Fortunately, the economic crisis in the United States has not produced a rise in anti-Semitism, as did crises in the 1890s and 1930s. There are two good reasons for that.
The less important reason is that the causes of the collapse are no secret; it was caused by the deregulation policies of the second Bush administration, and particularly of the home mortgage sector (and polls show that the public understands that). More important, the United States has in recent years been relatively free of anti-Semitism, except on the far fringes of the left and right. European-style conspiracy theorists who harangue about a mysterious cabal of Jews who control the world have not gotten much traction here.
At least they didn't until Glenn Beck.
Beck, the former Fox News personality, has devised a three-point strategy that enables him to widely disseminate the old "blame the Jews" meme without being dismissed as an anti-Semitic crackpot.
The first part of the strategy is never to blame the Jews as Jews. Beck focuses on individual Jews, one after another, as the source of America's misfortunes but carefully avoids references to Jews as a group.
The second is that when he does discuss "the Jews" per se, he emphasizes that he himself isn't blaming them for anything but that unnamed others do. He is just offering a friendly warning to Jews to watch their backs.
The third is that he loudly professes his "love for Israel" which, to the gullible, means that he could not possibly be anti-Semitic. (Jewish neoconservatives, in particular, tend to court the friendship of anyone who claims the mantle of "pro-Israel," no matter what that person thinks about Jews.)
But many Jews, and others familiar with anti-Semitic tropes and themes, see right through Beck's carefully constructed edifice of innocence. Writer Michelle Goldberg explained Beck's tactics in a blockbuster article in the Daily Beast in which she wrote that Beck's repeated references to Jews constitute "a symphony of anti-Semitic dog-whistles."
According to Goldberg, receptive ears will understand who he is describing when he talks about a liberal elite which runs a "shadow government" that, in Goldberg's words, "manipulates regimes and currencies for its own enrichment." When he says that group are simultaneously bankers and Marxists, and says they have made President Obama "their puppet," his audience will know what he means.
Late last month, Glenn Beck lost his daily gig on Fox News. His ratings were sliding and his advertisers fled once they were apprised of the rancid ideas they were underwriting. Details of Beck's new internet video venture aren't yet clear, but he has already announced that he will kick off Beck II at a massive rally in Jerusalem on August 24th.
On Monday, Beck began his advance work for the rally with a visit to the Knesset, where he was hosted by a far-right parliamentarian and mobbed by a crowd of settlers and other right-wing activists. (It is worth noting that Beck exchanged friendly greetings with Baruch Marzel, the former head of Kahane Chai, an outfit on the State Department's list of terrorist organizations and a man well known for his involvement in inciting violence.) Beck put out his usual claptrap, likening himself to great biblical figures while demonstrating his profound ignorance of Jews.
Perhaps Beck's most offensive moment in a day of egregious offensiveness was what some would characterize as a threat against American Jews.
After telling his audience at a Knesset committee that anti-Semitism is "going through the roof" in the United States, he declared that "the United States has an economic problem and the Jews will be blamed." Note the passive tense. Beck won't blame the Jews, but they "will be blamed."
It is not hard to discern what Beck is really saying when one looks back at his attacks on Jews over the past few years. Back in January, Atlantic columnist Jeff Goldberg wrote about Beck's "Jewish problem." Goldberg, like any writer on Beck and the Jews, had too much evidence to work with so he decided to go with just one example. He wrote:
This is not...a post about Beck's singular obsession with George Soros. ... This is a post about Beck's recent naming of nine people — eight of them Jews — as enemies of America and humanity. He calls these people prime contributors to the — wait for it — "era of the big lie."
The particular Beck installment to which Goldberg alluded revealed as much about Beck's attitudes toward Jews as anything he has ever said publicly. He listed the nine people — an "intelligent minority" — who infected the 20th century with the view that the masses are "animals" who can be controlled through propaganda. According to Media Matters, Beck named AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka, as well as:
- Propagandist and ad man Edward Bernays, who revolutionized 20th century public relations.
- Sigmund Freud, the father of psychoanalysis, who was Bernays' uncle and influenced his method.
- George Soros, who Beck claimed shared Freud and Bernays' philosophy that people are "animals" who can be "experimented with."
- Cass Sunstein, who Beck insisted "is Edward Bernays" and has called "the most dangerous man in America."
- Former SEIU president Andy Stern, who Beck said is part of a self-proclaimed "intelligent minority" of powerful men trying to manipulate the "bewildered herd" of America.
- Walter Lippman, a prominent columnist of the mid-20th century, who Beck accused of viewing government "as a way to control people."
- Frances Fox Piven, professor at CUNY, who Beck accused of "sowing the seeds" of revolution.
- Ed Rendell, the governor of Pennsylvania, who Beck said thinks of himself as "one of the elites that are there to guide the herd."
Of the nine, Trumka is the only non-Jew; the other eight are Jews. Other than their ethnic backgrounds, the Beck 8 have little in common. Ed Rendell and Sigmund Freud? Andy Stern and Walter Lippmann?
How can anyone, other than someone with a real hang-up about Jews, produce a list of the people who epitomize the "era of the big lie" and come up with this list of American Jewish writers, college professors, labor leaders and a governor of Pennsylvania! I mean, think of the some of the 20th century's monstrously criminal liars...
The people and government of Israel need to understand what Glenn Beck is trying to do. He is using them as a disinfectant to cleanse him of the stink of anti-Semitism, racism, and proto-fascism. Without Israel, Beck is just another right-wing bigot and crackpot. But with it, he becomes almost legitimate and so does the dangerous and ugly portrayal of Jews that has become his trademark.
Beck is treif (unkosher). His very presence defiles.