Jewish Journal


November 24, 2009

The Tug of Opportunism Remains Strong


The Anti-Defamation League’s national office recently mailed out a lengthy fund-raising appeal to its supporters, making the claim that “anti-Semitism has moved from the fringes into the mainstream.”  The letter had not a word about the organization’s recently released poll taken among the American population which found the level of anti-Semitism in the country tied a historic low point of 12 percent (similar to that recorded in 1998).

If 12 percent still seems like a lot, let’s put this into perspective. There is the ongoing claim that approximately 10 percent of the American people think that Elvis is still alive—-an observation meant to make clear that there is a base of “outliers” that simply doesn’t respond as the other 90% of the public does on a whole host of issues——stereotyping of others being just one.

Why did the ADL send such a frightening message to its supporters?  This organization has done exemplary work over past years in highlighting and combating bigotry and can rightly claim its share of credit for the low level of anti-Semitism that currently exists. 

The ADL failed to make its case in support of its dire and dark message.  To justify the argument that anti-Semitism is thriving the ADL strings together a series of anecdotes, anchored by this past June’s shooting at the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.  The letter argues that America’s Jews face a “… wave of hate that threatens the sense of security Jews in America have come to trust …” 

It’s of course all too true that in many places around the globe anti-Semitism is something as vicious as it is virulent – particularly in Western Europe where Islamic immigration, legal and otherwise, along with a host of neo-Nazi movements, have made the issues of Jewish safety and security questionable. 

But regarding this nation, it stretches credulity to imagine a “wave of hate” by stringing together aberrant anti-Semitic acts, speculating that some Americans blamed the Wall Street economic crisis on Jews, or even by raising the horrific killing of Stephen Johns, the heroic guard at the Holocaust Museum by a lone, crazed, aged gunman.

The Washington Holocaust Museum shooter was James W. von Brunn, a near-prehistoric white supremacist with a long, violent and virulently anti-Semitic past.  He was a classic example of the so-called “lone-wolf” figure, which according to law enforcement officials, has no known attachment to any organized hate organization.

In fact, it is not just the ADL that engages in scare tactics to “enhance” contributions and passion from its supporters.  Groups and agencies as diverse as the National Organization for Women, and the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, to local human relations commissions have all done the same. 

As attitudes have moved, often dramatically, in a positive direction regarding ethnic diversity and religious tolerance, some organizations that were on the front lines of these changes found themselves struggling to justify their existence.  Staffs had to be paid, doors of offices needed to be kept open, and lobbying had to be done.  Failing to adjust out-of-date organizational mandates, many groups resorted to exaggerating the size and scope of the threats posed by racism or bigotry.

In 2003, the NAACP issued a survey to its members and supporters on “Race, Gender and Equity in America.”  The survey came with a cover memo from the chairman, Julian Bond, who painted a picture of an America in the grips of ongoing racial victimization at the hands of savage and unrelenting racism.  It didn’t seem to matter for an instant that this analysis bore no resemblance to the reality that most African Americans lived.

This approach continues unabated.  Never one to shy away from playing the race card, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, in an attempt to intimidate every member of the Black Congressional Caucus into supporting the administration’s healthcare bill, attacked one black lawmaker for straying from the fold.  Artur Davis, a black Democratic Congressman from Alabama, voted against the House version of the bill. Raising the outrageous specter of racial authenticity, Jackson said “You can’t vote against healthcare and call yourself a black man.”  The message delivered was that any deviation from racial orthodoxy would be punished by the self-entitled arbiters of racial authenticity.

However, there is no such thing as an “authentic” black person, just as there are no “authentic” whites, Jews, Asians, or Latinos.  The argument that all blacks (or any other religious or racial group for that matter) must speak or act with a single voice is reminiscent of another era in America when the view prevailed that all “Negros,” or all “colored” people were alike.

No matter if it is an opportunistic fund-appeal letter, or appealing to some imagined need for racial solidarity, it all erodes what we have actually accomplished. Over past generations we have succeeded in ridding the nation of the most pernicious practices of bigotry and discrimination. This has allowed equality of opportunity to prevail nearly everywhere in the nation.  Engaging in racial intimidation or attempting to frighten people into supporting advocacy organizations may have some immediate payoff, but in the end we all lose.

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