American Jews, joining with others of good will, have been integral to the promotion of civil rights, civil liberties, education, tolerance and political participation in this country. Because of their faith and history Jewish people have been an important bulwark in the fight against prejudice. Recognizing this unique history George Washington wrote the Touro synagogue in Rhode Island in 1791 stating: "For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support."
Since then American Jews have heeded his words. Abolitionist Rabbi David Einhorn had to flee Baltimore for his own safety in 1861. Jack Greenburg who worked on the Brown case with Thurgood Marshall was the only white counsel at the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund. And among the small number of whites martyred during the civil rights movement were Jews such as Schwerner and Goodman. From free speech, to womens suffrage, to tolerance for immigrants, gays and the disabled Jews have also played an important role. Major Jewish organizations like the American Jewish Committee and Anti-Defamation League have had crucial alliances on civil rights with Dr. King decades ago, and with an array of diverse groups today on hate crime laws.
However, in recent days, stories have appeared, which no doubt will be vigorously promoted by anti-Semites, of a small number of Jews, who have engaged in bigotry of their own. While these are a sliver of fringe extremists or drunks, they are nonetheless public representatives of our faith, to others. A rabbi wrote about a small group of Jews in New York, who inserted anti-Arab bigotry into a chanted song at an event, a demented Israeli extremist in a NY talk called for the assassination of PA PM Abbas and a filmaker in Israel chronicled for youtube distribution some apparently drunk American Jews spewing bigoted vitrol and hatred toward our President (who in fact was elected with 78% of the Jewish vote, second only to African-Americans).
In the unfortunate instances where fringe extremist crazies or youthful drunks take the spotlight, the overwhelming (and I do mean overwhelming) majority of Jews of knowledge and goodwill, must retake it by pointing out that these disgusting utterances run counter to the faith, our country, and the promotion of peace. Judaic faith irrefutably recognizes the divinity of all people, who are made in the image of G-d, and to promote otherwise is simply wrong. The fact that Jews as a group have consistently been mostly tolerant folk, or that many millions of others spew even more hate, can not lull us to ignore the smaller persistent thread of intolerant Jews who believe ancestry or a higher power mandate chauvinism or prejudice.
As the director of a center that addresses hate, I have rightfully condemned and exposed bigotry when it comes from non-Jews, but my obligation is a broad one. For that reason I condemn in the strongest way, the expression of these reprehensible utterances of bigotry, violence, and stupidity and instead cast my vote with the more thoughtful and memorable words, of another Jew, Elie Wiesel. He conveys the finest and truest aspects of our history, traditions and a respect for our President:
Mr. President, we have such high hopes for you because you, with your moral vision of history, will be able and compelled to change this world into a better place, where people will stop waging war -- every war is absurd and meaningless; where people will stop hating one another; where people hate the otherness of the other rather than respect it." Buchenwald Address, June, 2009 [Photo Touro Synagogue]
Caution: Bigoted/Vulgar Content