An old Jewish joke about anti-Semitism is new again

Jewish jokes tend to mingle humour with a touch—or more—of melancholy. 

Here’s an example that’s old, but seems sadly relevant to the U.S. news cycle of the last few weeks. Two yeshiva boys in 19th century Poland are walking home from synagogue in the gathering dusk. They hear rapid footsteps behind them. Looking back, they see two youths of threatening mien gaining on them and hurling antisemitic insults their way. The boys break into a run. One boy says to the other: “Why are we running? There are only two of them and we are two.” The other replies, “Yes, but they are together and we are alone.”

On Dec 30 there was an attack on a Hasidic man by seven black teenagers who beat him over the head with a chair. The same group are alleged to have chased down and beaten another Hasidic Jew later in the day. 

Before that, it was the Dec 28 incident in Monsey, a densely Jewish suburb of New York. Grafton Thomas, a black man alleged to be suffering from mental health problems, launched an attack with a machete on Jewish men celebrating Hannukah at their rabbi’s house, sending five stabbing victims to the hospital. Thomas’s computer revealed searches for “German-Jewish temples near me,” references to swastikas and other symbols of Nazi culture.  

The pivotal event that triggered a thousand conjectures about the state of anti-Semitism in America was, of course, the Dec 10 Jersey City rampage that began with the shooting of a detective in a cemetery, was followed by an invasion of a kosher supermarket in the city’s densely Jewish Greenville neighbourhood, and ended, after a prolonged firefight with police, with six people dead, including the two assailants. 

Surveillance camera footage suggests the primary target of killers David Anderson and Francine Graham was a small synagogue that incorporated a school for religious Jewish children, whose door was only three feet from the supermarket entrance. There were 50 children upstairs, and the killers were equipped with sufficient weaponry for a bloodbath. So, horrible as it was, the carnage could have been infinitely worse.

A probe into his social media profile revealed that Anderson took inspiration for rage in the century-old Black Hebrew Israelite movement, described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group that has attracted thousands of followers and is “becoming more militant.” The “Israelites” are black supremacists who believe they are the real descendants of the biblical Hebrews, and the Jews satanic impostors. Their more extremist followers bruit nasty diatribes against Jews.

When white supremacists commit hate crimes, it is customary for politicians and media people to assign them great cultural weight as symbols of entrenched society-wide racism. The massacre by white supremacist Robert Bowers of eleven Jews in the Pittsburgh Tree of Life synagogue in Nov 2018 elicited nation-wide outrage and condemnation. There was great hand-wringing over rising anti-Semitism in the U.S., and here was proof of it. White Supremacists are evil; they are racists and anti-Semites. You won’t find any equivocation on that issue from anyone, including conservatives.

But there is reluctance to see any similar pattern when it comes to the anti-Semitism of African-Americans. Following the Jersey City killings, Senator Cory Booker issued an exquisitely crafted statement, in which neither the race of the perpetrators or the religion of the targeted victims was mentioned. He spoke only of “residents” who were gunned down, and of “tragedies” that shouldn’t happen.

Few observers want to identify black anti-Semitism for the problem it is. It doesn’t fit the “correct” paradigm in which only whites can be so virulently racist as to perpetrate violence on minorities. Specifically, black anti-Semitism is as uncomfortable to identify for black leaders like Booker as Islamist anti-Semitism was for President Obama (you may recall Obama evasively referring to the Jews gunned down in Paris by Islamist jihadists in Jan 2015 at a kosher supermarket as a “bunch of folks in a deli” murdered in a “random” attack.) 

“They are together, but we are alone” becomes especially poignant when one sees culturally elite progressive Jews wrestling with the issue. After the Jersey City killings, it was announced that there would be an increased police presence in those parts of Brooklyn where religious Jews were most at risk of further violence. On Twitter, progressive journalist @DavidKlion expressed alarm at the idea, because it might “carry real costs,” even “fatal” ones, for those who have no complicity in the crimes. 

I don’t even know what Klion means by that – are New Jersey African-Americans so hostile to police that is an increased number of officers in an area is alone sufficient to spark violence? —but found his concluding remark pretty disturbing: “I’m also deeply uncomfortable with the optics of cops functioning as security for Jews against POC.” Optics? Optics should trump Jewish lives to spare people of colour the irritation of seeing police in their neighbourhood? This is egregious blame-shifting, and a sad commentary on the price extorted from Jews who are determined to keep their progressive credentials burnished at any cost.

Progressives are entitled to their own theories about “intersectionality” and its hierarchy of victimhood, but they are not entitled to their own facts. They would like to believe that African-Americans are the most racialized group in America, but the evidence does not support that assumption. 

The FBI hate crimes stats for 2018 indicate that hate crimes against Jews (who represent about two percent of the population—835—add up to more than hate crimes against all other religions combined. African-Americans (twelve percent of the population) were the victims of 1,943 hate crimes. Per capita, Jews are 2.7 times more likely to be victims of hate crimes than African-Americans (and 2.2 times more likely to be victims of a hate crime than Muslims).

According to the NYPD’s hate crime unit, hate crimes against Jews have gone from 108 to 163 in the last year, representing 52% of all reported hate crimes. These official numbers may not reflect the actual scope of the problem, though. Some professional insiders believe many crimes go unreported, due to a peculiar attitude of the Ultra-Orthodox to consider anti-Semitism a permanent feature of life and to accept occasional brutality as distressing, but to be taken for granted.

The trend from mere resentment to violence has been building for some time. Crown Heights “simmered with tension” in the spring of 2008, with multiple violent incidents involving Ultra-Orthodox Jews and African-Americans, the spike tracible to a 1991 riot that erupted when a Hasidic driver accidentally killed a 7-year old black boy. In 2015 there were a series of paintball attacks in Williamsburg.

In an investigative report on the phenomenon in the July issue of Tablet Magazine, titled “Everybody Knows,” staff writer Armin Rosen chronicles a series of deeply unsettling incidents – mostly random, unprovoked beatings, but also fires at Jewish institutions and a storefront window-smashing – referring to them as “part of a typhoon of violence that in other contexts might call for a Justice Department Civil Rights Division investigation.” But Mayor Bill de Blasio, always ready to pontificate on the obscenity of any hate crime committed by a white perp, finds himself tongue-tied and action-challenged on the issue of black anti-Semitism.

Rosen ascribes the reluctance to review the trend in any systematic way to an inversion of “the perpetrator-victim dynamics with which most national Jewish organizations and their supporters are comfortable. A close look at these cases reveals no apparent connection to neo-Nazis, the alt-right, Donald Trump, jihadism, the BDS movement, or any other traditional cause of anti-Jewish behavior.”

In other words, the new violence is gratuitous. There is no “organizing principle” behind it, just naked hostility against recognizable Jews. Jew hatred as meme, one might say. In an analysis of 360 crimes, Tablet reports, all were executed by unlinked individuals. And not a single incident could be traced to any organized white-supremacy group, or in fact any organized entity. 

Some observers speculate that demonization of Israel, a prevalent theme in public discourse, fosters a receptive environment in which latent Jew hatred can awaken. I find this “broken windows” hypothesis quite plausible (also ironic, given that some Ultra-Orthodox sects have a fairly antagonistic relationship with Zionism). I can think of a few other contributing factors.

Anti-Semitism is so rampant in Europe that Jews are “going underground,” covering their heads with baseball caps instead of kippas, and taking signs off their synagogues. In fact, anti-Semitism has become normalized in parts of Scandinavia and Europe, especially France, (an increase of 70% in 2018 over the previous year), where Jewish schools require permanent guards in order to function in security. The violence virus was bound to overflow borders eventually. It is natural that it would manifest itself in communities densely populated by both blacks and Jews with a history of tension, the equivalent of a weakened immune system acting as a magnet for actual viruses.

The “black pride” movement has always tolerated a fat streak of anti-Semitism in its leadership. Black activists and agents provocateurs Al Sharpton and Louis Farrakhan, longtime overt anti-Semites, have not only gotten a pass on their ugly rhetoric against Jews, but politicians have continued to pay court to them to ensure their political support amongst blacks. I think more politicians have kissed Al Sharpton’s ring than the Pope’s . 

Why aren’t they shunned? Why haven’t they been shunned for the past 50 years? That’s a question progressives should be asking themselves now, and with some urgency. Progressives are quick to claim that Donald Trump’s disparagement of illegals is a dog whistle to white nationalists. But Trump’s rhetoric isn’t a patch on the sewage spewed by Sharpton and Farrakhan. The fact that these creeps pay no social or political price for their anti-Semitism—quite the opposite—whitewashes the same rhetoric in black extremist groups that eventually become the “inspiration” for monsters like the Jersey City killers.

At least Sharpton and Farrakhan never made it into Congress. New Democrat Party representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (who  stupidly tweeted blame for the Jersey City killings on white nationalism before bothering to check the facts) have demonstrated their entrenched anti-Semitism on multiple occasions, but every time it happens, their colleagues pull their punches in dealing with it. The Democrats have a serious internal problem on this issue and they know it. 

Identity politics in the universities have reached peak crazy. Black rage has been encouraged on campuses and in groups like Black Lives Matter, which incentivizes hatred of whites, of police, and of America in general, but also specifically of Jews under the increasingly threadbare guise of anti-Zionism.

Visible Jews make an easy target. First, because you can be sure they’re Jews. Then too, they cluster in known areas, they move slowly, they don’t carry weapons, and they don’t fight back. Thugs hitting on Hasidic Jews are like game hunters picking off tree sloths. No courage required, and no risk of violent reprisals. Under such circumstances, and without a full-throated response from the corridors of power, copycatism is guaranteed.

But, to end on a grace note, it must be stressed that in a country of 350 million people, the numbers of hate crimes is statistically low. Anti-Semitism is not an epidemic in America. We are looking at a brush fire, not, as in Europe, a conflagration. African-Americans, Jews, Muslims and white Catholics have for the most part lived in close quarters and without deep tensions in the past in Jersey City. 

“We have been welcoming to any nationality that has come here,” said Joyce Watterman, who is black and represents the area on the city council. “These are loving people. These people do not have hate in their heart, and I want to make that clear—I really want to make that clear—we always are welcoming and will continue to be welcoming.”

I would really like to believe that these heartfelt words will carry the day. But in order for those words to come true, and the brush fire stamped out before it gets out of control, progressive elites—politicians, pundits and the intelligentsia—both white and black, must do some heavy soul-searching and acknowledge that for too long, they have sacrificed the truth of black anti-Semitism on the altar of ideology. The result is that they remain “together” while the Jews have been alone. That must end.

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