In this past week, Paterson City Councilman Michael Jackson and Trenton City Council President Kathy McBride both publicly made use of the anti-Semitic trope “Jew us down”. In 2019, I am disheartened to see anti-Semitic language spread to, of all places, government.
What was equally unacceptable was the rush to defend these anti-Semitic comments and the rejection of calls to censure those responsible. It should raise alarm bells for all of us just how quickly and casually elected officials hesitated to condemn this type of speech.
The history of anti-Semitism reaches beyond the Holocaust and its atrocities. Council members Jackson and McBride are part of an unfortunately long list of people throughout history who have used the phrase “Jew us down” to stereotype members of the Jewish faith as cheap or greedy.
I encourage everyone to learn the history of this particular phrase: At the end of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 136 CE, the Roman state executed Jewish scholars, outlawed and burned the Torah, and sent the Jewish people into a diaspora that continues to this day. In 439 CE, the Codex Theodosianus systematized legal repression of the Jewish people, and created constraints which became the standard in Europe until the 18th and 19th centuries. These restrictions would be expanded throughout Europe; excluding Jewish people from guild membership, prohibiting them from owning land, and outlawing most professions except for those considered inferior but necessary, such as rent and tax collection. State and church sanctioned restrictions forced members of the Jewish faith into moneylending. Shortly thereafter, members of the Jewish community began being labeled as greedy and parasitic.
In the following centuries, Jewish moneylenders were murdered, radical clergy incited mobs aimed at the “greed” of Judas, and monarchs unable to pay back their loans expelled their local Jewish communities from their lands. These stereotypes continued through the Protestant Reformation and found fertile soil in America. It has been a rallying cry for the KKK, Father Coughlin, the America First Committee, the German American Bund, George Lincoln Rockwell, Christian Identity, and countless other purveyors of hate in our country.
These recent comments follow openly publicized anti-Semitic rants by Jeffrey Dye, now former-President of the Passaic City NAACP, who blamed the “Jewish media” for his ouster. (In an act worthy of duplication and praise, Dye was removed from his post as President by the national NAACP.)
The term “Jewish media” dates back to an early 19th century conspiracy theory fabricated and intended to spark violence against members of the Jewish faith. Protocols of the Elders of Zion, published in 1903, claims there were secret meetings between members of the Jewish faith detailing plans to rule the world through banks and the media. In modern times, these texts still inspire and are found in manifestos of synagogue shooters throughout the world.
Being a public servant and elected official is a great privilege and responsibility. There is absolutely no place for racist and anti-Semitic language and I will always condemn hate speech wholeheartedly. For hate speech, as we all know, can quickly transform into action.
It is especially painful to hear these comments from elected officials and community leaders in two of the most diverse cities in our great state. Words have consequences, and those who hold elected office must be held to a higher standard.
I appreciate U.S. Senator Bob Menendez, Paterson Mayor Sayegh, Paterson Councilman Abdelaziz, Trenton Mayor Reed Gusciora and the numerous other public officials who condemned these comments. We need more people to speak out against this kind of indefensible, racist language for the betterment of our communities and state.”