07 Nov DENIERS: The Shoah. The Climate. The Election.
I’m not going to attempt here, as I often do, an etymological or historical summary, not of antisemitism, nor a current news summary of it either – no more than I would for the vast subjects of any racism, or of sexism itself. We know the histories, and if we don’t know the histories then we must ask WHY we don’t.
These seizures, these periodic spasms in our species, these seismic shudders are always there, vibrating under our feet, fault lines just waiting to erupt, none of them in the past. As Faulkner knew, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
And where would we start, anyway? And where would we stop? Yes, this era is particularly poignant regarding the Holocaust, called by Jews the Shoah-—the catastrophe, the cataclysm–because in this case, most of the direct victims are elderly or have died, so there will soon be no one left living who has escaped to tell. Only the written records, the statues and memorials, the museums, the films, the disembodied voices. Consequently, the heart-shattering plea of those remaining: Hear me! See me! Notice me! Remember . . .
Yet how does that differ from the cries made by those suffering the same bigotry and hatred today? Hear me. Notice me. Remember.
Or have we failed to connect the dots between holocaust deniers and climate-change deniers and now election-results deniers? They’re plain to see. Have we failed to recognize the direct line between the blood libel and the locust-storms of lies today? Do we not recall the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” march where men chanted “Jews will not replace us!”? Can’t we understand that the small boy gazing at his Nazi torturers in the old newsreel, whispering, “You won’t be forgiven, not any of you, not ever!” is the same child as the little girl, her naked body aflame with napalm, running screaming arms spread wide down the Vietnamese street?
In 2020, the Southern Poverty Law Center first began designating hate groups under antisemitism as a subcategory within their General Hate category. Due to the number of active antisemitic groups, the distinctiveness of their ideology, and the virtual omnipresence of antisemitism across the far right, 2021 became the first year that those groups are being featured as a standalone ideology.
Moreover, antisemitism reached far beyond the confines of hate group membership in 2021. As the backbone of many political, social, and public health-related conspiracy theories, early reports on antisemitic hate crimes across the country ran high. Similarly, a recent study from the Center to Counter Digital Hate found that social media platforms failed to act on 84 percent of antisemitic posts that were flagged via the companies’ own user-reporting tools.
Throughout 2021, prominent figures on the right like Marjorie Taylor Greene and Tucker Carlson have compared COVID mask mandates to the Holocaust and the COVID-19 vaccine to “Nazi experiments.” In recent years, antisemitism has led to a deadly shooting at a Jewish market in Jersey City, New Jersey, and a hostage-taking at a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. In the January 6 attack on the Capitol, which was incited by Trump’s totally untrue claims of election fraud, numerous antisemitic slogans were on display. One protester who breached the Capitol wore a sweatshirt that read, “Camp Auschwitz,” another wore one with “Work Brings Freedom” in German–Arbeit Macht Frei–the slogan over the gate to Auschwitz. Still another rioter was seen wearing a shirt emblazoned with “6MWE,” which stands for “6 million wasn’t enough,” implying that more Jewish people should have died in the Holocaust.
We say: We’ll remember. We say: Never again.
But then we get distracted. Something minor, some conveniently dulling anesthetic (or perhaps its opposite, something melodramatic) sets us off-course–and there are so many such things, life’s full of them. Besides, a sense of self-righteous superiority feels good, rage feels good, even contempt can feel bizarrely satisfying; certainly these emotions share an energy more seductive than such comparatively delicate sentiments as compassion or empathy. So we don’t recognize it when the same masquerade presents itself differently—as in the murders of parishioners praying at Mother Immanuel Church in Charleston, South Carolina in 2015-but then we also forget when it plays out identically, as in the multiple killings at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Why? Because it’s always different and always the same. Phnom Penh, Treblinka, Rwanda, Watts, Sudan, Armenia, Bergen Belsen, Wounded Knee, Congo, Hiroshima, Bosnia, My Lai, Teheran . . . See me! Remember.
The American left often divides itself into two lazy categories. One is to embrace unthinking loyalty toward whatever the Israeli government may do simply because, well, after all it’s Israel, our friend, and besides, we still feel guilty for having turned away their refugee ships! And the other stance is perilously close to antisemitism because that promised land is not living up to its promises: e.g., the Jill Stein analysis of foreign (or for that matter domestic) affairs, is simplistic at best, moronic at worst. Or have we failed to notice that conflating Jews with Israelis does everyone a disservice?
To me, it remains an astonishment that any people who have suffered so much could ever inflict suffering on another, yet a number of visits to Palestine/Israel, and working with both Palestinian and Israeli women have taught me tragically otherwise. For example: after the shooting in the streets and men’s bodies being carted away leaving only bloodied cobblestones, women and children are forced to kneel and clean the intersection with their bare hands.
Wait. Where is this again? In the Warsaw Ghetto, scrubbing the blood of rebellious Jews? Or in the Gaza Strip, scrubbing the blood of rebellious Palestinians? I learned the first from survivors, I saw the second with my own eyes.
But I digress. I am the child of an assimilating mother and a vanished father who spent his life mourning his father, dead at the hands of the Nazis in Auschwitz. Notice me. When we see, as we do every day in our country now, the rising tide of brazenly proud Nazi graffiti, along with commonplace racist slurs and woman-hating slogans, I know enough to fear. I do study history, so I know if we are doomed to repeat it, and the reassurance for which we have fallen in the last seven or so years–reassurance from political leaders on the right, and even some on the left–does not comfort me. On the contrary, it is ominously reminiscent, even prescient, of hope encouraged in the hearts of those clutching little bars of soap for showering, en route to the gas chambers.
I Have A Dream. Si, si puerde. Yes, We Can. Keep Hope Alive. We Shall Overcome. This is still the United States of America, for all its faults and its imperfect union. What have you not done that, after the midterm elections, you might find yourself desperately wishing you had?
So, before it’s too late . . .
I’ve said it and said it and said it: vote as if your life depended on it. Because these days it actually does.
Think of it as the Jewish mezuzah or Christian crucifix or Muslim crescent or Hindu eye above your door, that protects you: then vote.
Or else, try this. Imagine the vote doesn’t exist. Nobody votes, it’s an unheard-of concept, unimagined, undreamt. Now do you want it?
Or it does exist, but only for white people, or it exists but only for male white people, or it exists but only for male white property owning people, or it exists but only for free male white property owning tax paying people, a mere 6 percent of the population, as in 1789.
Say it doesn’t exist for you because you’re Black. (In some parts of the nation, that’s still called Alabama.) Say you’re a Black male who gets the vote but then has it snatched away from him in 1792, in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Say it’s around 1828 and laws change in favor of what is termed “universal suffrage”; that sure sounds great! But oops, that’s actually “universal” for non-property holding white males, who now can vote in the majority of the states. Say it’s 1870 and Black males can now vote despite any “previous condition of servitude” — except 1) it isn’t true, and 2) it betrays all women. Say it’s 1887 and you’re a true American, a Native American, who can now finally vote–BUT only if you disassociate yourself from your tribe. Say it’s 1920 and women, more than half the population of the United States, are at last guaranteed the right to vote-—except that the same restrictions blocking non-white men from the ballot now block non-white women. Say it’s 1943 and only now do Chinese immigrants win citizenship and the right to vote. Say it’s 1948 and Arizona and New Mexico are the last states to extend voting rights to Native Americans. Say it’s 1961 and Washington DC residents can now vote for president, or it’s 1964 and the poll-tax payment is finally prohibited when voting in federal elections, or it’s 1965 when the great Voting Rights Act actually passes. Say it’s 1971 when, in response to Vietnam war protests, adults age 18-21 win the right to vote arguing that soldiers old enough to die are old enough to vote. Say 1972 residence-jurisdiction requirements are prohibited by the Supreme Court, or 1986 US military and uniformed services, merchant marine, and citizens abroad or on bases finally win the right to vote. Say that today, in 2022, felons in many states have no rights to vote, nor do young people (who are allowed to marry, drive, drink alcohol, and work) under age 18. Say that in 2013, the Supreme Court effectively gutted the 1965 Voting Rights Act, that in 2022 the Court overturned Roe v. Wade and was poised to overturn affirmative action.
See me. Hear me. Remember me.
Now vote as if your life depended on it, because it does.
Make it a value-added vote! Sure, people have already been voting, but between now and Election Day connect with one person, only one, to make sure they get to the polling place, too. See if anyone is old or ill in your building or your neighborhood and needs help getting to the polls, and if so, bring them. Don’t even think that it doesn’t matter or who cares or what can one vote do or why should I lower my self to be part of the system. You are the system and the system is what you make of it, kiddo!
So listen to the echoes of spirituals and the screams from people holding hands while water cannons are trained on them—and then teargas and truncheons and bullets; on immigrants seeking freedom and refugees seeking peace; on those who’ve been jailed and beaten, raped, force-fed, exiled, interned in camps; on those who despite being invisible built this country—its plantations, its railroads, its highways and skyscrapers, its factories and farms and Internet and Capitol and White House.
Then go vote. Remember…
VOTE BECAUSE YOUR LIFE DEPENDS ON IT.