As optimistic as we’d like to be, racism is nearly impossible to eliminate entirely. Over time, we can hope that people will stop judging others based on colour, race or religion. For Jewish people, one of the oldest communities of the world, that time can’t come soon enough. Recent outbursts and events suggest that there may still be a disdain for Jews. Designer John Galliano was fired from the House of Dior after he yelled at a Jewish couple in France and told them he loved Hitler. A Quebec tourist in Germany was arrested after he gave the Nazi salute on the steps of a German building. Any gesture or symbol of the Nazi regime is strictly prohibited in Germany and is punishable by time in prison. Montreal is a city of many cultures, but do you think anti-Semitism is prevalent here and at Concordia? Send your opinions to the editor at [email protected]
Out of the ashes of the Holocaust, the state of Israel was born in 1948, but the aura of anti-Semitism lingered. The extreme reaction was Holocaust denial. Burying the images of Jews being tortured deep in their minds, and burning any tangible evidence of such was a quicker fix than helping to repair the situation. This was the mentality of many, but not all, nations.
After the Holocaust, Jews were left to mend the broken pieces themselves. The liberation did not cause them to recede back into their closets, but rather, communally begin the process of self-actualization. Their plight for essentials was no easy feat. Since education has always been considered a core value among Jews, many earned professional degrees, and began to flood the fields of medicine, law and finance. Their prosperity overshadowed their past and somewhat redeemed their spirits.
This is where the anti-Semitic cycle repeated itself. “The simplistic understanding of people is that victims are poor and underprivileged,” says Rabbi Reuben Poupko of Beth Israel Beth Aaron Congregation. “People draw a link between being impoverished and deserving sympathy.” He explains that seeing many Jews reside in affluent communities while upholding successful, professional occupations places them in an ironic situation. The very fact that Jews are successful almost gives anti-Semitism legitimacy. They do not fit the common criteria of what society considers an underdog.
The new ways we have found to communicate with each other have facilitated the rise of anti-Semitism. It is becoming increasingly easier to insult other cultures over the Internet with little repercussions, and this habit of bad behaviour is continued in public.
Those who hate never forget their own personal experiences of feeling belittled, according to British doctor and psychiatrist Anthony Daniels, from Psychology Today.
It may not be a far stretch to suggest that our society is experiencing a feeling of self-loathing, which is instigating the urgency to make anti-Semitic remarks and reinforce the scapegoat status of the Jews. A 2009 study published in the Boston Review found that nearly 25 per cent of non-Jewish Americans blamed Jews for the economic turmoil and recession of 2008.
Is anti-Semitism more prevalent now than it has ever been? Not necessarily, since it is doubtful that the mob mentality has changed. It is true, however, that we are hearing about more incidents of it due to increased access to media outlets and our collective obsession of hearing about controversial issues.
Domenic Del Vecchio
While the Jewish people have faced their fair share of hardships in the last century, and certainly, throughout their lengthy history, many believe that they are still painfully stricken with the same Jewish “branding” that plagued them once before. With the progression of today’s society in terms of racism and prejudice, it is difficult to believe that our society still singles out Jews as targets for economic and social failures. Anti-Semitism does not continue to darken the very social mentality abreast in today’s world and to suggest that we live in a society with a collective mentality akin to the Third Reich is ludicrous. Modernism has played a significant part in the asphyxiation of various racial and cultural prejudices, including anti-Semitism, rendering prejudiced thoughts both socially and morally dishonourable.
While anti-Semitic sentiment was prevalent throughout much of Europe during the first and second World Wars, much effort has been incorporated in the re-stabilization of egalitarian views on the culture around the globe.
Portrayals of Judaism in the media have attempted to strengthen the image of Jewish individuals in society among the general population. Beloved television characters such as Jerry Seinfeld (Seinfeld), Ross and Monica Geller (Friends), Grace Adler (Will & Grace), Ari Gold (Entourage), as well as Rachel Berry and Noah Puckerman (Glee), are among the many that have contributed in raising the general appreciation for Jewish citizens in society. In addition to their general popularity, many of these characters make reference to their faith, not only bringing the issue to the forefront of the program, but also educating audiences on the cultural and historic practices of Judaism. This social education is essentially desensitizing viewers and familiarizing them with the cultural makeup of the Jewish faith.
Positive media portrayals of certain groups or classes of individuals can alter their previously negative stereotype. Likewise, although films like Mel Gibson’s The Passion of the Christ have been viewed as anti-Semitic, works such as Steven Spielberg’s Schindler’s List, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds and the Coen Brothers’ A Serious Man, to name a few, portray the struggles of the Jewish people, strengthening the collective acceptance of Jewish culture. Even certain comic book characters like Legion and Magneto, both Holocaust survivors, devalue anti-Semitism, in this case by portraying Jews in positions of superpower.
I am not suggesting that anti-Semitism does not still hold a place in the values and opinions of some individuals in our society, because uttered statements like “He’s such a Jew” will unfortunately prove otherwise. The mosaic of cultural stereotypes will not disappear overnight, because unfortunately racism will always exist. It is the ego-centrist nature of man that governs the narcissistic tendency to value oneself and one’s own cultural armoire as superior to those of others.
With each new generation being educated on values of social equality and cultural acceptance, and exposed to interaction with members of varying cultures (certainly the case here in Canada), the proliferation of anti-Semitism and other forms of prejudice is slowly being stifled and diluted. I am aware that such a view can be considered naively optimistic and, although anti-Semitic sentiment may never fully become extinct, it is only through such optimistic methods that it can begin to wither.