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August 31, 2015 / 16 Elul, 5775
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Troubling Signs In Zuccotti Park


There is an element in the Occupy Wall Street movement that should concern the Jewish community. It is not that this so-called people’s protest against alleged corporate greed and banking industry excess has become defined by several anti-Semitic signs in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park and some movement-related videos that have surfaced. It hasn’t.

Rather, the cause for concern comes from the cavalier attitude displayed by protest organizers, as well as pubic officials who have endorsed the movement, to the apparent anti-Jewish and anti-Israel impulses of at least some of the protesters.

Indeed, there has been no effort we have seen to make the point that anti-Semitism is not part of the movement’s message even as some are trying to make it so. The sad truth is that anti-Semitism has all too often been a factor in anti-capitalist movements and has led to great tragedy. We have learned that the phenomenon must always be taken seriously.

Yet prominent Democrats like President Obama and former House speaker Nancy Pelosi have publicly expressed support for Occupy Wall Street while ignoring the anti-Semitic placards and statements that have increasingly been a subject of conversation among columnists and in the blogosphere.

It was not too long ago that the newly emergent Tea Party was accused of racism by liberal pundits and Democratic Party officials – based on signs and comments that were far more vague and insubstantial than what has been seen and heard from the Occupy Wall Street crowd.

Occupy Wall Street seems to be getting a pass from the mainstream media and elected officials alike.

The New York Times’s Joseph Berger, for example, seemed to pooh-pooh fears of anti-Semitism, writing last Friday:

 

Among the hodgepodge of signs that have sprouted in Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, one man in jeans and a baseball cap has been carrying placards that shout their suggestions: “Google: Jewish Billionaires” and “Google: Zionists control Wall St.”

At the same time, among the sea of tarps under which protesters have been sleeping, a sukkah, a makeshift hut, was erected to celebrate the Jewish holiday of Sukkot….

The protesters, clustered together in a kind of ad hoc Athenian democracy in the canyons of Lower Manhattan, firmly deny that their demonstrations against corporate greed and the political power of banks exhibit antagonism that singles out Jews.

 

Mr. Berger went on to quote a Jewish protester: “You’re going to get a few wackos. You can’t help it in a population of this size.”

While it’s difficult to take issue with that statement, it hardly explains the widespread silence in the face of the anti-Semitic manifestations, however sporadic or infrequent, that have emerged – particularly when contrasted with the hullabaloo that always seems to erupt when allegations of racism or anti-Semitism are made against individuals or organizations on the right.

Mr. Berger cited an article on the website of Commentary magazine which argued that “it isn’t just a few crackpots engaging in anti-Semitism.” Mr. Berger quoted the Commentary article as saying the “main organizer behind the movement – Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn – has a history of anti-Jewish writing.”

Mr. Lasn indeed expressed great concern about the fact that many neoconservatives associated with President George W. Bush were Jewish. According to Fox News chief political correspondent Dick Brennan, Lasn asked whether “the Jewishness of the neocons influence[d] American foreign policy in the Middle East.” He also, according to Mr. Brennan, drew up a list of people he calls the 50 most influential neocons and wrote: “half of them are Jewish…and if we see maleness, whiteness, Jewishness or intellectual thuggery, then let us not look the other way.”

Mr. Berger quoted without comment an Occupy Wall Street press official, Patrick Bruner, to the effect that Adbusters, “had not been active at all” in organizing the movement, though the Times three days before had reported just the opposite.

But it was another comment of Bruner’s that gave us real pause. As Mr. Berger wrote, “[Mr. Bruner] said the Occupy Wall Street movement rejected any kind of racism or hatred, but also was ‘open source,’ meaning that anyone could take part.”

The time to react to this problem is now and our elected officials have a special responsibility to nip it in the bud. We should not be seduced by sukkahs in Zuccotti Park.

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