The oldest hatred forever young
Most of the hate crimes in the United States don’t take the fatal form that the shootings in Kansas over the weekend did, and most aren’t perpetrated by villains as bloated with rage and blinded by conspiracy theories as the person accused in this case, Frazier Glenn Cross. He’s an extreme, not an emblem.
This is someone who went on Howard Stern’s radio show four years ago (why, Howard, did you even hand him that megaphone?) and called Adolf Hitler “the greatest man who ever walked the earth.” When Stern asked Miller whether he had more intense antipathy for Jews or for blacks (why that question?), Miller chose the Jews, definitely the Jews, “a thousand times more,” he said.
“Compared to our Jewish problem, all other problems are mere distractions,” he declaimed, and he apparently wasn’t just spouting off. He was gearing up.
Sunday, according to the police, he drove to a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kan., and opened fire, then moved on to a nearby Jewish retirement home and did the same. Three people were killed.
They were Christian, as it happens. When hatred is loosed, we’re all in the crossfire.
Monday, as law enforcement officials formally branded what happened in Kansas a hate crime, I looked at the spectrum of such offenses nationally: assault, intimidation, vandalism.
The FBI keeps statistics, the most recent of which are for 2012. In the United States that year there were 6,573 hate-crime incidents reported to the bureau (a fraction, no doubt, of all that occurred). While most were motivated by race, about 20 percent were motivated by the victims’ perceived religion — roughly the same percentage as those motivated by the victims’ presumed sexual orientation. I didn’t expect a number that high.
Nor did I expect this: Of the religion-prompted hate crimes, 65 percent were aimed at Jews, a share relatively unchanged from five years earlier (69 percent) and another five before that (65 percent). In contrast, 11 percent of religious-bias crimes in 2012 were against Muslims.
Our country has come so far from the anti-Semitism of decades ago that we tend to overlook the anti-Semitism that endures. We’ve moved on to fresher discussions, newer fears.
Following 9/11, there was enormous concern that all Muslims would be stereotyped and scapegoated, and this heightened sensitivity lingers. It partly explains what just happened at Brandeis University. The school had invited Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a celebrated advocate for Muslim women, to receive an honorary degree. But when some professors and students complained, citing statements of hers that seemed broadly derisive of Islam, the invitation was withdrawn. Clearly, university officials didn’t want their campus seen as a cradle or theater of Islamophobia.
But other college campuses in recent years have been theaters of anti-Israel discussions that occasionally veer toward, or bleed into, condemnations of Jews. And while we don’t have the anti-Semitism in our politics that some European countries do, there’s still bigotry under the surface. There are still caricatures that won’t die.
One of them flared last month on Christian televangelist Pat Robertson’s TV show. His guest was a rabbi who, shockingly, was himself trafficking in the notion that Jews excel at making money. The rabbi said that a Jew wouldn’t squander a weekend tinkering with his car when he could hire a mechanic and concentrate on something else.
“It’s polishing diamonds, not fixing cars,” Robertson interjected.
In a 2013 survey of 1,200 American adults for the Anti-Defamation League, 14 percent agreed with the statement that “Jews have too much power” in our country, while 15 percent said Jews are “more willing to use shady practices” and 30 percent said that American Jews are “more loyal to Israel” than to the United States.
That’s disturbing, as is the way in which the Holocaust is minimized by its repeated invocation as an analogy. In separate comments this year, venture capitalist Tom Perkins and Kenneth Langone, one of the founders of Home Depot, said that the superrich in America were being vilified the way Jews in Nazi Germany had been.
It’s not just Kansas and the heartland where anti-Semitism, sometimes called the oldest hatred, stays young.
A story in The Times last year focused on an upstate New York community in which three Jewish families filed suit against the school district, citing harassment of Jewish students by their peers. The abuse included Nazi salutes and swastikas drawn on desks, on lockers, on a playground slide.
When a parent complained in 2011, the district’s superintendent responded, in an email: “Your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”
Well, the only way to breed that prejudice out of the generations to come is never to shrug our shoulders like that — and never to avert our eyes.
Frank Bruni is a columnist for The New York Times.