I'm a Jewish supporter of Israel and Occupy Wall Street. Not big news, you'd think. But the right-wing noise machine needs some way to undermine this threat to the power and wealth of the 1%. So it's hit on "anti-Semitism." Oy!
When something called The Emergency Committee for Israel aired well-produced ads on the Sunday talk shows attacking alleged anti-semitism at Occupy Wall Street, I thought -- Black Swan time. For when conservatives don't have serious studies or evidence to defend their point-of-view, they search for an unrepresentative example to make their case -- see, all swans are black!
The early attacks on OWS were of the "get a shower" variety. Not a very substantive response to the avalanche of data showing that, indeed, over the past 30 years the tax rates on the top 1% had been cut by half while their income and wealth trebled, middle-class real income fell and poverty increased. The "Wearethe99%" protests are based not on The Protocols of Zion but on the very American notion of "with liberty and justice for all."
Now that the hippie meme hasn't stuck, here comes the magician's trick of misdirection. This now world-wide movement against inequality is really about... anti-Semitism. That's the allegation from Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich, William Kristol, the Washington Post's Jennifer ("where is the outrage?") Rubin, and the New York Post's Andrea Peyser, a skilled merchant of bile who compared Occupy to Germans tolerating Nazis in their midst. "Hate is not an American value," concluded the Sunday TV ad, which visually implied that Obama and Pelosi were guilty by association.
I'd been down to Zuccotti Park three times before and hadn't seen any of this. So I went again Monday.
What I saw again was an overnight Athens, a self-contained village with a general assembly, music, medical station, kitchen, and people of all ages with signs, at least Monday, like "Greed exceeds Need", "Think Local. Act Global", "Occu-stock", "Stop the War - on Workers", "1% Own 43%", "Corporations will be 'People' when Texas executes one", and "Would the Chinese Communist Party please return our stolen property".
But nothing against my clan. I asked around and was told that hundreds had observed Kol Nidre services at the park on Yom Kippur and scores at the holiday or Sukkot. Yes, there had been a handful of nutjobs there, one with a sign "Google it - Jewish $$ Controls Wall Street." But since the area is a public space, no one could tell him or anyone else what to say or not say. "So we located people on both sides of him," said one Occupier, " with an arrow and signs saying 'Asshole.'"
In politics, a candidate is one lap dance away, one Macaca moment away, from ruination. But it's one thing when a candidate self-immolates and quite another when an open-source movement, with millions involved in hundreds of cities, has a couple of wackos roaming around with offensive signs that can't be removed from a public space yet that Limbaugh and Kristol hope go viral. This is the same Limbaugh, by the way, who in 2010 told his radio listeners that Jews might be having "buyer's remorse" about Obama since he was "assaulting money people. And a lot of these people on Wall Street are Jewish."
Did I fail to find a lot or any anti-Semitism because it was cleverly underground, a fifth column conveyed by those mysterious hand signals in lieu of loudspeakers? Well, hadn't the organizers or protestors refused to make their demands explicit?
I'm now in possession of a long document from Occupy organizers called "The 99% Declaration". It asks for feedback on 20 suggested demands -- on taxes, student loans, political contributions -- but nothing about Israel and no Protocols of Zion anywhere to be found.
First, there should be a phrase when reactionaries politically exploit the blood libel of anti-Semitism in ways that repeat its myths about money and Wall Street. Perhaps "reverse anti-Semitism."
Second, when conservatives talk about American "exceptionialism," do they mean that any exception becomes the rule? It's pretty hard to miss the big point of Occupy, which is that the economy and political system are rigged to favor the 1% -- nothing very Jewish about that. If anything, the worry about social injustice and inequality very much reflects the Jewish sensibility of Tikkun Olam. If anything, those huge marches of a quarter million in Israel this past summer helped inspire OWS.
Third, with polls showing overwhelming public support for tax policy that stops coddling the wealthiest Americans, conservatives don't seem very interested in debating the merits of these issues. They therefore create diversions knowing that if they repeat the lie often enough, half the GOP base, and therefore a fifth of America, will believe it as they did that Obama was a Kenyan-born socialist.
Fourth, the Kristol crowd is understandably sensitive to criticism of Tea Party rallies for all their racist signs and sentiments, openly expressed. See, both sides do it! The difference is that it was not just a handful of tea-baggers waving hateful signs but the point of their protests that Obama was so un-American that they had to "take our country back" from him.
Oh, did I mention that the Anti-Defamation League has concluded that a handful of bigots "are not representative of the larger views of the OWS movement."
Conservatives should ditch their smears and instead answer some obvious policy questions: While you don't like a "Tax the Rich" approach, do you really prefer "Tax the Poor" flat-tax plans? If deficits are so awful, how about a surtax on million-plus incomes to reduce it? What's your solution to extreme inequality which increases poverty and cuts consumer demand and therefore growth? What should America do about the problem of big campaign money rigging elections?
We need an Emergency Committee for America. Actually, that's precisely what Occupy Wall Street is.