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How (not) to make the world a better place

This is a guest post by Petra Marquardt-Bigman

When you google “Tikkun olam”, you will find among the top results the blog of Richard Silverstein.  The originally religious concept of “Tikkun olam” is nowadays generally regarded as a broad imperative endorsing the “human responsibility for fixing what is wrong with the world”.

So it’s clear that Richard Silverstein is an ambitious blogger, though for me personally it’s kind of hard to keep up with his endeavors, because if I try to access his blog, I’ll get a message that says: “Sorry, but your IP address has been associated with spam in the past.” I’m not sure if I ever tried to post a comment on Richard Silverstein’s blog – if I did, it’s too long ago for me to remember, and obviously it is his choice whether to allow a comment to appear.

What I have done, however, is to comment critically on the blogs he occasionally publishes on the Guardian’s Comment is Free website, and I have also criticized him on my own blog at the Jerusalem Post.

It’s clear then that Richard Silverstein prefers to dole out criticism, and thinks the world would be a better place if he didn’t have to take any – no doubt a very human tendency. The problem with Silverstein is, however, that he is all too eager to dole out preemptive criticism; that is to say, he apparently likes to criticize people for what he thinks they will say and do. Currently, he has a piece on Cif that preemptively trashes Abe Foxman of the Anti-Defamation league for how Silverstein imagines Foxman will react to the shooting at the Holocaust Museum on Wednesday.

Here is what Silverstein claims:

“We know how the usual suspects among the Jewish leadership will line up on this … they will seek to parlay this incident into a much wider antisemitic conspiracy. People like Abe Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League, live for tragedies like this. You wait. Tomorrow or the next day he’ll be holding a press conference with the security guard’s wife telling the world that African-Americans and Jews must make common cause against the vast antisemitic conspiracy. If he’s really feeling his oats that day he might even work in a reference to an evil Iranian president who denies the Holocaust as well. Mark my words, it’s coming.”

Well, Silverstein was wrong (nothing unusual here, to be sure). This is how the ADL, and Foxman, really reacted:

“The shooting at the United States Holocaust Museum, in which a security guard was critically wounded, is a very sad and tragic event which reminds us, as the Museum itself does every day, in the starkest way, where the spread of hatred can lead. […]Brunn’s evil attack, at the very place that was created to remember and teach about evil in the world, is an immediate reminder that words of hate matter, that we can never afford to ignore hate because words of hate can easily become acts of hate, no matter the place, no matter the age of the hatemonger. […]”

Another ADL press release states:

“The shooting at the Holocaust Museum is part of a wave of hate targeting Jews and Jewish institutions and others,” said Abraham H. Foxman, ADL National Director. “It serves as a painful reminder that the anti-Semites and racists are still out there, and are more prone to act out on their beliefs.”

In just the first six months of this year, there have been a number of violent attacks and plots in the United States involving “lone wolves” infected with anti-Semitic beliefs, or motivated by extremist sentiments. […]

The wave of hate, documented on the League’s Web site, includes:

  • The plot by Muslim extremists to bomb two synagogues in Riverdale, New York;
  • The shooting of American soldiers at a military recruiting center in Arkansas;
  • The shooting deaths of two persons and sexual assault on a third as part of a killing spree directed against Jews and non-whites in Brockton, Massachusetts.
  • The shooting deaths of three Pittsburgh police officers by a man with virulently racist and anti-Semitic beliefs.

While not all of the incidents and plots outlined by ADL specifically targeted Jews directly, they all share certain key characteristics:

  • Many of the perpetrators do not belong to a specific extremist group or organization, but seem to be motivated to commit violence by their own radical ideologies.
  • Their ideologies often include a hatred of Jews, and they are willing to act out on their hate.
  • Many of the extremists are influenced by current events and conditions, including the economic crisis, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the immigration debate, and the election of Barack Obama as the first African-American president.

The reactions of other Jewish groups are reported by the JTA under the headline: “Jewish groups react: Gun control, security funding, extremism”.

There is also a report that the AJC is setting up a fund for the family of the security officer who was shot.

All in all, these reactions are eminently reasonable and focus on the need to combat racism and hate-crimes in general, and to show solidarity with the victims of these crimes – just what is needed to make the world a better place…

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