It’s the oldest hatred, and it never goes away.
Anti-Semitism, a plague for millennia, burst into the news on the eve of the Jewish festival of Passover when Frazier Glenn Miller allegedly killed three people at Jewish facilities outside Kansas City. None of the victims were Jewish, but there can be little doubt of Miller’s intent, given his background and his shouts of “Heil Hitler” from the backseat of a police car.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups and haters, identifies Miller, also known as Frazier Glenn Cross, as a former “grand dragon” of the Carolina Knights of the Ku Klux Klan and as active in Nazi and other white supremacist organizations. A former Green Beret, Miller based his tactics in his Klan activities on “Hitler’s methods of attracting members and supporters,” and he placed “great emphasis on staging marches and rallies. It had been successful with Hitler.”
Miller’s adoration of Hitler also may explain the timing of his act; April 20 is Hitler’s birthday, and anti-Semites often mark the anniversary with extremist attacks.
In a radio ad for his bid for a Senate seat, Miller said white men have “sat back and allowed the Jews to take over our government, our banks, and our media. We’ve allowed tens of millions of mud people to invade our country, steal our jobs and our women, and destroy our children’s futures. America is no longer ours. America belongs to the Jews who rule it and to the mud people who multiply in it.” His hatreds knew no limits, but he saved his most savage vitriol for Jews.
The conjunction of Miller’s attack with Passover is no coincidence. Passover celebrates the freedom of the Israelites and the Exodus from Egypt. It is one of the three biblically commanded pilgrimage festivals; at the Seder — the holiday dinner — Jews worldwide retell the story of Moses and the flight from Egypt. Passover is a home-based holiday, focused on family and friends; because of that and because of its centrality to the Jewish experience, Passover is to Jews what Christmas is to Christians.
Passover is linked to the “blood libel,” the accusation prevalent throughout European history that Jews kidnap and murder Christian children to use their blood as part of religious rituals. According to the blood libel, the most important of those rituals was the requirement of human blood for the baking of matzoh — the unleavened bread eaten during Passover in commemoration of the hasty flight of the Israelites before Pharaoh’s army.
In the United States, anti-Semitism generally took a more genteel tone, based on the prevalent belief of Jewish ownership of banks and the media (expressed above by Miller) and rooted in the country club sense that Jews weren’t “one of us.” Among the most obvious manifestations of anti-Semitism were the quotas for admission to Ivy League schools and the “Gentlemen’s Agreements” governing relations with Jews.
Stereotypes die hard, as seen in a recent episode of Christian televangelist Pat Robertson’s TV show. A rabbi (what was he thinking?) fed the notion that Jews have a knack for making money, saying he wouldn’t waste a weekend tinkering with his BMW when he could hire a mechanic and then do something else. “It’s polishing diamonds, not fixing cars,” Robertson giggled. “Exactly,” the rabbi said, “I’m taking care of what I can do best.”
Really? Polishing diamonds?
Polite society today frowns on anti-Semitism, but hatred of Jews has not disappeared from the United States. According to FBI statistics, 19 percent of hate crimes in 2012 were religiously motivated (the largest category is racially based hate crimes). Of the religiously motivated hate crimes, 60 percent were aimed at Jews (13 percent were anti-Islamic).
In Europe, the picture is grimmer still. Barely 70 years after the Holocaust, European anti-Semitism is on the rise. According to the Anti-Defamation League, from 45 percent to 72 percent of Europeans believe Jews are more loyal to Israel than their own country. As many as 73 percent of Hungarians think Jews wield too much power in the business world. Forty-six percent of Poles believe Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus. The ADL says many of those stereotypes are more common today than a few years ago.
Even in Europe anti-Semitism has been somewhat cleaned up. In France, for instance, the current head of the Front National, the anti-Semitic, anti-Islamic, anti-immigrant party, is Marine Le Pen, the daughter of Jean-Marie Le Pen, who once dismissed the Holocaust as “a mere detail of history.” The younger Le Pen shuns her father’s excesses; she led her party to electoral success recently by avoiding the cruder forms of bigotry while advocating its essence.
Whatever form it takes, anti-Semitism endures. It’s the oldest of hates, the most pervasive bigotry, and it is always with us.