Old hate in new bottles
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Editorial

Old hate in new bottles

During these last few weeks, as the Jewish world made its way through the holidays, which culminated in Simchat Torah and have deposited us back into the real world, that real world has been confronting us with something old that’s new again, and still horrible.

Antisemitism’s back.

Yes, of course it’s never been away. It’s almost as ancient as the Jewish people, taking on new shapes as the contexts around it change, but always there. Since the undeniably inhuman monstrosity of the Holocaust, it has been far less fashionable in Western society for the last 70 or so years than ever it had been before. As Abe Foxman of Bergen County, the Holocaust survivor who is the retired longtime head of the Anti-Defamation League, has put it, antisemitism had been relegated to the sewer, where it festered, rank, in the dark. But the manhole covers above it kept it underground.

But in the last few years, as the social conventions changed with the Trump presidency and the speed of communications changed as social media platforms grew ever faster and more sophisticated (at least technologically, although certainly not emotionally), that has changed.

As everyone knows, during the last few weeks the former president, Donald J. Trump, has made antisemitic statements on his social media platform, Truth Social. “No president has done more for Israel than I have,” he wrote. “Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S. U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel — before it is too late!”

And the musician, rapper, clothing designer, and cultural presence formerly known as Kanye West but now legally Ye, who has acknowledged his struggle with mood disorders and seems to be in a spiral now, has unloaded anti-Jewish hate. Some of it has been online, on platforms from which he’s since been booted, and some of it has been on Fox News. He had a conversation laced with antisemitism with Tucker Carlson, and soon after it aired, a leaked video showed that the parts Carlson had cut were more virulent than the parts he’d left in. There is a lot of hate in Ye.

Mr. Foxman, whose tendency is toward optimism, is alarmed.

“It’s open season on Jews,” he said. “There are no guardrails. And I’m not even sure if the people who are articulating it understand how dangerous it is.

“Let’s start with the easier one. That’s Trump. Trump thinks he loves us. Trump thinks he’s doing it to help us. That’s why he’s so proud of what he did for Israel. I don’t think he begins to understand that he is feeding antisemitism.

“He feels hurt and upset that we don’t love him. There has to be a reason why anybody doesn’t love him. He wants our love. He wants our admiration. And if we don’t love him, if we don’t admire him, that’s because we’re not loyal. We’re disloyal not only to him, but to Israel.

“I don’t think that he understands the meaning of antisemitism. I don’t think he ever did, so why would this be any different?

“But it’s the impact that counts. He has 70 million people who still think he’s right. They believe what he says. It fuels the idea of Jews as disloyal, of having dual loyalty, of not being reliable. Of not being friends.

“That’s dangerous.”

Kanye West is even more dangerous, Mr. Foxman said. “Somebody, I don’t remember who, wrote that he had three times as many followers on social media as there are Jews in the world.”

What Ye said, Mr. Foxman continued, “is classic antisemitism. It is nonsense. But you can count on the fingers of one hand the people — non-Jews, I’m talking about — who have condemned it. At least Fox was smart enough to delete some of it, but the fact that they put any of it on gives him more credibility. How many millions of people believe what he says?

“If somebody said this about Blacks, or Hispanics, or Chinese, or gays, there would have been an avalanche of criticism. I don’t see that here. It’s just ‘okay, okay, don’t worry about it, it’s not serious. Can’t you just move on?’ That’s the most frightening part.

“It’s the big lie,” he said. “The antidote to the big lie is the truth.” But social media amplifies lies, and truth pants behind it.

“In 50 years of dealing with antisemitism, I came to realize that it always is present,” Mr. Foxman said. “It exists. We haven’t defeated it. We haven’t found the vaccine or the antidote. But we contain it. There used to be a cost to doing it. It was immoral, un-Christian, un-American. That all worked. But it’s all gone.” The sewers are open and the slime pours out.

There are excuses and rationalizations, Mr. Foxman acknowledged. There’s the Elon Musk-promoted idea of free speech, “but we learned a long time ago that you can’t yell fire in a crowded theater.” And there’s the excuse of mental illness. “Okay, so Kanye’s mentally ill,” Mr. Foxman said. “Why doesn’t he rant and rave about banks or the bankers or the people on the moon? Why are we the subject of his mental illness?”

He carefully brought up the antisemitism that’s existed in the Black community. “Farrakhan still is a hero,” he said. “Kanye West’s message is Farrakhan’s message. It has reverberated before and it reverberates now. Jews control money, they control the banks, they take all the money from the Black community. He’s just repeating that message and giving it greater legitimacy.

“It’s scary.”

People are confronting many problems now, Mr. Foxman said. “Inflation, political uncertainty, the war in Ukraine, the pandemic — these are all real. But historically, Jews always have been the easy scapegoat for grievances. Is there a plague? Blame the Jews! So now, in the year 2022, we still are the scapegoat.”

The internet poses real dangers, he said. “Can you imagine what might have happened if Hitler or Goebbels had the internet? They might have won.

“What scares me is the loss of truth,” Mr. Foxman said.

It’s not clear what we can do to fight that loss of truth, but it is clear that one thing we cannot do is ignore it.

—JP

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