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January 9, 2023 3:37 pm
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When Antisemitism is Mainstreamed

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avatar by Daniel S. Mariaschin

Opinion

Brazilian Jewish economist Ilan Goldfajn. Photo: Reuters/Latin America News Agency

In 2019, the Jewish Museum of London mounted an exhibition entitled “Jews, Money, Myth,” focusing on “myths and stereotypes that link Jews and money over the course of 2000 years.” There was no shortage of examples covering the broad expanse of ancient and modern history.

To that, now add Paulo Nogueira Batista Jr. to the growing list of academics, public officials, journalists and celebrities who have jumped on the “Jewish control” bandwagon.

Batista, an economist who formerly worked for the International Monetary Fund, charged the new president of the Washington-based Inter-American Development Bank, Ilan Goldfajn, with being “…essentially a financier, connected to the US Treasury, to the Jewish community. He is actually Brazilian-Jewish, born in Haifa, Israel. And the Jewish community has a strong presence in the US Treasury, in the Monetary Fund, in international organizations, not just in private banks.”

In one fell swoop, Batista not only conjured up classic anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish control of the international monetary system, but raised dual-loyalty charges as well by noting both Goldfajn’s Israeli origins, and his connection to “the Jewish community.”  To boot, Batista unloaded a gratuitous comment about Goldfajn’s non-Portuguese last name as being “unpronounceable.”

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Batista prefaced his anti-Semitic tirade by charging that Goldfajn, in his new post at the Inter-American Development Bank, would be antagonistic to the government of Brazil’s newly-elected leftist president, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

B’nai B’rith Brazil compared Batista’s interview to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the infamous anti-Semitic, conspiracist forgery spawned in Czarist Russia, which over 100 years later, still rallies extremist followers globally.

Batista’s remarks were made on Jornal GGN, a widely watched YouTube program hosted by Luis Nassif in an interview with the host and political scientist Pedro Costa Jr. Neither interviewer challenged Batista; indeed Nassif, in response to an outcry from a number of Brazilian Jewish organizations (including my own) doubled down on posts on his social media network that “it is an undeniable fact that there is a strong Jewish financial community, in the same way that there is a strong community of Lebanese money changers in Brazil.” Nassif called Batista’s comments “xenophobic, not anti-Semitic.”

Nassif himself has a long record of utilizing and promoting anti-Semitic and anti-Israel tropes. His online Jornal GGN has published a number of articles charging Jews with exerting undue influence on the Brazilian government. One article slammed the previous Brazilian government led by Jair Bolsonaro of signing a technology agreement with Israel, whose objectives, it said, included targeting millions of Brazilians of Arab origin.

Another promoted the canard that the Israeli government authorized pharmaceutical companies to test new medicines on more than 5,000 Palestinian prisoners against their will.

Batista is not alone. Four years ago, U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar tweeted that, “it’s all about the Benjamins” in referring to political influence of Israel’s friends in the American political scene. Omar later charged American Jews with dual loyalty when she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says that it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” Omar got away with it, avoiding both censure from her colleagues and removal from her committee assignments, including the influential House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Omar’s colleague Rep. Rashida Tlaib was equally offending. In speaking of American Mideast policy, she said last year that, “if you open the curtain and look behind the curtain, it’s the same people that make money and yes, they do, off of racism, off of these broken policies. There is someone there making money…it’s a way to control people, to oppress people.”

At the United Nations, bias against Israel has in many cases carried a strong layer of anti-Semitism. Its Human Rights Council, based in Geneva, established a “Commission of Inquiry,” whose open-ended task in simply to delegitimize and criminalize Israel. It is headed by three commissioners, one of whom, Miloon Kothari, said last summer that, “We are very disheartened by the social media that is controlled largely by—whether it is the Jewish lobby or specific NGOs…A lot of money has been thrown into trying to discredit us.” After an outcry from the United States, Israel and a number of Jewish organizations, Kothari issued a lame apology. But such apologies are now seen as just rote expressions to get past the moment. As my mother would often say in Yiddish, “Vos is oyfn lung iz oyfn tsung,” literally, what is on your lung is on your tongue. Or more to the point: you say what you believe.

The brazenness of these comments, with little pushback from the broader community, is not at all limited to the political realm. Three months ago, supermodel Carmen Ortega, who has millions of Instagram followers, said, “they own the banks, they own the media and in our politics heavy. Who’s awake yet?”

It took a much more famous celebrity, Kanye West, (known as Ye) to bring these stereotypes on to a bigger stage. Toward the end of 2022, West fired off a barrage of comments that included an assumed reference to Jared Kushner (“I just think that’s what they’re about is making money”), to “…when I wake up I’m going death con 3 on Jewish people,” to his saying on the conspiracist Infowars broadcast that he “likes Nazis,” and sees “good things about Hitler.” West’s series of anti-Semitic utterances justifiably cost him: after days of prodding, Adidas cut its ties with him, as did The Gap, Foot Locker and the talent agency CAA.

The term used widely these days is “the mainstreaming” of anti-Semitism. Fueled by social media and the internet, it is seemingly everywhere, it knows no boundaries and it is not necessarily in the sole domain of the extremist left, right and Islamists. Sadly, much of this bilge gets by without outrage beyond our own community. The Batista episode is a good example of that; with about 100,000 Jews living in a country of some 215 million people, the reckless rhetoric of a Batista can, without strong political and media voices speaking out, find traction in the general population. And the more these comments are seen as the norm, the more they will become acceptable.

It’s been said many times, but it cannot be said enough: to win this battle, it is essential to have friends and allies in the non-Jewish universe. The growing number of special envoys on combating antisemitism is an encouraging sign, but many more are needed. That the European Union and Organization of American States have designated such persons is vitally important. The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance will hold two meetings this year; its working definition of anti-Semitism continues to be adopted by countries, local jurisdictions, academic institutions, sports leagues and others. But it not only needs to be adopted, it must be applied to the proliferation of anti-Semitic incidents globally. Here at home, where anti-Semitism is growing apace, the announcement by the Biden administration of the creation of an inter-agency task force on anti-Semitism is welcome news. The recent work of Virginia’s Commission to Combat antisemitism should serve as a template for other states. Its mission can easily be applied to jurisdictions and provinces abroad as well.

Batista is only the latest to spout age-old stereotypes aimed at insulting and harming Jews. Undoubtedly, there will be others to follow. Today it is about Jewish control of the banks, tomorrow control of the media and the next day control of Hollywood. The concern is that we seem to be lurching backward out of what should be an enlightened 21st century, hurtling back to the Middle Ages where many of these tropes originated. What is troubling is not only those who traffic in such hatred, but also the seeming apathy to all of this, an indifference which says, with a shrug, that the Jewish community can deal with this by itself, that it doesn’t need the broad shoulders of the general community to push back.

Wherever Jews live, suffering in silence is not an option. We need to re-double our efforts to expand the circle of support that can join us in this fight, now thousands of years old, but as new as yesterday. Each of us has a role to play in making this happen.

Daniel S. Mariaschin is CEO of B’nai B’rith International

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