My book Bieganski: The Brute Polak Stereotype describes the stereotype of Poles and other Eastern Europeans as the world's worst anti-Semites.
The stereotype is not accurate. It exists, and will continue to exist, because it serves several purposes. One purpose: it deflects attention, blame, and discomfort away from antisemitism in other countries.
I am blessed to be an American. We have been blessed with relatively placid lives in America. We, including the poorest Americans, enjoy access to abundant food, mostly safe streets, clean air and water. No one who has ever lived in other countries, as I have, can scoff at these benefits.
We Americans tend to think, even unconsciously, that hatred could never reach a critical mass in our country, as it did in Nazi Germany, or Communist Russia, China, or Cambodia, or more recently in Rwanda.
Many of us have been shocked by the hatreds unleashed by the Trump campaign.
My first taste of that hatred. I knew very little about Trump when he first announced his candidacy. My Facebook posts voiced my "let's see what he has to say" approach. After I realized I could never vote for him, a Facebook friend accused me of being an "immigrant." I was born in New Jersey.
One of the more horrifying aspects of a horrifying campaign is the antisemitism among Trump supporters.
Please note: I have never called Trump an anti-Semite, and I don't recall ever seeing any such accusation in the press. I know that Trump's daughter Ivanka, who plays a high-profile role in his campaign, is married to a Jew. All of that is beside the point.
What is more pertinent is that overt anti-Semites have embraced and supported Trump in a way that is impossible not to notice and also impossible not to address.
A recent Haaretz article is just one of many articles addressing this phenomenon.
This article, and many others, make abundantly clear that antisemitism is alive and well in the United States. Anti-Semites have power; if they did not, the Trump campaign would be more adamant in its condemnation of and distancing from them.
I'm shocked and horrified by how many organized anti-Semites there are in the US. The internet facilitates them: they can find each other, unite, organize, and make their presence felt.
Anti-Semitism is not acceptable in conventional social settings in the US. But antisemitism is part of the inescapable baggage of a powerful presidential campaign. That is sobering. Decent people will insist on addressing it.
Anti-Semites are using the internet in new and sophisticated ways. Those who oppose antisemitism must also use the internet in new and sophisticated ways.
One thing those who oppose antisemitism must do: stop using the Bieganski stereotype. It is a distortion of history and it is a distortion of antisemitism. One does not have to be Polish, or Ukrainian, Lithuanian, or any other flavor of Eastern European to be an anti-Semite. One does not have to be a peasant or a worker. One does not have to be a Christian or a Catholic. Use of the Bieganski stereotype does not advance, but rather weakens the fight against antisemitism.
The antisemitism and the anti-Semites among Trump supporters make this abundantly clear.
In the excerpts below, the reader discovers two fallacies: one, that antisemitism is of the past (and therefore easier to pin on "primitive" Eastern European peasants), and, two, that antisemitism is something that is exclusively associated with Eastern Europe, in this case, Russia.
Neither assumption is correct. Yes, a wealthy, Western, modern country, the United States, can harbor antisemitism. Yes, a modern invention, the internet, can foster antisemitism.
The author of the article excerpted below recommends that Jewish people acknowledge that antisemitism is a problem. Part of that acknowledgement is to abandon the belief that antisemitism was only of the past, and only of Eastern Europe. Both of those fallacies underpin the Bieganski stereotype. Both are wrong.
Below please find excerpts from the Haaretz article "I Hadn't Been Called a Kike Since Fourth Grade. Donald Trump Changed All That" on antisemitism among Trump supporters.
"There's a reason why so many anti-Semites are going for Trump. It's not that he's an anti-Semite. He's something worse. He's an influential public figure who enables and tolerates and excuses and pumps Jew-haters, and who, most crucially, cannot afford to lose their votes.
I don't remember the first time I got called a kike as a kid. But I remember the last.
I was a fourth grader. I wound up in a short fight with a bigger kid. All I remember is that he was a guy with trouble at home and trouble inside, and harbored some grievance about our respective places in line for the movies.
The adult advice I got at the time was that anti-Semitism – of the long-ago type that had made changing our family's immigrant last name a key part of my dad's application process for college – was on the ropes. It would soon be extinct, I was assured, like polio. 'Just let it go, or it'll get worse.'
It was bad advice. It was bad advice then, and it's bad advice now…
Two weeks ago, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote a piece titled 'In Poland, a preview of what Trump could do to America.'
The Breitbart news site – whose on-leave executive chairman is Trump Campaign Chairman Stephen Bannon – then ran an article which said of Applebaum that 'hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.'
The attack on Applebaum followed a torrent of online abuse directed at Jewish reporters, or reporters with Jewish-sounding names, or reporters married to Jews, whose words were seen as uncomplimentary to Trump or his wife.
The attacks began in earnest early in the year, following the February South Carolina primary, when reporter Bethany Mandel was attacked as a 'slimy Jewess' and was told she deserved 'the oven' for writing about Trump's relatively large number of anti-Semitic supporters.
'My anti-Trump tweets have been met with such terrifying and profound anti-Semitism that I bought a gun earlier this month. Over the coming weeks, I plan to learn how to shoot it better.'
…In April, prominent feature writer Julia Ioffe published a profile of Melania Trump in GQ. Ioffe, who is Jewish, was barraged with death threats and crank callers, one of whom played recorded speeches of Hitler on her phone line, another who told her that her face would look good on a lampshade.
On Twitter, Ioffe was pictured as if interred in Auschwitz, with the caption 'Julia Ioffe at Camp Trump.'
…Ioffe, for her part, remarked, 'The irony of this is that today, when I was getting all of this horrible anti-Semitic shit that I’ve only ever seen in Russia, I was reminded that 26 years ago today my family came to the U.S. from Russia.'
'We left Russia because we were fleeing anti-Semitism,' Ioffe told the Guardian. 'It’s been a rude shock for everyone.'"
The full text of the Haaretz article can be read here.