Anti-Semitism in Israel

September 9th, 2013

It is with the greatest disgust that I report upon the futility of public educational systems which continue to graduate ignorance in the form of anti-Semitic adults. People who have never even met a Jewish person are visiting Israel and professing our great, good fortune that Jews ‘run the world’. I kid you not!

Always budget conscious, I’ve stayed in many hostels accommodating teen tours and single adults from many backgrounds. Over several months, my observations of a wide cross-section of society leads me to make the sweeping judgment that anti-Semitism is alive and well in the Jewish State.

I’ve greatly enjoyed listening to conversations taking place among tourists from far-off places and learned a great deal from directly interacting with them. Of course, it was impossible for me to discuss anything related to the local politics because only Israelis should reply to questions about their complex reality. However, I can speak from the standpoint of a Jewish woman in the Diaspora and the variety of experiences I’ve had leading life as a member of a minority group.

I’ve lived primarily in areas of the USA with large populations of Jews but encountering anti-Semitism was not unknown. It seemed infrequent because the educational systems on both coasts included Jewish students and a large number of Jewish teachers among the instructional staff. Most of my unpleasant encounters were in the realm of housing. Real estate agents would openly inform me that particular areas were ‘restricted’, the polite way of referring to an unofficial exclusion of minorities. I recalled hearing from my youth, hearing agents tell my parents the same thing as we looked about Long Island’s east-end housing developments. We remained in our tiny, semi-attached house in the NYC borough of Queens for the duration of my childhood.

I spent a semester of my graduate work in Texas, where I received an excellent education but was socially excluded once my fellow students learned of my religious affiliation. My first job was in Southern New England and, during the interview for this private school program, I let my prospective supervisor know that I did not work on Jewish holy days. As most don’t know the number of days included in these observances, I preferred to let them know of it at the start and assure them I wasn’t expecting to receive sick leave pay for those absences. The supervisor replied with a request that I call in sick anyway, as the owner of the school wasn’t exactly fond of Jewish people. I respectfully told her that I preferred not to lie about my religion, particularly to an employer. She said nothing more about it, offering me the job two days later. I always let her know when I was going to be out for a holiday but never asked what she said to the owner ‘upstairs’. It was a very successful year for me and I remember that particular supervisor as instilling in me a sense of confidence that any problem in a workplace could be solved. I hope she benefited as well from my determination to be both open and proud of my religious identity.

Now having seen parts of Europe and Israel, I can report that I’ve observed incidents of anti-Semitism which leave me amazed that we’ve advanced so little since the 1940’s. I’ve been rooming largely with young women and, occasionally, young men in mixed hostel dormitories. These young people largely reported their places of origin as Germany, China and Russia. What I’ve heard leads me to believe their public educational experiences were rife with bullies and bigots. Three of these encounters bear repeating.

Two women from China (on separate occasions), both holding advanced degrees, informed me that I was lucky that Jews controlled all governments. When I expressed my surprise at such a notion, they were shocked by my disbelief. Informing them that Israel was the only government headed by a Jewish person in the world today, both stopped to think about their conclusions. Both rephrased their beliefs as if well-taught in this line of thinking, to say that Jews controlled all of the banks and the supply of money in the world.

This is among the oldest of hate-mongering statements alongside the blood-libel stories of Jews using the blood of children to make matzohs for Passover. These tales were designed to redirect the anger of people against totalitarian regimes who refused to assume any blame for the poverty of their inhabitants. The fact that most Jewish people lived within impoverished and violent circumstances, under those same regimes, alongside of these bitter individuals is often forgotten amidst the continued, severe economic stress of the world today. It is important for people to remember that Jews have not returned to those places within Eastern Europe where such horrors are still open wounds in our modern history. My own grandfather was a slave in Russia. Reviving such tales discourages any return of our population and business concerns to those areas.

The numbers alone tell a story of a people whose growth has stagnated amidst the growing populations of other nations. The Israeli newspaper, Ha-aretz reports that there are currently 13 million Jews in the world whereas, that number might have approached 32 million had there not been a Holocaust. It is hard to determine simply because large numbers of Jews converted prior to ’round-ups’ and children were moved into Christian homes to be brought up in other faiths. Expanding upon this research done by DellaPergola of Hebrew University, Science Daily offered additional statistics such as the pre-Holocaust population of approximately 16.5 million Jews in the world versus the 1945 census of 11 million. This is proof that the Jewish nation has yet to recover from the tragedies of our recent history.

These ideas of Jewish ‘supremacy’ were again raised during my stay in the hostel at Masada. On the first night, I felt compelled to leave my dormitory room when a group of German students began talking in perjorative terms about ‘Juden’. On another night, I returned from a trip into town for groceries to find a Russian tour group had arrived. During their lively evening spent on a roof top dining area, I was noticed and asked what had brought me to Israel. Most tourists here compare their journeys to this unique country. Once it was known I was Jewish, I was politely asked about the Jewish control of money in the world, in the person of Ben Bernanke. Some believed his position as Chairman of the Federal Reserve System which offers oversight of our banks comprised an entirely separate government. In fact, it is subject to oversight by Congress but remains independent of Presidential intervention. Congress is solely responsible for the introduction of fiscal legislative planning. It was formed through the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 under President Woodrow Wilson’s administration.

No, Mr. Bernanke does not run the world, nor is the system related to Jewish affairs. The economists working within the system hold opinions and take actions affecting investors world-wide but that is the function of this board. In a capitalist system such as that of the USA where the government may not compete with the business endeavors of its citizens by law, banks must remain independent of the White House. The US government may not engage in business for profit but can structure private corporations to be run for stockholders while ensuring greater ease of acquiring credit for consumers of these financial products such as mortgages. This is in stark contrast to many other countries in which private businesses can be nationalized or forbidden to compete with government monopolies on services like communications.

After a brief discussion of their assumptions, they wondered how the economy had gotten so bad if the Jews weren’t responsible. I left them to ponder that on their own since there is no simple way to reply to such questions other than to say we need to keep our prejudices out of such issues. People run the economy of the world by injecting our own energies into the business world and judging the worth of the labor of our own two hands at the end of the day. Job selection should enhance our personal independence and edge our nations towards prosperity if we are to have an impact upon world politics. Apportioning blame for economic woes takes a very broad perspective of world affairs. Apportioning credit for improving economies similarly tells a tale of saavy planning for innovation in private enterprise.

I am publishing this entry and sending it to the Knesset because of a rather traumatic incident I observed last week before the start of the Jewish New Year. I’d traveled by bus to the B’Nei Brak section of Tel Aviv in order to purchase prayer books for the holidays. The area was alive with Jewish families preparing for this major holiday season that contains numerous celebratory days and the most solemn Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. This is a season for reflection, celebration and reviewing the state of ourselves and our communities. I am thrilled to be spending this holiday season in Israel for the first time in my life.

Many tourists drive through this particularly religious area much as they drive through the Amish section of Pennsylvania in the USA. Here are Jewish people wearing the garb of Ultra-Orthodox Jews of Eastern European descent. It is a view into a life-style of a different era brought forward because it is a meaningful and enriching experience within a difficult world. I have seen the Amish annoyed and harassed by ignorant tourists but never did I expect to see the vicious exploitation of historical Jewish nightmares replayed in this neighborhood.

I witnessed two vans go through the area with bullhorns, one yelling anti-Semitic slogans. Another played music reminiscent of the orchestras of the concentration camps that played for the amusement of their Nazi captors. The static and old-style compositions seemed taken directly from old documentaries and WWII movies. As one van drove slowly by my bus stop, a hand reached out of the window. As it passed there was a release of fumes that smelled like the weed killer, Round-Up. The message is unmistakable.

This is an unconscionable invasion of these Israelis’ privacy, history and safety. I hope this will lead to greater efforts to document such incidents, allowing the perpetrators to be identified in a newsworthy effort to apportion blame for furthering the persecution of Jewish people here at ‘home’ and abroad. This is not an isolated incident in Jewish communities around the globe.

Categories: Letters

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