Anti-Semitism in America?

The News Blog suggests that Mel Gibson’s anti-Semitic rant is one of the top ten stories of 2006:

"Americans like to pretend that racism, and anti-semitism is part of the past. Mel Gibson, despite being the son of one of America’s most prominent Holocaust deniers, hid it well over the years. Then he slipped and the mask came off. Hollywood kept it secrets well. Until this year."

I had my own interesting little brush with American anti-Semitism recently.  A few weeks ago, a reporter from the Toledo Blade called me to ask me what I thought, as a leader in the Jewish community about an anti-Semitic expression used by a public official in one of Toledo’s suburbs.  Perrysburg Township Trustee Gary Britten suggested that the deputy fire chief should try to "Jew down" a vendor when buying some equipment.

Naturally, I thought that using the word "Jew" in that fashion is utterly inappropriate, especially for a public official in a public meeting.  The Blade ran an article pointing out how clueless said public official is, which you can read here

What makes the story interesting is that this is not where it stops.  I got an email from a member of my flying club that was very irate, saying I had a lot of nerve to suggest someone should apologize for an anti-Semitic remark, when I had done something which he felt I owed the flying club an apology for.  Talk about a non-sequitur!

Then the letters to the editor began to appear (click on the link and scroll down to read them).  One person wrote to say "My head hurts. Now we have a rabbi whining about Gary Britten in Perrysburg being insensitive. Poor baby. Give me a break would you?"  The author, one Jason Craig, concludes "The one who seems clueless is the rabbi. Only a person who is looking for attention and confrontation would consider that remark insensitive. Any clear-thinking intelligent human would be able to acknowledge it as a "figure of speech." Get over yourself."

Wow!  To start with, I was not looking for attention or confrontation.  The Blade called me, I did not call them.  To "Jew someone down" may be a figure of speech; but so is "there’s a nigger in the woodshed," and presumably Mr. Britten would know better than to use THAT one in public!

To their credit, the Blade ran an editorial piece, which you can read here emphasizing just why Mr. Britten needs some "sensitivity training."

To combat racism, anti-Semitism, and other ugly forms of prejudice requires that we have a "zero-tolerance" policy for biased and bigoted remarks.  If we are to teach our children to have respect for people of all races and religions, we have to show that we respect people of all races and religions.

It’s disappointing to me that you don’t have to dig very deep to find anti-Semitism in America.  The battle to end discrimination of all sorts in this country is far from over.

Reb Barry


Barry Leff

Rabbi Barry (Baruch) Leff is a dual Israeli-American business executive, teacher, speaker and writer who divides his time between Israel and the US.

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