September 21, 2019

When the Chicken Votes for Colonel Sanders

There is no question anti-Semitism is on the rise internationally at a level not seen in decades. Sometimes couched as anti-Israel, we find supporters of discrimination in their spheres of influence, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), spouting prejudices with hubris while their party’s leadership, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, remain mostly silent.

German Jews recognize they safely exist only through police protection, who park outside German synagogues to prevent anti-Semitic violence. In Poland, the home of Auschwitz, anti-Semitism has become so accepted it blatantly is part of the platform of the National Democratic Party, known as “Endeks.” A recent Polish weekly national newspaper ran the headline “How to Spot a Jew.” At a political debate in Poland, one of the candidates held a yarmulke over the head of his opponent and said, “She bows to the Jews.”

Anti-Semitism is not new. One can trace its roots to a mistranslation in the Vulgate bible of the fourth century; through the blood libel of the Middle Ages; the persecutions and pogroms of the last 500 years; to the culmination of the Holocaust in the last century. It is not surprising Omar and Tlaib quote Al-Jazeera — which is trying to rebrand itself as AJ+ to avoid its jihadist perception in the West — which publishes articles denying the Holocaust, blames Jews for the problems in the world and supports the destruction of Israel, the only democracy in the Middle East.

What is surprising is how some American Jews support individuals and organizations promoting this hatred. Did 21st-century Jews learn nothing from the horrors of Nazi Germany?

Yet, this is not the first time Jews have been like chickens that vote for Colonel Sanders. From 1921 to 1935, there was a group named the Association of German National Jews (Verband national Deutsche Juden), whose goal was the total assimilation of Jews into German culture; the self-eradication of Jewish identity; the expulsion of all Eastern European Jews from Germany; and a radical hatred of Zionism. Sadly, these seem like the same goals of many Jews in America choosing to deny the faith and practices of their ancestors in favor of secularizing themselves. On some level — often unconscious — they believe if they deny their Judaism and go along with the anti-Semitic rhetoric, non-Jewish Americans will better accept them. Unfortunately, they are avoiding looking at history.

“Let us not make the mistake again of allying ourselves with people who hate us because we think there is a shared common goal such as a desire for different political leaders.”

Although the German Association advocated loyalty to the Nazis, the Nazis never accepted the group, declaring the organization illegal; it disbanded in 1935. The association thought that if it tied itself to many other groups that were coming together in support of the Nazis, it would be accepted. Ultimately, this was not only untrue, but in retrospect, shows the members to be leaders in their own self-destruction.

Today, many Jews have tied themselves to the world of academia and the intelligentsia, believing that by identifying with these intellectual leaders, their “Jewishness” will no longer be an issue. Again, history shows the exact opposite.

In Max Weinrich’s classic study, “Hitler’s Professors,” he relates that “people of long and high standing, university professors and academy members” colluded with the Nazi regime. “German scholarship provided the ideas and techniques which led to and justified this unparalleled slaughter.” Even German Nobel Prize-winners including Johannes Stark and Philipp Lenard created “research” to justify Nazi atrocities. In the United States today, just as in pre-World War II Germany, there have been instances of professors in disciplines unrelated to Judaism or Israel (such as mathematics, science, etc.) condemning Israel and Jews, and espousing their views from an “academic” perspective, even questioning the Holocaust itself.

In Germany, there was an alliance of “outsiders” that opposed the pre-Nazi government, but as soon as Hitler fully came to power, it quickly condemned the Jews as well, ultimately to their deaths. We must make certain history does not repeat itself — that Jews, academics with intellectual honesty and all people with good ethics not accept the words and actions of Tlaib, Omar, the Endeks and the like.

To avoid another Holocaust, God forbid, we all are obligated to take a stand against these anti-Semitic hate mongers. Let us not make the mistake again of allying ourselves with people who hate us because we think there is a shared common goal such as a desire for different political leaders. Those temporary allies will quickly abandon us and demonstrate their discrimination as soon as they have any control of their own.

Two thousand years ago, the great Rabbi Hillel said, “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?” For 70 years, there has been the chant “Never Forget!” We need to remember not just the atrocities of the Nazis, but how they rose to power and who helped put them there. May we all have the courage and strength to stand up and act against all forms of hatred when they are expressed, especially when political leaders and parties espouse them. And may all people of all faiths honestly express and live out the teachings of their traditions to create a world of true peace.


Rabbi Michael Barclay is the spiritual leader of Temple Ner Simcha (NerSimcha.org) and the author of “Sacred Relationships: Biblical Wisdom for Deepening Our Lives Together.” He can be reached at RabbiBarclay@aol.com.