March 29, 2020

Left, right must unite against anti-Semitic hate

recent headline from London’s Jewish Chronicle read: “Worst Year On Record As Anti-Semitism Soars In Britain 36 Percent.”

Across the big pond, the initial reaction may have been: “Thank the Lord, it’s not happening here.”

Not so fast. U.S. headlines confirm that history’s oldest hate continues to rear its ugly head across America:

• Jewish Community Centers in the United States have received nearly 70 bomb threats in 2017. The digitally altered voice threatens, “It’s a C-4 bomb with a lot of shrapnel. … In a short time, a large number of Jews are going to be slaughtered. Their heads are going to be blown off from the shrapnel. … There’s going to be a bloodbath … in a short time. I think I told you enough. I must go.” The FBI has yet to apprehend the culprits.

• Chicago’s historic downtown Loop Synagogue, founded nearly 90 years ago, had its plate glass window shattered shortly after midnight on the Sabbath. The coward who broke the glass also plastered the synagogue entrance with black-and-white swastika stickers. The Chicago Police have opened a hate crime investigation.

• At Houston’s Cypress Ranch High School, students taking a senior class photo held their hands in the air in a “Sieg Heil” Nazi salute. The photos have been circulating on social media. In an email to TV station KPRC-TV, a student witness says that as many as 70 young people were shouting “Heil Hitler” and “Heil Trump.” Whether stupid prank or hate crime, “It was pretty terrifying,” one student said.

• At the University of Florida in Gainesville, a man wearing a swastika armband and making menacing statements, identified as Michael Dewitz, appeared on campus the day before International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Dewitz was at this for a week. Finally, some student protesters roughed him up. Gainesville is reputedly one of the most “liberal” areas in north Central Florida.

In one of the few redeeming moments, New York commuters banded together one Saturday to clean up a subway car defaced with anti-Semitic graffiti and Nazi symbols. Gregory Locke, a young attorney from Harlem, saw the group effort unfold after he got on the city’s No. 1 Line at 50th Street. There were swastikas and other graffiti on every window, door and advertising display. Slogans were also written across the rail car, including “Destroy Israel, Heil Hitler,” and “Jews belong in the oven.”

On a Facebook post, Locke said, “The train was silent as everyone stared at each other, uncomfortable and unsure what to do. One guy got up and said, ‘Hand sanitizer gets rid of Sharpie. We need alcohol.’ He found some tissues and got to work.” Locke told NBC News that his fellow passengers then began looking for hand sanitizer, while others started wiping off the graffiti, which was gone before the train made it as far as Lincoln Center at 66th Street.

What Americans today need is a reintroduction to and embrace of Martin Luther King’s legacy — a leader who campaigned for justice for all.

These incidents are not about policies, but a symptom and byproduct of the extreme political and social polarization of our country across ideological and partisan lines that became supercharged during the Hillary Clinton-Donald Trump presidential campaign — and show no signs of abating. In fact, they are only getting worse, and left unchecked could lead to dangerous, if unintended, consequences.

Surely there must be ways to defend immigrants, refugees and the court system without smearing the White House as a den of “Nazis.” Those seniors in Houston are just aping adults quick to deploy the N-bomb 24/7. Such tactics succeed only in eroding the swastika and Nazism as the quintessential symbols of genocidal and anti-Semitic evil, and may be inadvertently opening the way for more, not less hate.

What Americans today need is a reintroduction to and embrace of Martin Luther King’s legacy — a leader who campaigned for justice for all and whose denunciation of all forms of racism and bigotry, including anti-Semitism, earned him and his movement support from Americans of every race, religion and creed.

Today, many European Jews no longer wear a yarmulke or Star of David necklace for fear of attack. In 2017, we need more Americans from across the social and political divides to demonstratively reject history’s oldest hate — as the group of New York subway riders did — or we may soon be grappling with the impact of mainstream anti-Semitic hate, not unlike Europe’s.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and Museum of Tolerance.