In Pittsburgh, American Jewry Lost Its Innocence—but Not for the First Time

More than one writer and speaker commenting on the slaughter in Pittsburgh has referred to it as a “loss of innocence” for American Jews, who, supposedly, have assumed such things happen or once happened in Europe, or in Israel, but don’t happen here. But, explains Jonathan Sarna, American Jews had a similar reaction in 1958 after a bomb equivalent to 50 sticks of dynamite—likely planted by anti-Semitic opponents of desegregation—destroyed a synagogue in Atlanta, even though there had been at least a half-dozen bombings or attempted bombings of Jewish sites in the South during the previous twelve months. To Sarna, these expressions of astonishment that “it can happen here” are a perennial feature of American Jewish life. He urges a sense of perspective:

Previous generations of young American Jews have experienced the same “loss of innocence” now being witnessed in the wake of Pittsburgh. For example, back in the late 19th century, when the term “anti-Semitism” first took root and American Jews experienced heightened social discrimination, many a young Jew despaired at how conditions in their new homeland had unexpectedly deteriorated. . . .

Prudent as it is for Jews to be circumspect given what has occurred, it nevertheless bears recalling that critical factors still distinguish America from other diaspora countries where Jews have lived. . . . In America, [first of all], Jews have always been able to fight back against anti-Semitism freely. Never having received their emancipation as an “award” (which was the case in Europe), Jews have had no fears of losing it. Instead, from the beginning, they made full use of their freedom, especially freedom of speech. As early as 1784, a “Jew broker,” probably the famed Revolutionary-era Jewish bond dealer, Haym Salomon, responded publicly and forcefully to the anti-Semitic charges of a prominent Quaker lawyer, not hesitating to remind him that his “own religious sectary” could also form “very proper subjects of criticism and animadversion.” . . .

American anti-Semitism has always had to compete with other forms of animus. . . . Precisely because the objects of hatred have been so varied, hatred has generally been diffuse. No one outgroup experiences the full brunt of national odium. [Finally], America’s religious tradition—what has been called “the great tradition of the American churches”—is inhospitable to anti-Semitism.

Of course, the fact that America has been “exceptional” in relation to Jews should not obscure the sad reality that there has always been anti-Semitism in America, as well as violence directed against other minority faiths. That history, as I read it, gives cause neither for undue celebration nor for undue alarm.

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More about: American Jewish History, American Jewry, Anti-Semitism, History & Ideas

Palestinian Leaders Fight Economic Growth

Jan. 15 2019

This month, a new shopping mall opened in northeastern Jerusalem, easily accessible to most of the city’s Arab residents. Rami Levy, the supermarket magnate who owns the mall, already employs some 2,000 Israeli Arabs and Palestinians at his other stores, and the mall will no doubt bring more jobs to Arab Jerusalemites. But the leaders of the Palestinian Authority (PA) are railing against it, and one newspaper calls its opening “an economic catastrophe [nakba].” Bassam Tawil writes:

For [the PA president] Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah officials . . . the image of Palestinians and Jews working in harmony is loathsome. . . . Instead of welcoming the inauguration of the shopping mall for providing job opportunities to dozens of Palestinians and lower prices [to consumers], Fatah officials are taking about an Israeli plan to “undermine” the Palestinian economy. . . . The hundreds of Palestinians who flooded the new mall on its first day, however, seem to disagree with the grim picture painted by [these officials]. . . .

The campaign of incitement against Levy’s shopping mall began several months ago, as it was being built, and has continued until today. Now that the campaign has failed to prevent the opening of the mall, Fatah and its followers have turned to outright threats and violence. The threats are being directed toward Palestinian shoppers and Palestinian merchants who rented space in the new mall. On the day the mall was opened, Palestinians threw a number of firebombs at the compound, [which] could have injured or killed Palestinians. The [bomb-throwers], who are believed to be affiliated with Fatah, would rather see their own people dead than having fun or buying attractively-priced products at an Israeli mall.

By spearheading this campaign of incitement and intimidation, Abbas’s Fatah is again showing its true colors. How is it possible to imagine that Abbas or any of his Fatah lieutenants would ever make peace with Israel when they cannot even tolerate the idea of Palestinians and Jews working together for a simple common good? If a Palestinian who buys Israeli milk is a traitor in the eyes of Fatah, it is not difficult to imagine the fate of any Palestinian who would dare to discuss compromise with Israel.

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More about: East Jerusalem, Israeli Arabs, Mahmoud Abbas, Palestinian Authority, Palestinian economy