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January 9, 2020 9:23 am

The Jewish Community as a Political Football

avatar by Cliff Rieders

Opinion

Caskets are carried outside of Pittsburgh’s Rodef Shalom Congregation, the scene of the funeral for brothers Cecil and David Rosenthal, two of the 11 Jewish worshippers shot and killed on Oct. 27, 2018 at Tree of Life*Or L’Simcha Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. Photo: Screenshot.

As a result of the recent violence by members of the African-American community and others against Jews in the United States, many have ramped up the debate over who is more to blame: Is it the right wing? The left wing? White nationalists or African-Americans?

My view, not often heard in the daily din of Internet nonsense, is that it does not matter. Bigotry is bigotry, and every element of society has an obligation to teach tolerance.

The history of minority groups picking on one another, while the majority often marginalizes all minorities, is nothing new. As Irish and Italian immigrants came to our shores, they fought with one another, disagreed with the African-American community, and expressed their hostility to American Jews. Nevermind that Jews arrived on our continent when New York was still New Amsterdam, fought bravely in the American Revolution, and served this country in the War of 1812 and right up through present conflicts. There will always be those who feed on suspicion, ignorance, and untruthful stereotypes.

Unfortunately, the hostility between African-Americans and the Jewish community, as well as eras of cooperation, are easy to identify. Everyone knows about the great assistance the Jewish community provided to African-Americans during the civil rights movement. Likewise, most African-Americans know that Martin Luther King, Jr. was a strong supporter of the Jewish community, Zionism, and the State of Israel. The Jewish community had few friends in the African-American community more important and more influential than the great Martin Luther King.

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Likewise, when African-Americans struggled to be accepted in white society, Jews of every stripe, denomination, and political affiliation supported them.

Unfortunately, relationships between the African-American community and the Jewish community were not always tranquil. In 1935, and again in 1943, African-American riots in Harlem drove the Jewish community out of that part of New York. Historians have been reluctant to call what occurred in those years pogroms against the Jews, but that is precisely what they were.

The 1960s saw most members of the Jewish community support black aspirations to vote, be accepted in society, and have an equal education. Debates over affirmative action split the communities once again, with some believing that Jews would be adversely affected. Most members of the Jewish community pointed out that many colleges and universities in America had quotas on the number of Jewish students they would accept. When those quotas were quietly terminated, the schools instead instituted “geographic” quotas. Since most Jewish-Americans lived in the big cities, this once again had the obvious effect of discriminating against the Jewish community.

Some recent high-profile criminals have been identified as Jews. The Jewish community is rightly embarrassed and disgraced by these people, and has spoken very publicly about the need to enforce Jewish values among our children. Every community needs to be embarrassed, outraged, and disgraced when one of its members misbehaves in a way that damages society or relationships between constituencies within our great country.

As we debate the recent outbreak of violence against Jews, it is time for the Jewish community to stop being a political football, but rather to be accepted as legitimate members of society. And antisemitic attacks in all their forms must be condemned — regardless of the attackers.

Cliff Reiders, Esq. is a ZOA National Board member and partner at the Rieders, Travis, Humphrey, Waters & Dohrmann law firm.

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