A friend who lives in another part of the country told me that shortly after the last election she overheard a group of teenage girls at a swimming pool, and one was saying, “At least now we can get rid of the Jews.”
It was shocking for many reasons, but now, following the slaughter of 11 people at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, it’s worth thinking more deeply about those words.
Certainly, the speaker didn’t mean “get rid” of them the way Hitler did or the shooter in Pittsburgh did. She probably meant get them out of positions of influence and power in the government — which is disturbing enough.
Also disturbing is the likelihood that the girl had absorbed her anti-Semitic attitude from the people around her — maybe her parents in dinner table conversation reflecting age-old prejudices that never seem to die.
I don’t know why families who likely never even knew many Jews would cling to the view that Jews are somehow the problem. It must be the old scapegoat syndrome. We have to blame somebody, so why not blame somebody else, somebody far distant from us, people who have long found themselves in the scapegoat role?
Social norms demanding decency, empathy and fair play usually serve to confine ethnic bigotry to the sidelines. Bigotry is always there, but our norms tell us it’s shameful, hateful and pernicious in its effects. Society’s revulsion at acts of hate makes sure that the haters don’t get the idea that their hatred is somehow legitimate. It was the achievement of Nazism to elevate hatred to official policy.
What’s happening today is that the poisons of racism and anti-Semitism have been let loose. Even the president has encouraged it by demonizing people of color, immigrants and, with his scapegoating of George Soros and other so-called “globalists,” Jews as well.
Someone among those girls at the pool should have told her friend, “No, what you said is not right. It’s anti-Semitic. It leads nowhere but to hatred, and hatred leads to violence.”
That’s how we get our norms back, so ordinary decency can prevail.