Rivka T. Witenberg

Limited and inadequate debate about “racism” in the USA: Implications for Jews

The debate about racism (read: bigotry, prejudice, bias, discrimination) predominantly in the United States of America is limited and inadequate, particularly now, ignoring the fact that bigotry exist irrespective of colour, creed or nationality.  Skin colour is not the only problematic issue in regard to prejudice and bigotry.  I am not for one moment suggesting that black people’s lives do not matter but what I am suggesting is that you cannot argue and demand equity, equality and justice and simultaneously express prejudice against others different from you.

Recently (1/7/2020) there was a call by New York Communities for Change (NYCC), mostly a black organisation, to “visit” homes of the wealthy in The Hamptons. The Hamptons lie on the far south-eastern end of New York’s Long Island.  The underlying idea was to bring the protest to the front door of wealthy homes of the Hamptons using a caravan of cars.  Although possibly intimidating and even terrifying for the people who were “visited”, the idea may have seemed reasonable to highlight inequality, discrimination and prejudice.  However, there was one fundamental problem with this protest of several hundred cars and how it had been organised.  ALL the homes that were visited and the families that lived in them were Jewish families.  The homes the NYCC have chosen to demonstrate in front of and to display their banners and pitchforks symbolically associated with the devil and with wicked activity, were every one of them Jewish homes.  Is this simply a coincidence?  I am not so sure.

The entire list of names and addresses of the homes in question which was sent around to members of the NYCC and placed on Facebook belong to American Jews.  You would have to be blind and deaf not to recognise that the complete list of homes to be “visited” belonged to Jewish families who have homes in the Hamptons.  While there are many prominent people who live there, film stars, industrialists, political commentators and some of the oldest and wealthiest families in America, the protesters chose to target Jewish homes and only Jewish homes.  For example, they drove to and stopped outside the former mayor of New York Michael Bloomberg’s home displaying their banners and pitchforks to berate and rebuke him for his evil doing, followed by the home of Steven Schwarts, followed by Dan Loeb and so on – a list of 7 or 8 Jewish families.  See the gathering outside Michael Bloomberg’s home which the organisers placed on Facebook:

My argument is not based on assumption or guesswork.  It is based on a list of homes to “visit” produced by the organisers themselves for the event.  The list consisted of the name and addresses of prominent Jewish families and only Jewish families.  Yet, Dan Loeb, for example, has given millions to charter schools and collectively the group has given billions to social justice, healthcare, scholarships and education.  I am not suggesting that the participants should show gratitude but where is the rationality in all of this.  What is the rationale behind selecting seven or eight Jewish families only to protest outside their homes and accuse them of all the wrongdoing of the American social order, bypassing any other homes?  A rational assume is that there was at least some degree of bias involved in this decision?

We hear a lot about racism and there is no doubt that there are problems in the land of the free and the home of the brave, but to blame the social and political disparity only on Jews is disquieting.  While research, including mine, shows that tolerance and prejudice coexist in all societies and in most people, you cannot demand that intolerance, bias and discrimination be eliminated towards your community and be bigoted yourself.  The demonstration was just that – full of bigotry and discrimination.  Unfortunately, research shows that prejudice occurs in all groups of people whether you are white, yellow, green or black.  I hate to say this in this sensitive time but research shows that black people in America are not free of their own prejudice. While, 12 percent of Americans hold prejudicial beliefs about Jewish people, 20 percent of American blacks hold these sentiments.

And no doubt there are some Jewish people who hold prejudicial beliefs about others different from them.  At the same time, Jewish people were very active during the civil rights movement in America, promulgating justice, fairness and equality.  In 1964, half of the young people who participated in the Mississippi Freedom Summer were Jewish.  Jews are still actively participating in demands for justice and equality.  In the summer of 2015, the Jewish community, with many Rabbis involved, partook in an historic 860-mile march entirely on foot carrying a Torah from Selma, AL, to Washington, D.C., as part of The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s (NAACP) journey for justice.

Yet, I have seen some horrendous videos from the recent protests that are nothing but intolerant, bigoted and hateful.  Ignored by most media commentary has been the desecration of synagogues in LA with unrepeatable graffiti drawn on Jewish places of worship and commerce.  I have seen videos with protesters mouthing the same unrepeatable slogans.  Recently, I wrote about an increase in anti-Chinese prejudice blaming the Chinese community in Australia, where I live, for the Covid19.  What has not been publicised widely is the rise in anti-Semitism blaming Jews for Covid19 with preposterous appeal to old enmities about control and money.

The protest in the Hamptons falls in the same category of accusing Jewish people of all the ills of the world.  Profiting from the Covid19, stealing land, buying political power to name some of the accusations that NYCC has suggested the reason for the protest.  In this case, it is shameful that the media is prepared to say nothing or lacks the courage to say anything.  This is disheartening.  This is only one example of many others of open expression of anti-Jewish expressions. In the end bigotry is bigotry whichever way you see it and the fact that the pitchforks were only made of plastic is irrelevant.  Their symbolic value is what matters.

In the final analysis, bigotry is morally unacceptable whether it is anti-Jewish or anti-black.  The question remains, why is it acceptable to hold anti-Jewish bigotry, whether from the right or left?

About the Author
Rivka T. Witenberg (Ph.D.) is an academic, researcher and a writer. In 2017 she published a book entitled “Tolerance" the glue that binds us.”and in 2019 she published "The psychology of tolerance Professionally, she is a writer and academic who brings an expertise in the field of examining thinking processes and underlying beliefs about moral codes, tolerance and acceptance to human diversity .
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