Pernicious Attempt To Brand Protest as Anti-Semitic

GOP Tries To Raise Campaign Bucks by Tarring Occupy Wall Street

By Eric Alterman

Published October 28, 2011, issue of November 04, 2011.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Is the Jewish congressional representative from heavily Jewish Long Island, Steve Israel, “standing with those calling for the killing of Jews”? Does the Jewish representative from heavily Jewish Florida, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, “agree with various calls for Jews to be ‘run out of the country’ and to oppose and ‘destroy’ the State of Israel”?

Sean Spicer, who holds the title of communications director of the Republican National Committee, apparently thinks these are reasonable questions. Or perhaps he merely thinks that some Jews are sufficiently stupid to think that they might be. But most likely, he thinks that if he can tar the protesters at Occupy Wall Street with the taint of these anti-Semitic statements, and condemn certain Democrats as guilty by association, he can gin up contributions to the Republican Party as he simultaneously weakens Jews’ instinctive identification with the Democratic Party.

Spicer is joined in this effort by something called the Emergency Committee for Israel, a group co-founded by neoconservative William Kristol, conservative Christian agitator Gary Bauer and Rachel Abrams, wife of disgraced neoconservative politico Elliott Abrams (convicted of lying to Congress during the Reagan administration), daughter of neoconservative activist Midge Decter and stepdaughter of Decter’s husband, former Commentary editor Norman Podhoretz. They have produced and distributed a video that asks, “What is happening at the Occupy Wall Street protests?” only to cut to a gentleman who is holding a “Hitler’s Bankers” sign and can be seen screaming, “Jews control Wall Street.” This is followed by a shot of a nasty kid shouting at a Jewish man, “You’re a bum, Jew,” with another protester explaining that “the small ethnic Jewish population in this country, they have a firm grip on America’s media.

Interestingly, none of the above comments pertains to any Israeli emergencies, but let’s leave that aside for the moment. Clearly, conservatives both in and outside the Republican Party believe they see an opportunity to score political points with Jews by pretending that the Occupy Wall Street protests are shot through with anti-Semitism.

This is obviously false, and one suspects that the Jews are not so thick as to fail to notice it. When neoconservative (and former managing editor of the Forward) Ira Stoll took a stroll through the march after attending Occupy Simchat Torah services across the street with a yarmulke on, he was greeted by nothing but friendly responses. I enjoyed much the same experience after my family and I attended an extremely moving Occupy Kol Nidre service. In order to try to tar OWS as his comrades had, Stoll was forced to turn completely to the conditional tense, as in, “If the Occupy Wall Street movement does turn against the Jews…” it would resemble, in his opinion, America’s civil rights movement, the anti-war movement and perhaps even the Bolshevik Revolution. (I swear I am not making this up: “In the Soviet example, there were communists with Jewish backgrounds, but they eventually turned violently on the Jews in the Soviet Union,” Stoll writes on his blog, Future of Capitalism. “Here in New York, there are Jews both among the bankers and among the protesters against the bankers….”)

That the anti-Semitism charge against OWS is errant nonsense is evidenced by the fact that not even Abraham Foxman and his organization, the Anti-Defamation League, will sign on. Evidencing again the intellectual confusion that lies at the center of this misguided effort, Commentary’s Matthew Ackerman is worried that the movement is too Jewish. Rarely, he wrote, “has a movement so radical in its aims been tied so explicitly to a religious tradition….” And I suppose this, too, will somehow provide aid and comfort to the anti-Semites.

Conservatives, whether neo or otherwise, obviously believe they have cleverly seized a political opportunity with their neo-McCarthyite tactics, tactics that served them well when they sought to smear the opposition to George W. Bush’s disastrous war in Iraq with the insistence that its opponents were somehow responsible for the views of every nutty organization that joined its protest marches. Given OWS’s purposefully inchoate organizational structure — to say nothing of the heavy participation of proud and committed Jews — this latest effort takes on some of the absurdity of a Monty Python sketch. The fact that a few anti-Semites have congregated among the protesters is no more significant than the fact that they also tend to congregate in Times Square or Grand Central Station, often operating on orders from space aliens who send them messages through the fillings in their teeth. Should Jewish Democrats condemn them, as well? You can find anti-Semitism in a lot of places: on Fox News, in National Review, at Mel Gibson’s house. And conservatives seem to get on pretty well with those folk. The question to ask about anti-Semitism is not whether it exists, but whether its existence has any significant political or cultural implications.

Regarding OWS, much less the Democratic Party, the crazies with the silly signs are easily ignorable. Despite the worries of those like Stoll, this movement is not going to turn on Jews any more than it is going to storm the Tsar’s Winter Palace. But the recklessness of these conservative agitators to agitate against an obviously nonexistent threat can only backfire. It’s not that I worry that genuine anti-Semites will be let off the hook; I don’t think anti-Semitism has any significant following in the United States or enjoys any cache whatsoever, save in certain swamps where all forms of prejudice and xenophobia — like, for instance, Michele Bachmann/Rick Perry-style “birtherism” — also thrive. Rather the problem is that these Jews give gentiles the impression that everything has to be about them. The vast majority of Americans support the goals of OWS, according to all recent polling. The problems of “the 99% ”are clearly occupying the minds of millions of Americans, even if these people chose not to occupy Wall Street or their local bank plaza. If conservatives insist that these groups should be shunned because they can pick out a few possibly anti-Semitic crazies in the group, then wouldn’t it be fair for the rest of America to conclude that these people are willing to put their own narrow political agenda ahead of the good of the entire country?

And would they be entirely wrong?

Eric Alterman is a CUNY distinguished professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and at the City of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism. He also writes a column for The Nation.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • Not a gazillionaire? Take the "poor door."
  • "We will do what we must to protect our people. We have that right. We are not less deserving of life and quiet than anyone else. No more apologies."
  • "Woody Allen should have quit while he was ahead." Ezra Glinter's review of "Magic in the Moonlight": http://jd.fo/f4Q1Q
  • Jon Stewart responds to his critics: “Look, obviously there are many strong opinions on this. But just merely mentioning Israel or questioning in any way the effectiveness or humanity of Israel’s policies is not the same thing as being pro-Hamas.”
  • "My bat mitzvah party took place in our living room. There were only a few Jewish kids there, and only one from my Sunday school class. She sat in the corner, wearing the right clothes, asking her mom when they could go." The latest in our Promised Lands series — what state should we visit next?
  • Former Israeli National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror: “A cease-fire will mean that anytime Hamas wants to fight it can. Occupation of Gaza will bring longer-term quiet, but the price will be very high.” What do you think?
  • Should couples sign a pre-pregnancy contract, outlining how caring for the infant will be equally divided between the two parties involved? Just think of it as a ketubah for expectant parents:
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.