Being born and raised in West Los Angeles, I lived on a street where most of the families were Jewish. Therefore, it followed that many of my childhood friends were Jewish. Nevertheless, I knew that in those days (1950s), Jews were still often objects of stereotypes and jokes that later faded into unacceptable language. However, it wasn't until I joined the Army in 1966 and found myself stationed in Germany, that I saw the results of anti-Semitism and began to form strong opinions about this phenomena. Germany has continued to be a major part of my life even after my military service there ended. As a result, I have been able to observe (and write) about how the German people have dealt with the Nazi period of their history.
With the events in the Middle East, particularly in respect to the on-going Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I have recently observed what I consider to be a resurgence of anti-Jewish feeling in my own country. I feel that, not only must it be confronted, but the finger should be pointed squarely at those who are responsible.
First, a little personal background. While in Germany, I was stationed in a small university town called Erlangen, which is located about 20 kilometers north of Nuremberg. Due to its proximity to Erlangen, I got to know Nuremberg quite well and became quite fond of the city due to its old medieval architecture, which was restored to its original style after being destroyed by Allied bombing. However, more than any other German city, with the possible exception of Munich and Berlin, Nuremberg is associated with Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party. Hitler chose the city as the site of his annual Nazi Party Rallies. During the 1935 Rally, the so-called Nuremberg Laws were announced, which legally relegated Jews to 2nd class citizens in Germany. It was also home to Julius Streicher, the notorious "Jew-Baiter of Nuremberg", who published the anti-Semitic Newspaper-Der Stuermer. (He was hanged at Nuremberg after the war.) Finally, the city was the venue for the War Crimes Trials. To this very day, the city has tried to shake its unsavory image.
Most of the sites in Nuremberg that were seen in old Nazi newsreels are still around. The area where the rallies were held is still there, the white marble tribune slowly deteriorating in isolated solitude except for a few curious visitors. The Courthouse where the top Nazis were brought to justice is still used by the city for legal purposes. In addition, the main square, where newsreels show Hitler saluting his marching troops, is still the center of city life.
After returning to civilian life in the US, I read everything I could on the Nazi era, becoming sort of an amateur scholar on the subject. In my later overseas travels, I have returned to Germany countless times, often to Erlangen. I have also visited several of the old concentration camps, specifically Dachau, Buchenwald, Sachsenhausen and Auschwitz (in Poland). To speak of those places making a strong impression on me would be a gross understatement. Suffice to say, all this has made me sensitive to the subject of anti-Semitism.
As for Erlangen, my emotional attachment eventually led me to write an English-language history of the city, which was published in 2005 (Erlangen-An American's History of a German Town). My work on the project enabled me to return there in 2004 to do research and in 2006 to promote the book. It was a fascinating experience to learn about the history of a city in which I had lived so many years before-at a time that I did not really think about its history. Now I have learned about Erlangen during the Nazi era. For example, there was a book-burning ceremony there-as in all university towns. During Kristallnacht in 1938, the town's Jewish inhabitants were rounded up and jailed for a few days. Then during the war, the last remaining 20 or so Jewish residents were arrested and shipped east to the extermination camps. Only a handful survived. There was also a Jewish cemetery in Erlangen-or on the outskirts-which I had no knowledge of during my service time there. Through the help of the local Jewish community center, I was able to visit the place-normally locked up under a caretakers supervision.
The local Erlangen Jewish Community Center is worth mentioning. Established only in the past two decades, it serves a small community of a few dozen Russian immigrants. During my interview with the community leader, she made a very poignant remark, which, while I must have known was true, had never really thought about. She told me that the word "Jew" (Jude) is, to this day, an emotion-laden word in German. The Nazis did not have to resort to ethnic epithets to describe Jews. Simply the word, usually spoken in a derogatory tone of voice, was enough to make their point. To a somewhat lesser extent, I think this is also true in English (You know the old saying. It's not what you say-it's how you say it.) I keep thinking about this point when I hear some voices in the US refer to Jews-or "Zionist Jews".
But enough about Germany. I want to talk now about anti-Semitism here in America. Is it making a comeback? Did it ever go away? People can disagree, but I think there is a growing anti-Jewish trend in some quarters in this country, fueled by the Middle East situation with Israel and the perceived support for Israel by American Jews.
But where do we point the finger of blame? Well, obviously, you can find anti-Semites in all quarters of society. In my opinion, however, this is largely fueled on university campuses, those bastions of left-wing thought. Aside from the preponderance of professors who are antagonistic to traditional American values and conservative thought, there is no question that many of them openly favor the Palestinian cause and have nothing positive to say about Israel. In addition, numerous American campuses are hosts to Muslim Student Associations that also express hostility to Israel. Now let me say that I don't expect many Muslims to take Israel's side. That is fine. While I am no expert on Middle East affairs, I would concede that the Palestinians probably have some legitimite grievances. Where they lost my support is when they embraced terrorism. It also didn't help when many of them danced in the streets on 9-11.
From my own observations at the University of California at Irvine, where I teach part-time, I have been appalled at the events that the Muslim Student Union has put on for the last several years. The speakers they routinely bring to campus bring a message of hate, not only against Israel when they call for its destruction, but hate against Jews and America as well. It has led me to the conclusion that anti-Semitism is a central theme, although they deny that they are against Jews per se. What they do is constantly repeat the phrase "Zionist Jews" over and over again. But what exactly is a Zionist today? The term referred to a 19th century movement by European Jews to return to their original Jewish homeland in order to escape persecution by Europeans. What is a Zionist today? A Jew who lives in Israel? Or an American Jew who supports Israel's right to survive and defend itself? I have heard speakers like Abdel Amir Malik Ali, an imam from Oakland, who appears at UCI on a regular basis. When he is not praising suicide bombers as heroes, he continually uses the phrase "Zionist Jew" in the same derogatory tone that Nazis referred to "Der Jude". It's not what you say, it's how you say it.
I do not wish to paint all American Muslims with the same brush. That would not be fair. However, many activist Muslim students are exhibiting hostility not only to Israel (which is their right), but to Jews in general. Even more alarmingly, many university professors, for whatever motives, are aligning themselves with the pro-Palestinian, anti-Israel movement as an aside to their usual hate America diatribes. The lunatic ex-professor, Ward Churchhill appeared as a speaker at the last MSU rally at UCI, joining hands with Malik Ali and other radicals in denouncing Israel and the US.
Then there is former President, Jimmy Carter, who also recently spoke at UCI, taking a completely pro-Palestinian position and criticizing Israel and many of their Jewish supporters in the US. (I was present). Many Jews are coming to the conclusion that Carter is an anti-Semite. I am not ready to make that conclusion yet. I just think that he is a dangerously misguided fool, same as he was as president.
To conclude, it is my opinion that the Israel-Palestinian conflict is leading to an increase in anti-Semitism in this country, largely fueled on university campuses by some young Muslim students and their radical left professorial sympathizers. I suspect that many people, especially in our universities, would just as soon throw Israel and Jews overboard, so to speak, in order to try and placate Muslim opinions. It is very much like what is happening in many European countries. But it should not happen here.