time to be a Jew in America the last 40 years?  Is this the end of a fleeting moment when a single generation was mostly spared the prejudices and boundaries that were so apparent in my father’s and grandfather’s lives?  If so, what does that mean for my children?  Every day on television and online media I see reports of Jews being verbally and physically attacked in restaurants, on city streets, and on university campuses.  I see vandalism of synagogues, dormitories, and community centers.  I see hatred and contempt in the energized eyes of young progressives tearing down posters of kidnapped children.

And I see it coming closer when my daughter calls to tell me a rock was thrown through the window of the pre-school where she teaches mostly Jewish children.  I have to wonder, is it all downhill from here?

About the Author
Jonathan Foxman is a Jewish-American business executive in the United States.
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