Religious Hate at Occupy Wall Street?

The Occupy Wall Street demonstrations raise many legitimate issues about which people are seeking to be heard. Sadly, they have also included some shocking anti-Semitic incidents that repeat insidious ancient stereotypes and mischaracterize the 1 percent of our wealthiest as "the Jews."

These incidents are not widespread. But we call on the demonstrators and the communities involved to stand as one and denounce the hate now -- and at every future opportunity.

Religious prejudice is a disease. That is why the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding is committed to combating it. This is a time to be vigilant, because history makes it clear that anti-Semites have too often become emboldened during times of economic hardship. Often starting as mere fringe elements, the world has watched as hatred and violence have followed in their wake. It is time to change that pattern.

As the Occupy Wall Street movement gathers momentum, it must guard against hate within and outside its membership. Be on the lookout for the extremists that infuse the movement with anti-Semitic negativity (or any religious stereotyping) and for those who point to isolated incidents as a reason to denounce the entire movement.

To those saying things such as, "The Zionist Jews who are running these big banks and our Federal Reserve, which is not run by the federal government, need to be run out of this country," we say: Challenge yourselves and your stereotypes and learn the facts. Speak with your fellow protestors openly and respectfully. You may be surprised by the Jewish friends found among you.

To those who are taking the isolated anti-Semitic incidents, treating them as representative of the entire movement and inflating them, we ask: Why? Are you truly appalled at the few hateful protestors among tens of thousands, or are you hoping to discredit a peaceful protest because you disagree with its goals?

The anti-Semitic voices within the movement may be small, but they are a concern for the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators and for the communities in which they are taking place. Let the voices of respect be heard.

At a time when many issues divide us, let us remember our common humanity and remain vigilant against the rhetoric of hate.

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