Tonight, our long and difficult journey comes to an end. I speak, of course, of the end of Passover – with its week of matzah, maror, and indigestion. I think we did okay, though it was touch and go at the beginning of the week when an April Fools Day snowstorm threatened Monday night’s congregational Seder. Fortunately it wasn’t as bad as it could have been – the storm, I mean; not the Seder – and a good time was had by all. At the Seder, not the storm.
But boy, wouldn’t it be nice if Jews could control the weather, and we could make sure that our special holy days were always beautiful?
Wait – is it possible that we do?
At least one person thinks so. Trayon White, Senior, a Democratic member of the D.C. City Council, posted on Facebook a few weeks ago that “the Rothschilds” control the climate, and that a snowfall that day in Washington reflected their ability to change weather to profit off of poor people.
Here’s what he said in that 20-second video clip:
“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And D.C. keep talking about, ‘We a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.”
The Rothschilds were prominent 18th-century Jewish bankers who have for centuries been targets of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories about Jews controlling the world’s money supply – paranoid rants that more recently have also targeted Jewish financier George Soros.
But controlling the climate? Oh yes, according to the Times of Israel:
“Internet conspiracy theorists have stated the belief that the Rockefeller Foundation’s Resilient Cities initiative, which provides grants to cities, including Washington, to address environmental and economic problems, is part of a plot to control and reduce the population of North America. And some conspiracy theorists also think the Rothschilds, working together with the Rockefellers, have technology to control the weather.”
White did apologize for the snowstorm remarks. He claimed he wasn’t anti-Semitic, just uninformed. He “ran with false information,” he said. And we might have been content to accept that apology. That is, until we found out that just a few weeks before, during a Mayor’s Council breakfast, White went on a similar rant based on internet conspiracy theories about “resilient cities”:
“The Rothschilds control the World Bank, as we all know – infusing dollars into major cities. They really pretty much control the federal government, and now they have this concept called resilient cities in which they are using their money and influence into local cities.”
“As we all know.” Yeah, we all know that. At least, we all know what that means. We all know that you are deliberately targeting Jews and blaming us for the bad things that befall your community. Even an unexpected snowstorm.
To be fair, Trayon White traffics in lots of weird and paranoid conspiracy theories, not all of them targeting Jews. And, to be fair, his supporters in Washington’s 8th Ward say that White was simply repeating in public what many blacks say in private – an outgrowth of generations of powerlessness and despair.
But you would think that your job as a public official is to tamp down what used to be fringe theories and denounce them. Educate your constituents, rather than fanning the flames of such hatred. But you can’t claim that you don’t know what you’re saying – when you keep on saying it.
We might brush off rantings like this. Except that what was once fringe lunacy has taken a terrifying leap into general public discourse, where it is repeated, transmitted, and normalized through social contacts, social networking, and even major media. We have seen it most recently in the hateful tropes attacking the surviving children of the Parkland school massacre. But much of the venom is reserved for Jews.
The fact is that these conspiracy theories are just one corner of a massive increase in anti-Semitic incidents over the past year – not just here but all over the world. A year ago, Yair Rosenberg of Tablet Magazine, writing in the Washington Post, pointed out that “according to the FBI, Jews in the United States are annually subject to the most hate crimes of any religious group, despite constituting only two percent of the American population.”
Last month, the Anti-Defamation League identified 1,986 anti-Semitic incidents in this country in 2017. That’s an increase of fifty-seven percent over 2016, which also saw a huge increase over the year before.
It was the largest year-to-year increase since the ADL began its reporting 1979. Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL cited three likely factors: the increasingly divisive state of American politics, the emboldening of extremists, and the effects of social media.
“The diminishment of civility in society creates an environment in which intolerance really can flourish,” Greenblatt said. Social-media platforms, he added, have “allowed the kind of poison of prejudice to grow at a velocity and to expand in ways that really are unprecedented.”
We’ve seen all of this unfolding right in front of our eyes. The rise in attacks on Jews has accompanied an invigorated radical right, including neo-Nazis and white supremacists. And if their hatred was generally targeted at blacks, or Muslims, or other minorities – it seemed always to circle back to the Jews. Last summer in Charlottesville, Virginia, their hateful chants of “You will not replace us” soon morphed into the terrifying, “Jews will not replace us.” Armed right-wing militias patrolled in front of one of Charlottesville’s synagogues, while terrified congregants who had come for Shabbat prayer huddled inside.
But even Jewish schoolchildren are under direct attack: swastikas painted on school property or on Jewish students’ belongings; a doubling of reports of anti-Semitic incidents in K-12 schools, and an 89 percent increase on college campuses, where Jewish students often report being afraid to even talk about Judaism or Israel in public. That’s a terrifying sign that young people are embracing these conspiracy theories and acting on them, even while they attend school with students of all races and backgrounds.
And the rampant growth of anti-Semitism is even more evident in Europe. Yair Rosenberg reported that Jews in France – who make up less than one percent of the population – were the target of 51 percent of France’s racist attacks in 2014. Jews have been attacked in Denmark, in Belgium, and in Sweden. Forty percent of Europe’s Jews, according to one survey, are terrified to publicly identify as Jewish. And no wonder, when they witness the recent horrific murder of Mireille Knoll, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor, who was stabbed 11 times in her Paris apartment.
But we should not presume that anti-Semitism is a disease of the right. Jew hatred knows no social or political boundaries. At decidedly liberal Oberlin College, writes Yair Rosenberg, “a writing instructor named Joy Karega shared Facebook memes about Jewish control of the global economy and the media, alongside posts asserting Israeli responsibility for the Islamic State and 9/11.” When she came in for criticism from the school and others, he points out, the Oberlin Student Council rejected the criticism as a “witch hunt.” Indeed, he notes, TV comedian Samantha Bee, after reporting on an anti-Semitic rant at a Donald Trump political rally, noted – “To find anti-Semitism that rabid, you’d have to go to, well, any left-leaning American college campus.”
Or, well, any left-leaning American feminist movement.
Anti-semitism has long been a disturbing element of feminism – since the 1970s, when many feminist groups took up the anti-Israel trope that equated Zionism with racism and insisted that Jewish women who supported Israel could not be true feminists.
That notion has infected many contemporary civil-rights groups, including elements of Black Lives Matter – which has rejected partnership with Jews who also support Israel.
But it’s at its worst, I think, in the leadership circles of the Women’s March, which includes several women who have publicly supported the avowed Jew-hating leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan.
One of them, Tamika Mallory, was given a shout-out by Farrakhan in February during a Nation of Islam speech in Chicago that was typically replete with anti-Semitism and homophobia: ““White folks are going down,” declared Farrakhan, “and Satan is going down, and Farrakhan by God’s grace has pulled the cover off of that Satanic Jew—and I’m here to say, your time is up.”
Both Mallory and fellow Women’s March leader Carmen Perez have publicly promoted Farrakhan. Their co-leader, Linda Sarsour, proclaimed Farrakhan as “too blessed.” Sarsour – a well-known Muslim and Palestinian activist – has publicly thrown her lot in with Palestinian terrorist murders and denies that Jews have a right to self-determination.
For many of us, the leadership of the Women’s March is tainted, even poisoned, and should be denounced and replaced.
As John-Paul Pagano so eloquently wrote in The Atlantic:
“That there appears to be no desire on the part of the Women’s March to confront Jew-hatred specifically and substantively, even as most religious hate crimes target Jews and anti-Semitism stats rise, is something that should trouble anyone of genuine antiracist sentiment.
“That the group refuses to be accountable for a high-level alliance with an open anti-Semite disqualifies it from ranking among today’s movements for social justice.”
Anti-Semites from across the political, social and religious spectrum seem to have found common ground in their hatred of Jews, which is all too often rooted in lies that go back generations – sometimes centuries. That even young people are all too eager to believe the rotten stereotypes points to a sickness in our nation that has infected our public discourse and even our public servants.
And that’s what is so sad, in the end, about DC City Councilman Trayon White, Senior. He could have made some important points about how little the government has done to help revitalize many black communities. He could have reached out to his community’s Jewish neighbors – instead of waiting for them to reach out to him.
Instead, he became a joke, the brunt of a whole slew of on-line memes. Here are a few of the jokes I found easily on Twitter about Jews controlling the weather:
- Insanity of this conspiracy theory aside, I am genuinely confused about the alleged motive here for making it snow. If Jews controlled the weather I’m pretty sure most places would feel like Florida
- If Jews controlled the weather it would always be cold so our mothers could tell us to wear a jacket, and we’d never complain about shvitzing.
- Dude if Jews controlled the weather why would we EVER make it humid, that’s DEATH for our hair.
- If Jews controlled the weather there would be no Winter, so Jewish mothers wouldn’t fret about their kids wearing their hats, mittens &scarves. The existence of both Winter AND Jewish mothers shows that, alas, the former is more in control of the latter than the other way ’round.
- Why am I just learning now that Jews control the weather?? Shouldn’t someone have mentioned that at my Bar Mitzvah? ‘Congratulations on becoming a man. Also, you can make it rain now’.
Yeah, the tweets are really funny. Because, typical of Jews, we laugh where we might cry at the anti-Semitic tropes that never seem to go away but just morph into such utter stupidity. From evil money lenders and bleeders of Christian children’s bodies to nefarious controllers of black neighborhoods in “resilient cities.” Because, in the end, we still have got to trust that our country – and its citizens – will be better than this. Smarter than this. More decent and honorable than this.
This week’s Haftarah, from Second Samuel, depicts King David dancing and celebrating and sharing food with the masses as the Ark of the Covenant is carried into Jerusalem. It is a reminder during our Zman cheiroteinu, our season of freedom – of the gift that the Jews brought to the world.
A people unified by faith in God and Torah, the first such document in the ancient world to demand equal treatment for the poor, the orphan, the widow and the stranger. A people inspired by prophets who, in God’s name, called for a community guided by social justice and individual dignity. A people which, like any other, is entitled to self-determination.
It is a reminder, not to us alone but, perhaps, most importantly, to all non-Jews – including those whose own faith traditions stand on the foundations laid by Judaism.
And is a reminder to us of our thousands of years of resilience – in the face of unspeakable evils – and the role we must play in the redemption, not just of our own people, but of all of humanity. And that is no joking matter.
Ken yehi ratson. May we join together to build a world of redemption – if not in our time then in our children’s time. And let us say together: Amen.
©2018 Audrey R. Korotkin