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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 7/20/20

Good morning!



I have shared earlier that this is a moment when our collective focus should be on addressing historic racial inequities. Some suggest that the phrase “Black lives matter” should be revised to “all lives matter.” But in making this statement they miss the point regarding the present climate. “Black lives matter” does not mean, despite some pundits’ bloviations to the contrary, that Black lives matter more than other lives matter—just that the focus today is on Black lives, which for some time seem to have mattered less.



Although we focus on the racism that has plagued the Black community, it’s not the only form of hatred out there. Hatred and fear seem to be the twin flavors of the era. Hatred of others, violence against others, perpetrating lies about others, and the condoning of violence against others knows no color, ethnicity or political creed. With the normalization of abusive language, the rise in conspiracy theories, and the desensitization toward horrible anonymous (and non-anonymous) statements on line and in social media, we are in a dangerous time.



Certain statements and actions justifiably are quickly and harshly condemned. Sometimes this rush to judge is taken to extremes. Anyone who has said something or done something—even decades ago—that casts doubt on their purity of conscience on race relations or gender discrimination runs the risk of being shunned. What often follows the disclosure of a past indiscretion is the “cancelation” of that person—the ostracization that brings about loss of status, loss of career, and generalized shaming. Sometimes even an opinion offered in a discussion can be enough to jeopardize a career. Many people who claim to be of a liberal mindset and value freedom of speech are the very people quick to be unforgiving and unyielding in their attacks on those whose views may vary—sometimes only a bit—from the acceptable orthodoxy.

The news is replete with stories of people being fired for positions taken, articles written, events attended decades ago. As a people who claim to “forgive the sinner,” we don’t seem to be in much of a forgiving mood. This exercise in calling out others and punishing them—without trial, without context, without considering the totality of the person’s legacy—is wrong. Yet as much as we seem poised with our fingers on a hair-trigger when there is a past action that can be perceived as racist or sexist, there is a perplexing indifference toward the seeming acceptability of anti-Jewish statements.



It seems the passive acceptance of this historic prejudice in part may be due to a perception that Jews are no longer among the most oppressed. It may also be a reluctance to condemn the speaker because of his or her ethnicity or celebrity. Louis Farrakhan, most notably, has been a proponent of some pretty vile stuff. Among the pearls emanating from his lips are comparisons of Jews to “termites” and calling Jews “satanic.” Mr. Farrakhan seems to have had a “free pass” from some. He is cited and given a platform by many influential leaders and celebrities in the Black community.

The past couple of weeks have brought out some anti-Jewish statements from some visible athletes and celebrities—some of whom support Mr. Farrakhan by name. Thankfully—and laudably—some have recanted their remarks. This sort of stuff is vile—regardless of the speaker—and must be condemned.

A lot of bad stuff has been said recently, to wit:

• DeSean Jackson, of the Philadelphia Eagles, (wrongly) quoting Hitler, “white Jews ‘will blackmail America. [They] will extort America, their plan for world domination won’t work if the Negroes know who they were.’”

• NBA star Stephen Jackson said DeSean Jackson was “speaking the truth,” then jumping in with his remarks that Jews “control the banks." He later followed up by saying, “I don't support Hitler, I don’t know nothing about Hitler and I could give a [expletive] about Hitler!”

• Rapper Ice Cube’s repeated comments, his support of Farrakhan, and his republication of anti-Semitic memes.

And then there are the lyrics to songs by Jay-Z (“Jews own all the property in America”) and 21 Savage ( We been getting that Jewish money. Everything is Kosher.”). When mentioning my concern with anti-Semitic rhetoric to a young friend, he responded that anti-Semitism isn’t the issue today—it’s all about fighting anti-Black sentiment. I disagree; it is primarily a time that should be focused on racism. But it is never a time not to speak up against all brands of hatred, regardless of their source.

A great analysis of the woefully inadequate response to these statements comes from Mitch Albom, of Tuesdays with Morrie fame:

There also is this is a great article in The Atlantic by Jemele Hill, providing a Black journalist’s view of these recent statements, pervasive “casual” anti-Semitic views in the Black community, and her own reckoning with anti-Semitism:



Perhaps most heartening is the position taken by Kareem Abdul Jabbar, in his op-ed, “Where is the Outrage Over Anti-Semitism in Sports and Hollywood?”: This was followed up by similar sentiments made by Charles Barkley.

Let’s all remember that the haters, when they are engaged in hate, are not concerned with color or religion—their hate is “equal opportunity.” Let’s also not forget that most folks who hate Blacks also hate Jews. Each group should be especially sensitive to the demonization of the other.

Just because people support racial justice should not insulate them from being held to the same standards of human decency and anti-bigotry as is demanded of each of us. Those who have been oppressed in history have a special perspective that can be helpful to others experiencing discrimination and hate. We should look to history for examples of the oppressed helping the oppressed. In the midst of fighting for Black rights, Frederick Douglass was a notable supporter of women’s suffrage and Abraham Joshua Heschel marched for Civil Rights even while anti-Semitism was rampant. I hope all leaders in the community—Black, Jewish, Latino, Gay—in pursuing justice, utilize their important positions in the public square to help fight all hate and discrimination, even when emanating from their own community.



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