This week I read an article about false accusations of dual loyalty against Lt. Colonel Vindman, the top expert on Ukraine who advises the National Security Council on the Ukraine and on Russia and whose family fled the former Soviet Union when he was three. He is Jewish. The article is a must read. In fact, click and read all of it now.
No matter where Jews have gone in the diaspora throughout history, unwarranted accusations have followed, stirring up hate. When we find a place to call home whether as new immigrants or after having settled for many generations, we are accused of dual loyalty. And when we finally have a modern home in our ancient homeland, we are told it has no right to exist and we should go somewhere else. Despite it all — and despite a history of persecution and ever-present assimilation, we survive. Our ancient texts survive. Our desire for education survives. We become scholars and writers and leaders and philanthropists and Nobel Prize winners. And while many of us live ordinary lives, some may do well in business, law, medicine, or entertainment. And then, there is a good number of us who pursue lives in public service or in social justice, trying to carry out tikkun olam, repairing the world. But at times like these, I almost have to ask why? If in the end, all that gets rained down upon us as a people is hate. Almost daily. Just last month, a Nazi flag was seen hanging in a government office building in California. A government office.
This coming week, I will present a paper on anti-Semitism in the United States to the Georgia Political Science Association as part of a graduate school student panel. Written as part of a public policy analysis class, I used part of it as the basis for a blog this past summer, Why anti-Semitism in America warrants attention. As I dug deep into the data, I felt ill. What I saw wasn’t pretty – and let’s be clear: it is terribly under-reported. Though the Attorney General is mandated to have data on hate crimes of all sorts, no federal law mandates that police departments report it, and so many don’t. The FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting database is incredibly wrong in its numbers. Some entities, like the ADL and Pro Publica, try to collect data on hate, either by scouring the news or asking people to self-report. Moment magazine’s running list of anti-Semitic acts in 2019 is published online; it hurts to read. But it is like nothing compared to these images of anti-Semitic flyers from this past year alone, a real punch in the gut. Hate towards Jews comes from the right and the left…and from everywhere in between. I look at the sheer number of entries Wikipedia has in its series on anti-Semitism or on Jews being expelled from country after country over all of history, and cannot understand this hate. Take a look at these. Understand where despair can come from.
I know for me, despite a history that proves me wrong, I still want to nurse the hope that people can be better, be nicer, be more thoughtful, be more kind, be more empathetic, be fairer. That they can stop generalizing about others, judging others and instead recognize that each one of us is as individual and unique, as entitled to pursue a life free of hurt and bias, as themselves. This is a hope I blindly cling to, when I know deep inside that human nature is unchanging and selfish and so insecure that measuring one’s happiness by looking at others’ misfortune seems so sadly to be par for the course.
Forgive me my rant, but day after day of witnessing anti-Semitism, racism and bias against immigrants, women, disabled, people of different nationalities and religions and background and sexual orientation, of witnessing people who relish in these biases and proclaim them loudly, who resent giving anyone other than people like themselves room at the table let alone credit for loyalty, is beyond disheartening.
I so want to believe we are each capable of being better people, of increasing understanding and acceptance and decreasing intolerance and vitriol.
We can do better. We have to do better.
We each of us need not only to stop judging others but to help others stop too. Speak up. Don’t sit silent. But speak in a way that does not put someone on the defensive.
We also need to look inside to understand where our own biases lie, because they are there. In each and every one of us. We each need to take responsibility for acknowledging and dismantling our own preconceptions.
Many resources created by experts like the ADL exist to help with both these imperatives, helping others and helping ourselves. Seek them out. And listen, truly listen, when people in any discriminated against group describe their lived experience. Don’t find an excuse not to. Please.