One of the horrors of my coming to appreciate human rights as a teenager was the anti-Semitism that still pervaded American culture prior to and during WW2. The Holocaust somewhat moderated dislike of Jews and began to open doors of the numerous institutions previously closed to Jewish membership, a ghettoization almost as restricting as that confining African Americans. My pre-teen years were spent growing up in an outer suburb of Hartford, Connecticut and summers in the North East Kingdom of Vermont. In both places Jews were rarities. We had one Jewish family — a grocery and liquor store owner — in one of our poor communities in the former and virtually none in our summer vacation location in Vermont. Vermonters were generally tolerant of people in those days and respected them as individuals and not as members of particular ethnic groups or religions. It was just that there were no Jews in residence and the arrival of one Jewish family for a summer vacation was a major happening.

I am worried now that the identity of Israel as a Jewish state — particularly being pressed by Netanyahu of late — and the mistreatment of Palestinians which most criticize with varying degrees of intensity — will spill over into generalized anti-Semitism of which we are beginning to see some signs here and there. G-d forbid that we slip back anywhere near the patterns of persecution to which Jews were subjected for two millennia — particularly by Christians who resented Jewish resistance to conversion. Need we cite the pogroms that preceded the ultimate horror of the Holocaust?

What I fear is more likely something paralleling the covert African American racism which shows it ugly head when people are feeling pressured as many are with our current deep recession. Need it be pointed out that caring Jews are as distressed by Israel’s mistreatment of the Palestinians as the rest of us. They, as the rest of us should, also point to the murderous reactions of Palestinian terrorists and the anti Semitic attacks on Jews in nations as far removed as Argentina. Synagogues today with the advent of Rosh Hashanah are particularly on guard against attacks by potential killers. Ahmadinejad certainly knows that the Holocaust was no fiction. His denial of it is an extreme way of condemning the displacement of Palestinians by Israel which some saw as compensation for the mass Nazi murders of Jews. Injustices were involved with its creation and continue today. The accumulated resentments there make the likelihood of a real peace most dim. But let us not forget that Israel was formed with the consent of the Western nations who had little regard then for the Palestinians to be displaced.

But to return to my primary point, whatever Israel does that is a violation of humans and their rights (e.g. Gaza) is no justification for anti-Semitism in general. Some of my own mentors and finest teachers were Jewish as are the fathers of some of my nieces and nephews. A good number of my best and most respected friends are Jewish. There is no excuse for condemning people en masse any more than it would have been to so treat Germans, Italians, and Japanese after WW2. Their nations did some pretty horrible things — such is the way with runaway governments. But people are individuals and must be respected and cared for as such.

What do you think?

“A war is just if there is no alternative, and the resort to arms is legitimate if they represent your last hope.” (Livy cited by Machiavelli)

Ed Kent 212-665-8535 (voice mail only) [blind copies]

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