Religion and Anti-Semitism in Contemporary Society

By Robbie Pleasant

I was reading the news on Yahoo when I came across a disturbing article. The new Alabama governor, Robert Bentley, announced in his inaugural speech, “Anybody here today who has not accepted Jesus Christ as their savior, I’m telling you, you’re not my brother and you’re not my sister.” As if that weren’t shocking enough, I foolishly decided to view the comments and almost immediately came upon one claiming that “Jews are a hate-filled people.” While the internet is an open forum, making it easy to find posts from racists, idiots, or trolls, the article and comment still raise an important question about the role of religion and discrimination in our society.

Despite claims by political radio and television stations of living in a post-racial society, a look outside the suburban bubble proves that this is far from the truth. People who insist that racism has ended point to President Barack Obama and say, “You see? A black man is president, that means racism is over.” But in doing so they ignore not only the racist remarks that are directed at him, but also acts of discrimination towards other minorities. Ignoring a problem by considering it a thing of the past does not make it go away; it makes it easier to sweep under the rug and turn a blind eye to all the hate that still exists. That is to say, I’ll see your President Obama and raise you Mel Gibson’s drunken tirade about Jews controlling Hollywood.

Naturally, the easiest way to find anti-Semitism today is to look overseas at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Hamas has made it quite clear, both through their open declarations (such as in March of last year) and their mission statement that they would like nothing more than to wipe out the Jewish people not only from Israel, but from the entire world. In another instance of contemporary discrimination, the Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad continues to deny that the Holocaust ever happened. However, we can also look closer to home; there are examples of anti-Semitism even in the United States.

Due to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, anti-Israeli views often manifest as anti-Semitism. The actions of Israel, a Jewish nation, are sometimes perceived as the actions of the Jewish people as a whole, leading people to believe that disliking Israel means disliking all Jews. Naturally, hate groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and the Westboro Baptist Church still exist and spout hate speech. But then, they hate everyone who isn’t their own race, religion, sexuality really anyone different from them at all.

It’s probably topical that I bring up Sarah Palin’s Blood Libel comments, in which she referred to insinuations that she or other right-wing figures have incited violence as a blood libel against them. That remark received quite an uproar from the Jewish community, as the blood libels were slander used to demonize Jews, claiming that the blood of Christian children was a matzo ingredient, that Jews had horns, and other such lies. However, insensitive as her remarks were, I do not believe she was being intentionally anti-Semitic, and instead failed to understand the meaning of the term. In other words, she wasn’t being malicious, just stupid.

Have I ever been the victim of anti-Semitism? Not intentionally, but there have been times when a joke goes too far. When I was trying to find a classmate’s house, he thought it would be funny to leave a trail of pennies leading to the door so that I could tell which one was his, I won’t deny that I thought it was funny too. But as I have had to remind that same classmate before, simply calling someone a stupid Jew is not funny (unless you happen to be South Park’s Eric Cartman, who is not a character to be emulated anyway). For example, there’s Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Throw the Jew Down the Well” song,which he managed to get an entire bar singing about drowning Jews. While Cohen is a Jewish comedian, he used that song to prove how easy it is for people to lapse into racist moments without realizing what they’re doing. The problem with believing you’re beyond racism is that it sometimes makes it easy to be unintentionally racist.

There’s no denying that society has come a long way, and is more accepting to different religions, cultures, and races than it was decades ago. It took a few struggles for civil rights to get there, but now people can vote regardless of race or gender. Still, it is important that we, as a society, don’t ignore these problems when they appear, because pretending racism and anti-Semitism don’t exist will not make them go away. I believe that most people mean well and are accepting of people regardless of their differences. Yet there are still those who are willing to say Jews are a hate-filled people or throw around ethnic slurs like a hot potato. Instead of ignoring racism where it appears and pretending it doesn’t exist, we must continue to work towards a future where we do not need to ignore racism, because it’s nowhere to be found.

Published on page 15 of the Winter 2011 issue of Leviathan.

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