As the World Jewish Congress prepares to convene in Budapest, Paul Berger covers the increasingly hostile conditions under which Hungarian Jews — one of the largest Jewish communities in Europe with an estimated population of around 85,000 recorded in 2012 — are forced to reside.
Primarily, the problem in Hungary is a political problem. With an unemployment rate of over 11 percent and low economic growth, the electoral success of the fascistic Jobbik movement, and an annual rise in recorded hate crimes last year, the European faultlines of economic malaise, political extremism, and the persecution of immigrants and minorities are meeting in Hungary with troubling consequences.
Fidesz, the ruling political party, has since 2010 set about trying to concentrate authority in the parliament in which it has been able to muster a supermajority, taking powers of oversight away from the other organs of government. Recent constitutional amendments passed this year included limiting the power of the country’s Constitutional Court to strike down any laws passed by a two-thirds majority, castrating the court and allowing to rule out on procedural matters. The retirement age for judges was also lowered in an attempt to weed out uncooperative justices.
Other provisions restricted the liberty of the individual to work, travel, and marry. Students whose college education is subsidised by the state are required to work in Hungary for a certain period of time after graduation, while others who elect to move abroad now have to pay back the value of that subsidy. The law now also gives preference to traditional family relationships, in other words those between one man and one woman with children. At the behest of the European Union, a provision allowing only public media to broadcast political advertising before general and European elections was amended.
Oberlin College is not the first place that comes to mind as a hotbed of racism and anti-Semitism.
Yet as an unsettling wave of hate has thrust the Ohio liberal arts school into the national spotlight, its Jewish community has spoken out and sought to use the incidents to build bridges across the campus.
Jews, who make up about a quarter of Oberlin’s student population, were stunned when swastikas appeared on campus building. But some saw an even greater physical threat to black and other minority students when a person dressed in a Ku Klux Klan outfit was allegedly sighted outside college’s Afrikan Heritage House.
“As a Jew, to see a swastika plastered across a building on campus is an incredibly traumatic moment,” Zachary Pekarsky, 22, former leader of the college’s Hillel group, told a campus rally this week. But it’s more complicated than that, he continued. “The vast majority of Jews have incredible privilege, and come from an incredible place of entitlement. I don’t want these two truths to contradict each other.”
The packed audience hollered and cheered.
The sighting of the alleged KKK figure was the latest in what the historically-liberal Ohio college has called “hate-related incidents.” They have included graffiti swastikas and the N-word as well as the phrase “whites only” written above water fountains. ATwitter feed was set up depicting college president Marvin Krislov dressed as Adolf Hitler.
Watching gagmeister Seth MacFarlane’s off-color, take-no-prisoners performance as host of the Oscars on Sunday night and then observing public and press reactions afterward, two things become clear. The first is that a half-century after the Civil Rights revolution and 42 years after the debut of “All in the Family,” Americans are still hopelessly divided on the limits of propriety in ethnic and other stereotypes in our humor. Second, none of us has much of a handle on exactly what bothers us when, and where the line should be drawn, if at all.
I was thinking of clearing the whole thing up for you this evening, but I have to run to a dinner date, so I will limit myself to three key observations.
No. 1. Most of the public seems to consider MacFarlane’s jabs as a package—that is, they tend to find his jokes either wholly tolerable (or, to some, very funny) or wholly offensive. Most commentators saw no reason to distinguish between the adolescent lewdness of his song-and-dance number about women’s breasts, his nasty jabs at Jean Dujardin, Chris Brown and Rihanna, his racial insults of Denzel Washington and Eddie Murphy, his morbid Abraham Lincoln joke and the shocking bit about Jews running Hollywood. Either you liked the stuff or you didn’t. Either way, you knew what you were getting when they hired the creator of “Family Guy,” and you sure got it. (For the record, I’m a fan.)
Except for one segment of the public. Many next-day commentators in the Jewish community singled out his Jews-run-Hollywood bit as being beyond the pale of decency, while his other routines were presumably run-of-the-mill, take-it-or-leave-it bits of “Family Guy” tastelessness. In case you missed it, you can watch the clip after the jump.
When it comes to cartoons, it’s usually Muslim fundamentalists that throw hissy fits. But, in a turn of events, some of our storied communal defenders, Abraham Foxman and Marvin Hier among them, have been taking the lead. Indiscriminately tossing around accusations of anti-Semitism, our fearless leaders have attacked at least three editorial cartoonists over the past few months on charges that they have defamed the Jewish people.
Representing important institutions, you’d think that Foxman, of the Anti-Defamation League, and Hier, who represents the Simon Wiesenthal Center, might have figured out how to differentiate an anti-Semitic cartoon from an editorial cartoon that criticizes Israeli policy. Although both are undoubtedly experts on anti-Semitism, they both seem to take leave of their senses when it comes to criticism of Israel. And yet both claim to be ardent supporters of free speech. Except when it comes to that one thing, that Israel thing.
So when the London Times published a cartoon showing Benjamin Netanyahu cementing Palestinians between bricks of a wall, it was a perfect opportunity for Foxman to pipe up, accusing the cartoonist of evoking the blood libel. Britain’s Chief Rabbi opined that the cartoon caused “immense pain to the Jewish community in the UK and around the world.” The Israeli ambassador to Britain, who also chimed in on behalf of the International Jewry, argued that the cartoon added insult to injury, as it was published on European Holocaust Memorial Day.
Okay, so the cartoon and its timing were a bit ham-handed, for which Acting Editor of The Sunday Times Martin Ivens apologized. Gerald Scarfe, who has been visually excoriating British politicians since the late 1960s, was the artist behind Pink Floyd’s, The Wall. It appears, walls are, when all else fails, his fallback metaphor.
Sure, his cartoon wall dripping with Palestinian blood references the separation wall, which incidentally, isn’t particularly newsworthy right now, so it doubles as a symbol of Netanyahu’s recalcitrance vis-à-vis the peace process and how it crushes Palestinian life. Netanyahu comes in for some harsh criticism here, but so do all the other public figures Scarfe has drawn over the years. In fact, compared to Margaret Thatcher, Bibi gets off easy. It’s an obnoxious cartoon, but it’s not anti-Semitic. It’s also been removed from the Times website.
A delegation of American senators met earlier this month in Cairo with a spokesperson for Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, according to the New York Times. The spokesperson clarified press accounts of Mr. Morsi’s recent description of Jews as “bloodsuckers,” “pigs” and “dogs.” The remarks, he explained, were “taken out of context.” The senators left the meeting “feeling as if Mr Morsi had addressed the issue,” according to the report.
In order to place the Egyptian spokesperson’s remarks in context, a ramble across past and present might be in order so as to uncover other examples of remarks being similarly “taken out of context.”
• Meeting on the beach outside besieged Troy with Greek bards, a spokesperson for mythical hero Achilles discussed a recent exchange he had with King Agamemnon over a war prize. Forced by Agamemnon to turn over the booty, god-like Achilles informed his commander that he was “a dog-faced, staggering drunk who was the most shameless, cowardly and grasping man alive.” He quit the army and retired to his tent.
When a bard asked for a clarification of the swift-footed warrior’s remarks, the spokesperson grabbed a spear and ran him through as rosy-fingered dawn appeared over the wine dark sea. The other bards felt as if Achilles had addressed the issue. (The prize, Chryseis, whose father was employed by Apollo as his priest, had no say in the matter.)
• Meeting with a single English reporter on the god-forsaken volcanic rock called Saint Helena, Napoleon Bonaparte, the recently retired Emperor of the French, was asked to clarify a remark he made about his former minister Charles Talleyrand, describing him as a “serving of s— in a silk stocking.”
For a cartoonist, how to say “Jews are controlling international affairs” without actually having to say it?
Well, the creation of Israel has made it very easy in this regard. Just replace ‘Jews’ with ‘the Israel lobby’ (or ‘Israel’ itself) and substitute ‘the United States’ or maybe ‘the United Nations’ for the usual ‘international government’ or ‘global finance’, and you’re good to go. And, if you can throw in an image of a prominent Israeli looming large over the scene, perhaps controlling world events as a puppeteer might work his instruments, even better.
The Guardian’s Steve Bell in today’s paper has done just that. His creation portrays an oversized, slightly hunched image of Benjamin Netanyahu, flanked by a phalanx of rockets decked in the blue and white of the Israeli flag, standing at a lectern with his hands mastering two small dolls. On the left is William Hague, the United Kingdom’s Foreign Secretary who has said that Hamas bears the “principle responsibility” for ending the violence in the region, and Tony Blair, the Middle East Peace Envoy for the Quartet, on the right.
Bell’s canard has been swiftly condemned. The Community Security Trust – the organisation responsible for the protection of the UK’s Jewish community – stated, “What is striking about Bell’s cartoon is that he seems to have reached for the ‘puppeteer’ trope to explain that fact that William Hague’s statement on the conflict was presumably not critical enough of Israel for his liking, as if this is the most plausible explanation for Hague’s view.” The Jewish Chronicle is reporting that the barrister Jeremy Brier has already lodged a complaint with the Press Complaints Commission, labelling the drawing “plainly anti-Semitic.”
Anywhere else, the desecration of 20 Jewish graves might have registered as a blip, another anti-Semitic act in an otherwise tranquil place with a miniscule Jewish population.
But here in New Zealand, the incident has shaken up a nation that prides itself on openness —and sparked an intensive round of national soul-searching.
The vandalism itself took place the day I arrived in Auckland for a two-week assignment. The days that followed brought predictable rounds of outrage from government officials and community leaders. Auckland Mayor Len Brown said the attack was “abhorrent,” according to the New Zealand Herald, the nation’s largest daily. “This kind of vandalism has no place in our city…The council and the local board are taking steps to improve the environment in this cemetery and prevent further such attacks.”
What I didn’t expect was outraged editorials in Kiwi newspapers in small municipalities far from Auckland, or multicultural protests against right-wing violence in response to the desecration.
Remember this guy? The one who stood in front of Occupy Wall Street protests with the sign “Google: Zionists Control Wall St.”?
Well, he’s back, and he may have moved on from anti-Semitic canards to pop culture. Now he wants us to Google: “Lady Gaga Demonic.”
You read that right. Your guess is as good as mine.
The placard-bearer, who identified himself as Dave Smith in an October interview with Salon, was no joke last fall. His “Zionists Control Wall St.” sign was a key exhibit in the argument that the Occupy movement was rife with anti-Semitism. He was featured in at least half of the clips of purported anti-Semites at Occupy Wall Street in a video produced by the Emergency Committee for Israel that slammed key Democrats for professing their support for Occupy activists. Pictures of him turned up everywhere, and his sign was the subject of news coverage.
Occupy activists took to standing next to Smith with signs disavowing his message, and on at least one occasion in September actually chased him out of their protest.
Be your own anti-Semitic hall monitor!
In the wake of the recent debate over a biting cartoon aimed at Benjamin Netanyahu, Occupy Judaism’s resident technologist, Dan Sieradski has created antisemiticornot.com. It’s a tongue-in-cheek site that allows users to post and vote on figures, organizations or concepts that may or may not be considered anti-Semitic.
According to Sieradski, “Our goal is to entertain while taking the piss out of self-appointed Jewish leaders who deem themselves the sole arbiters of anti-Semitism and often pursue fallacious accusations in order to advance their institutions’ own economic interests. We are appalled by genuine anti-Semitism, but we are equally appalled when allegations of anti-Semitism are disingenuously trumped up, as it dilutes the meaning of the term and makes dismissal of real anti-Semitism that much more likely.”
Do you have a favorite alleged anti-Semite you’d like to see judged in a public forum? Want to help decide whether Michael Jackson, Ron Paul, or Quark the Ferengi are truly anti-Semites? Then head over to antisemiticornot.com and help democratize the monitoring process.
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