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Reflections on Mel

There is a strain of virus that may be at times and in places dormant, but it is always there and ready to flare up. Thanks, Mel, for reminding us.
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There was one part of the Mel Gibson story I found stunning. No, it was not the tenor or direction of his comments. It was that the LA cop to whom he ranted, and asked "Are you a Jew?" turned out in fact to be-- a Jew! A non-New York cop doing traffic arrests who is Jewish? Wow. I felt almost like I did when I learned that Ron Mix, the all-time All-Pro offensive lineman was Jewish. Next thing you know, we'll be accused of dominating the police departments and the NFL.

Now on to the more serious part. About sixteen years ago, I was a part of the official observer delegation to the first Romanian election after the demise of the Ceaucescu regime. We spent several days in the country, in and around Bucharest and then dividing up into regional groups fanning out around the country. I got to go to the area around Timisoara, which had been the hotbed of discontent against the dictatorial regime. It was a wonderful and uplifting experience to see a poor country that had been under the jackboot of a repressive dictator move in a fledgling step towards democracy. It meant more to me because my father's family had come from Romania to Canada around the turn of the 20th Century. The Jews left in Romania who survived the Nazis found themselves under increasing threat and pressure under Ceaucescu, who let many go to Israel when the chief rabbi arranged for hefty bribes to be paid to the dictator. When we arrived in the country, Jews made up a trace element of the population. That is what made it even more stunning to me to see that anti-Semitism was alive and well, indeed thriving. Anti-Semitism without Jews! It was a new concept to me. But of course, it is not a new concept. A new book about Poland after the War gives horrifying detail about the small number of Polish Jews who survived the Holocaust, moved back home, and were harrassed or killed by Poles afterward; the author concludes that anti-Semitism was so deeply ingrained in culture and society that even the reality of the Holocaust and the disappearance of most of the Jews in Poland would not eradicate or reduce it.

This is not simply an Eastern European phenomenon. It is true worldwide that some form of anti-Semitism has emerged from time to time, or been there in a sustained way, over many centuries. Living in the US, and making it in this society, has made me realize how incredibly fortunate I am to have been born in, and to live in, the most amazing land of opportunity we have ever known. But my trip to Romania, my conversations with European intellectuals and policymakers and their Asian counterparts, from countries with lots of Jews and few if any Jews, has made me realize an unfortunate fact of life. There is a strain of virus that may be at times and in places dormant, but it is always there and ready to flare up. Thanks, Mel, for reminding us.