by Bill Onasch
We Should All Be Jews
American Jews have never been restricted to walled ghettos, nor have they suffered mass pogroms such as in Czarist Russia, or horrors like the Nazi holocaust. That’s why so many chose to immigrate to North America.
That doesn’t mean the New World has been free of pernicious anti-Semitism in many forms. In the 1930s many prominent Americans–such as Henry Ford and Charles Lindbergh–openly admired Hitler and his views on Jews. Bipartisan anti-Semitism among politicians was so prevalent that, except for some renowned scientists like Einstein, nearly all applications for Jewish immigration from Nazi Germany while that was still possible were denied by the Roosevelt administration.
In my home town, JC Nichols, Kansas City’s most prominent home builder in the last century, is memorialized on streets, fountains, university buildings and shopping districts. Few know Nichols inserted restrictive covenants in to property deeds forbidding their resale or rental to Jews as well as Blacks.
Jewish youth were long banned from using YMCA facilities so the YMHA and YWHA had to be established. Those evolved in to today’s Jewish Community Center, recently a focus of national headlines. The Jewish community also built Menorah Hospital and Beth Shalom retirement center out of a need for self-reliance–though such facilities have been open to gentiles as well. Even prosperous Jews had to start their own country club because others would not accept them.
From the Fourth Grade on, I have often lived among–and sometimes with–Jews. Early on, I got a chance to learn something about the culture of Jewish neighbors and classmates and in the process saw how bogus were some of the myths widely believed by the goyim. I encountered a big enough sample size in school to discount the stereotype that all Jews were smart. Nor were they all rich–most of their parents had incomes no better than my dad earned cutting meat. Unlike Christian acquaintances, none of them ever tried to convert me to their faith. In fact, some were not all that religious themselves.
In later years I came to meet those who would fit Issac Deutscher’s self-description of the “non-Jewish Jew,”
“Religion? I am an atheist. Jewish nationalism? I am an internationalist. In neither sense am I therefore a Jew. I am, however, a Jew by force of my unconditional solidarity with the persecuted and exterminated. I am a Jew because I feel the pulse of Jewish history; because I should like to do all I can to assure the real, not spurious, security and self-respect of the Jews.”
Stereotypes are not inherently bad but those often exaggerated, even contradictory ones used to describe Jews seldom hold up–and they often mask a bigotry calculated to divide and subjugate. They show up in distorted forms in surprising and disturbing places.
I recall a three-way conversation, after a meeting around the time of the passage of NAFTA, with a then prominent militant public sector union leader, along with a friend who is a labor educator. The unionist explained to both my Jewish friend and me how NAFTA was all part of a conspiracy of the Jewish bankers to control the world. It wasn’t the first time either of us had heard this–and it wouldn’t be the last.
Of course, for historical reasons, the number of Jewish bankers exceeds the Jewish share of the population. But today they don’t operate on safe and sound Talmudic investment guides. Just like their gentile colleagues, they take risks with other people’s money confident that they are too big to fail. The outright crooked ones–such as Bernie Madoff–often victimize fellow Jews and Jewish institutions.
Hitler, of course, railed against Jewish bankers during his rise to power–but he also blamed Jews for the evil of Bolshevism that Nazis were dedicated to destroy. He could cite such examples as Karl Marx, Rosa Luxemburg and Leon Trotsky as ethnic Jews determined to overthrow capitalism.
The union leader was right to see the banker component of the ruling class as our enemy. But residual anti-Semitism had diverted him from a clear class perspective to one of divisive ethnic bigotry.
American anti-Semitism is trending again because of the fatal shootings last Sunday at the Jewish Community Center, and Beth Shalom retirement center, in suburban Kansas City. The shooter, 73 year old Frazier Glenn Cross, alias F Glenn Miller, has amassed quite a resume since being discharged from the US Army in 1978.
A one time Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, he was busted in a raid on a stockpile of weapons stolen from the Army for use by a “militia.” In exchange for a lighter sentence, he ratted on his comrades and was put in a witness protection program giving him a fresh start in rural southwest Missouri. He self-published his own Mein Kampf, founded a White Patriot Party, and won a court order forcing radio stations to carry racist, anti-Semitic ads for a write-in election campaign. As the gunman surrendered to Overland Park Police last Sunday he shouted “Heil Hitler!” His intention was to go out in a burst of glory killing Jews. Apparently unaware of the ecumenical character of both venues he actually murdered two Methodists and a Catholic.
In recent decades, such violent attacks aimed at American Jews have been relatively rare and carried out by mentally unstable loner fanatics. They need to be taken seriously. There is a high traffic website, stormfront, dedicated to a broad range of hate crime. Their Internet chatter helped inspire and instruct visitors such as Anders Behring Breivik, who fatally shot 77 Norwegian social democratic youth at a picnic, and Wade Michael Page, the killer of six people at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin. F Glenn Miller was a frequent site customer as well.
But while these psychopaths are a threat that can’t be ignored they don’t represent insurgent fascism. The ruling class supports such movements–as they did in the 1930s in Germany, Italy, and Spain–only as a last resort, when threatened by worker rebellion. With mixed feelings, we can say with assurance such threat is not perceived in the USA today. If and when it may develop, American fascism won’t be built by people wearing bed sheets or giving Heil Hitler salutes.
The Nazis came to power in Germany while still a minority based on hate and despair only because the working class was divided and fighting among themselves. We can make sure that doesn’t happen here by rebuilding working class identity and class unity. Anti-Semitism–like anti-Islam, skin color, and immigrant hatred, as well as gender subjugation and homophobia–is not just a problem for targeted victims. It is a threat to all working people. In this country, when the anti-Semitic scum emerges from the sewer to corrode our solidarity the working class should answer–we are all Jews.
What Should Be Our Minimum Requirement?
Minnesota union officials were ecstatic when Democrat Governor Mark Dayton signed a bill that will raise the state minimum wage to 9.50 an hour by 2016. They called on McDonald’s and other fast food employers not to wait but to immediately implement 9.50. In so doing, they undercut the popular demand by the fast food workers themselves–fifteen and a union now.
The AFL-CIO put a bus on the road promoting a national minimum hike and they too gave fifteen short shrift. They follow the marching orders of their “friend” in the White House who thinks 10.10 an hour is about right.
I’m sure the working poor will find immediate good use for any raise. But they will not be satisfied with just being able to afford both rent and bus fare for a change–and neither should we. The minimum wage should be enough to lift all out of the working poor category and to do that takes at least fifteen.
Shamus Cooke, a Portland, Oregon union and solidarity activist, has an excellent article on the Labor Notes site describing the impressive local and state movements for fifteen–appropriately titled More Seattles, Please. You should check it out.
* An e-mail blast from Kansas City Jobs with Justice says, “The hardworking SEIU Local 1 members at the KCMO School District are in a fight for their livelihoods. Custodians are at risk of losing their jobs to outsourcing. Cafeteria workers are threatened with losing their quality full time positions to part time positions. Maintenance workers are facing reorganization that threatens their safety and places everyone at risk.” There will be a solidarity support action outside the School Board meeting this Wednesday, April 23, 6:15PM, at 1211 McGee.
* From an AP dispatch, “A strike at the Chinese factories of the world’s biggest athletic shoe maker snowballed Thursday to about 30,000 workers, a labor group said, making it one of the largest-ever work stoppages at a private business in China. Workers in the southern city of Dongguan want Taiwanese-owned Yu Yuen Industrial (Holdings) Ltd., which makes shoes for companies such as Nike and Adidas, to make social security contributions required by Chinese law and meet other demands. They’ve been striking in increasing numbers in on-and-off stoppages since April 5. The strike at a massive 10-factory complex is the latest in a wave of unrest at factories in China, where labor shortages and a rising cost of living have made the migrant workers from the countryside who keep Chinese industry running increasingly assertive.”
* Chicago Tribune reports, “The University of Illinois at Chicago faculty union reached a tentative contract agreement today with the campus administration, averting a strike that had been scheduled for next week. The union said the three-year deal, which covers the past two years and extends through August 2015, is better than the university’s last offer from earlier this month. The union, UIC United Faculty, said it will share contact details at membership meetings beginning Tuesday, and members will have until next Friday to vote on it. The two sides had been at odds over pay increases, minimum salaries and other issues such as the grievance and tenure processes.” The union, which won certification two years ago, represents 1,150 tenured and nontenured faculty members in two bargaining units.
Much more news of interest was also posted on our companion Labor Advocate news blog.
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