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Big Apple Beset by Oddball Anti-Semitism

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NEW YORK - In a metropolitan area with the world's second largest Jewish population, residents and visitors have endured a spate of recent anti-semitism not seen in a major American city since Mel Gibson went to rehab, a variety of Jew-baiting that's strange by any standard.

CNN's Jeanne Moos covered the story yesterday of an Elmo impersonator cursing the conspirators at World Jewry headquarters and castigating the general public in Central Park and elsewhere with a rash of profanity that eventually got him hauled off by the NYPD, apparently for psychiatric evaluation. I'm sure glad Moos picked up on the story, but I wonder why Wolf Blitzer or Anderson Cooper didn't lead with it. That's major news! Even in New York it's not every day you see a life-sized muppet getting cuffed and carried away by the cops.

Not that the Nasty Elmo saved his vituperation for the Jews, mind you. He also vented some ill feelings toward Hindus and other groups and toward individual passersby, for that matter, all for no apparent reason. And if you think it's weird that a grown man would dress himself as a Sesame Street character for the joy he gets from dropping f-bombs in front of children, well it's just as weird that last Saturday an organization hired a pilot to fly around the New York-New Jersey area hauling a banner behind his biplane promoting the swastika as a symbol of goodness.

Fearful of the prospect of hotheaded kosher-keepers fomenting an uncontrollable backlash, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is said to be mulling a city-wide ban on Big Gulp Manischewitz.

As HuffPost's David Moye reported on Monday, organizers of World Swastika Rehabilitation Day are adherents to a putatively non-cockamamie faith known as the Raëlians whose followers believe the swastika is a symbol of the Elohim, an extra-terrestrial race that created us human beings. For whatever it's worth, the official image of the Raëlians, who claim to number 70,000, combines a swastika with a Star of David. Sick dudes, those Raëlians.

According to a statement from Rick Roehr, a leading Raëlian, despite the symbol's co-option by the Nazis and the horrible memories and images therefore associated with it, "[T]he swastika has always meant something very beautiful, peaceful and loving for billions of people all over the world and still is by billions of people."

Really? There are billions of people in the world who still see a swastika and think about beauty, peace and love? I'm sure the Raëlians have either some iron-clad poll numbers or the revelation of an exalted elohim to back up their claim, but I've been to a good portion of the world -- not everywhere mind you, but lots of places -- and I haven't found a place yet where a swastika flies as a banner to welcome wayfarers into some loving, beautiful, peaceful Shangrila. I've seen a few swastikas but they all adorned places where I'd probably also find a noose. I passed right by those joints.

I know that for a very long time swastika-like symbols were common features in the art of Near Eastern religions and some Native American groups. I also know that the swastika got swept up by the Nazis in the 1920s and ever since that time it is irrevocably associated with tens of millions of deaths in a war to free the world from tyranny and butchery. Today it means what it means and no inter-galactic life-givers can change that.

There are plenty of good sci-fi symbols worth stealing. We don't need Nazi symbols flying over the homes of millions of Jews no matter what they're supposed to promote. If the Raëlians want to fly a swastika in the Gamma Cephei system, they should feel free. But on Earth they really should heed the dictates of common decency.

As for some individual nut-job on the streets of Manhattan in a red fur suit, he needs to stop hollering and cussing at folks out for a stroll and I hope the good people at Bellevue can help him with that. And whenever he thinks he can take a break from Elmoing he might want to check out the Raëlians. They seem to have some pretty sound ideas.