Antisemitism Can Spread Like Wildfire … Will It?

The Book of Genesis ends very positively. Joseph forgives his brothers, and all is well. It would not surprise us after the last line of the Book if we read: “And they all lived happily ever after.”

Turning the page and beginning the Book of Exodus reveals that “happily” was not “ever after” after all. 

“A new King arose over Egypt …”  (Exodus 1:8) who did not look kindly on Josephs’ descendants.  He viewed us as a threat, so he enslaved us, embittered our lives and ordered his soldiers to throw our baby boys into the Nile.

In the transition from the tranquility of Genesis’ ending to the trauma of Exodus’ beginning, we see a pattern that has repeated itself throughout history. We Jews arrive in a country and settle there. We live comfortably until the economy dips, and then we become personae non grata.

I hate to write it, but it seems to be beginning to happen here.

Since the rise of Christianity, as the late philosopher, Emil Fackenheim, has noted, Jews felt an increasingly tightening vise of persecution. As Fackenheim put it: First authorities decreed, “You cannot live here as Jews,” and they forced us to convert. Later, countries decreed, “You cannot live here,” and they exiled us from their lands. Then Hitler came along and announced, “You cannot live.” He then orchestrated the deaths of one out of every three Jews in the world, and two out of three Jews in Europe.

The defeat and death of Hitler brought a welcome wave of shock and revulsion for what he tried to do. Germany led the way in passing legislation outlawing antisemitic activity and contributed many billions of dollars in reparations for the Holocaust to the State of Israel and to the families of the victims and the survivors of the “Final Solution.”

Now … 80 years later the shock and revulsion have worn off.

The advent of the internet has given entirely new definition to the idea of “Freedom of Speech.” Before the world wide web, if someone wanted to publish an idea widely, he or she would have to give evidence of the credibility of an idea or theory before they would print, publish and disseminate it.

Not so today

Now people can—with the push of a button – spread whatever ideas, credible or not, they wish. And so, we find once again antisemitic tropes frequently seen and heard on social media.

If I were in charge, there would be no protection under the First Amendment for “Hate Speech” because I believe such speech presents a “clear and present danger” to the health and well-being of those it targets.

It is also easy to overlook how susceptible people – even presumably intelligent people – can cotton to the ideas of a glib presenter or a charismatic personality.

I saw and heard this with my own eyes and ears.

On a cold January night in 1967, George Lincoln Rockwell, President of the American Nazi party, spoke to a packed crowd in the Hamilton College Chapel. He spewed out an antisemitic, anti-minority rant that that had no basis in logic or fact.

And yet…

It was clear to me as I looked about the chapel that some of these supposedly bright liberal arts students were resonating to Rockwell’s words. When I saw that, I picked myself up from my choice sixth row seat and walked slowly down the center aisle of the chapel and out the door into the frigid night air.

From that day to this I have known how easy it is to sway people, and with the internet bringing a huge audience within a fingertip’s reach of anyone at all, a hateful rant can appear in our inbox at any time at all. 

And given the “right” timing or approach it can spread like wildfire.  Get a couple of celebrities on board, and suddenly supposedly bright people will believe that the Holocaust never happened or that Jews have overdrawn its extent.

We Jews are at our best when we stand up to the challenge with pride and facts. We fight lies with truths and proudly proclaim the enormous positive impact Jews have had on society.

We also stand proudly by the State of Israel.  Is Israel perfect? Hardly. But as Jew I will not allow a government whose policies, I deplore prevent me from supporting, visiting and praying for our ancestral homeland.

As an American, I will never allow a governmental policy or a political leader I detest, shake my loyalty to the United States of America.  As a Jew I say the same thing about Israel.

Yes, what happened in Egypt and throughout history can happen here. But we are not powerless. If we stand proudly as Jews, and if we continually enlist people of good will in fighting hatred and bigotry, we will triumph over the hatred that is raising its ugly head … yet again.