At the end of World War I in Hungary, my grandfather, then about 9 years old, cowered inside a wine barrel in the cellar of his house, while upstairs his home and the homes and synagogue of his fellow Jews were ransacked, looted and burned by returning soldiers who blamed (who else?) the Jews for losing the war.
My grandfather’s house was a target because my great-grandfather was wealthy. And, through whatever convoluted “logic” prevailed in Europe at the time, wealthy Jews were considered to be the reason behind the defeat of the Central Powers and the economic crisis that followed it.
To slightly alter a phrase chanted today by Occupy Wall Street protesters, “This is what anti-Semitism looks like.”
Now, here’s what anti-Semitism does not look like, although I must admit that when I first read about them, and watched them, I was outraged. Videos captured from the OWS protests across the country show hate-filled demonstrators spewing out the same old garbage about how Jews are responsible for the economic crisis.
A sign directs us to: “Google: Zionists control Wall Street.” A widely circulated video shows a man at the Occupy Wall Street protest spitting out “Go back to Israel” to another man in a yarmulke.
An African American man says, “The small ethnic Jewish population in this country, they have a firm grip on America’s media, finance …”
In Los Angeles, protester Patricia McAllister says: “I think that the Zionist Jews, who are running these big banks and our Federal Reserve, which is not run by the federal government … they need to be run out of this country.”
It makes my blood boil. But, unfortunately, it’s not even surprising. It is the “drawing-room anti-Semitism” that infects much of the left and makes me want to completely tune out anything else they might have to say.
It’s always been there, this age-old myth that Jews control “the money,” and they just can’t see that they have been duped by the oldest “government conspiracy” in the book. Distract from the real problems by blaming the Jews.
I keep wondering why I am never invited to the conspiracy meetings, anyway.
However, it turns out I was influenced by half-information that doesn’t hold true upon greater scrutiny. Jewish communities in various cities are, in fact, an integral part of the protests. During Yom Kippur, Jewish OWS protesters in New York held their own Kol Nidre services and sukkahs.
So, the real story is how Jews are, again, at the forefront of this reform and social justice movement despite attempts by opponents to paint the protests as anti-Semitic.
For example, pan the camera out a bit from the “Google: Zionists control Wall Street” sign and you’ll see a smiling OWS protester holding a sign with an arrow pointing to the anti-Semite that reads “Asshole.”
And what about that seemingly anti-Semitic clown berating the man with the kippah? Turns out, the clown’s name is Danny “Lotion Man” Cline. And while nobody really knows what “lotion” Danny is selling, exactly, we do know he is a locally known self-promoter who looked at the Occupy protests and saw an opportunity to — surprise — promote himself.
“Lotion Man” is a Jew who makes a fool out of himself and posts his antics online to, I suppose, show the world how outrageous he is. So, telling a fellow Jew to “go back to Israel” is … um … self-mocking? Playing the part of an ignoramus? I don’t know. I’m not enough of a hipster to dig through the various layers of irony at work here.
Here’s what I do know, though. Vigilance is still necessary because there will always be fringe elements that blame Jews for any financial crisis. But, in this case (for a change), those fringe elements are being denounced and marginalized.
It’s a pleasant surprise, actually, since my experience with these kinds of issues on the left comes with ready-made anti-Semitic assumptions that have forced me, at times, to keep my distance from causes that I would otherwise believe in.
The generation to which my grandfather, z”l, belonged intimately knew the consequences of leaving unchallenged the age-old myth of Jewish control over the levers of money and power. That is what anti-Semitism still looks like. Occupy Wall Street and its related protests across the country does not.
Howard Lovy is a freelance writer living in Traverse City, Michigan.