A decade ago, shortly after the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2007 failed in the Senate, I met with a group of Latino politicians here who were strategizing about how to move forward on the issue.
The conversation turned to the image of Hispanics in this country as new arrivals, immigrants and foreigners, despite emerging data that showed most of the Latino population growth was being fueled by U.S. births.
“We need to look at the Jews,” I recall one high-profile leader telling me. “They have to be the model for us — look at the strength of their community, their ability to organize nationally, the way they police the portrayal of their image in society and suppress anti-Semitism.”
Those words rang in my ears about a year ago. I had just finished reading Joshua Ferris’ delightful and acclaimed novel “To Rise Again at a Decent Hour,” about a New York dentist who gets his identity stolen and ends up appearing to be either a religious zealot or an anti-Semite. Right after, I picked up Jonathan Safran Foer’s “Here I Am.”
Safran Foer’s novel met with mostly critical praise from the elite media and was an angsty, heartstrings-pulling story about one man’s prosaic midlife crisis.
But a great deal of it was about a modern American who wrestled with Jewish identity in a secular nation.
What struck me, especially reading it on the heels of another book about a regular person’s humdrum life, was how entertainment revolving around the Jewish experience in America was so seamlessly interwoven into the mainstream.
Looking back at last fall, those heady times seem over.
Today, not only is anti-Semitism alive and well, it is out in the open and on the rise. Even before the August white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Va., the Anti-Defamation League was reporting an 86 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents compared with last year.
And according to Eric Ward, executive director of the social justice nonprofit Western States Center, this hatred does not stay in a single lane — it fuels animosity toward non-Jews as well.
Ward told the Latino political podcast “In the Thick” that Jews have a certain level of privilege — relative to blacks, Hispanics and other racial and ethnic minorities — due to their light complexions and European features. But he said that’s only a temporary advantage.
“Anti-Semitism functions on the idea that Jews can have a certain amount of privilege in society, but it’s at the cost of understanding that it can be taken away at any time and, in fact, historically, Jews have often found themselves in the darkest moments at those times when they’ve felt most assimilated in western society.”
Time to band together
Ward cautioned that we ignore anti-Semitism at our own peril: “There is an emerging white nationalist movement arising in America. It is not anywhere yet near its peak, but it is coming, and it is fueled by anti-Semitism. It is the gas of the engine of white nationalism. If we seriously get up every day and say that we want to defeat white nationalism and we want to deconstruct white supremacy, it is in our own self-interest to confront anti-Semitism, to take away the energy of this emerging social movement.”
There are supposed strained relationships between Hispanics, blacks and Jews. A 2014 ADL report claimed that fewer than 5 percent of American whites hold deeply entrenched anti-Semitic views, while more than 30 percent of African-Americans and Latinos held such views. But that report’s findings were shown to be unreliable by academic researchers.
Clearly, though, it’s time to band together. The supremacists and nationalists who would scrub our country of those they deem inferior seem to be colorblind. The only way we will rise above them is to interpret attacks and animosity against our Jewish neighbors to be as personal as those against Hispanics, Muslims, African-Americans, immigrants and other targets of racial hatred.