So, I was driving home the other night, listening to my XM radio. One of my favorite things to listen to (no, it's not Rush Limbaugh) is the Opie and Anthony radio show. For those unfamiliar with these guys, some would consider them "shock jocks" although in recent years they've toned down the crazy stunts they used to pull after being suspended and fired on several occasions.
I wouldn't recommend the show for the faint of heart, the politically correct or those that are easily offended by sexual or racial topics. I've been a fan for a long time now and as I've matured, so have they in a lot of ways. While the show's main goal is to entertain its listeners and make them laugh, few shows are as honest about real topics and few hosts actually sound like real people the way Opie and Anthony do. I'm a big freedom of speech advocate and freedom of speech means that you have to hear opinions you don't particularly agree with. You don't like what someone is saying? No problem, change the channel. Or better yet, debunk the lies yourself. But don't whine and don't try to shut people up just because you don't like what they say.
So the other day as I'm driving home from work, I tune into XM channel 202 and I hear what sounds like an argument about Barack Obama. Apparently, the boys had Patrice O'Neal and Rich Vos (two comedians) in studio. Again, I warn you, these guys can be pretty offensive - so click those links at your own risk.
Anyway, within a minute of listening to the chaos it becomes clear that Patrice (who is Black) is trying to convince Anthony (an Italian guy) to vote for Obama. And of course these guys are comedians so it's mostly an excuse for each to crack jokes at the others' expense and inevitably it gets to racial humor. Eventually Vos (who is Jewish) complains he thinks there will be a black president before a Jewish one. To which Patrice responds that Jews are always trying complain that they're the most oppressed minority and how aggravating it is to him. Vos brings up some Jewish stereotypes that bother him (we're all rich bankers, we run the world, etc) and Patrice lists some Black stereotypes (lazy, violent, gangbangers etc) and offers to trade. Everyone laughs. But then something happened that bothered me. He asked Vos why Jews complain about these stereotypes. What is so bad about people thinking that Jews run the world? What's the big deal? Vos had no answer.
This got me thinking...what IS so bad about Jewish stereotypes? I mean aside from the really derogatory ones (big noses, being cheap) why DO we get so offended when people tell us we're all rich and powerful?
To understand this, one must first understand the roots of this stereotype. The Jewish money-lender or tax man stereotype has been around for over a thousand years, perhaps the best known example of which is
Shylock, the villian in Shakespeare's play The Merchant of Venice.
In Shakespeare's play Shylock is portrayed as a greedy, scheming, conniving wretch of a man who cares only about money and revenge. While some have argued that Shakespeare's depiction of Shylock includes a defense of Jews (the famous "if you prick us do we not bleed" speech), as anyone who has been called a "Shylock" can attest to...most people do not see him as a sympathetic character.
But Shakespeare did not create the image of the greedy Jewish banker. Nor was he the last to invoke it. During the reign of Napolean Bonaparte, a theory, based on a series of forgeries began to circulate that the French Revolution was in fact the work of the secretive Order of the Freemasons. Over time, anti-Semites replaced Freemasons with new culprits, and by 1905 this work had morphed into the concept of a worldwide Jewish conspiracy whose goal is world domination. This work of forgery, called The Protocols of the Elder's of Zion was presented in the guise of a series of notes taken during a gathering of Jewish conspirators.
These Jews are portrayed as greedy, scheming, conniving (where have we had that before?) and ruthless in their endeavors to control world banks and governments. The secret plot to install the offspring of King David as the ruler of the Earth also includes plans to control the press/media, eliminate Christianity, promote atheism and secretly dominate governments to bend to their will. It's pretty crazy stuff and if you notice several of the sites I linked to buy into it wholesale, even including examples of modern "evidence" that these schemes are in fact real.
While this hoax was debunked almost immediately after it began to circulate over 100 years ago...its effects have been far-reaching.
In the 1920's, Henry Ford published a series of articles in his newspaper, the Dearborn Independent, entitled The International Jew: The World's Problem. These articles borrowed liberally from the concepts laid out in the Protocols and continued to further the concept of an "international Jew" - a race with no country or loyalty, whose only motivation was control and wealth. Jews are not portrayed as weak, pathetic or stupid, rather they are seen as diabolical geniuses who need to be stopped...quickly. Ford would claim that "German-Jewish bankers" were responsible for World War 1 and that American farmers had to carry the weight of Jewish moneylenders, office managers and lawyers. And while Ford was eventually sued for libel by Adam Saprio (way to break the stereotypes there, pal!) and forced to apologize for his offensive slander, in 1938 he was honored by Hitler with the "the Grand Service Cross of the Supreme Order of the German Eagle."
Hitler of course, was also a big fan of Ford and and the Protocols. He wrote in Mein Kampf about America that
Every year makes them [the Jews] more and more the controlling
masters of the producers in a nation of one hundred and twenty millions;
only a single great man, Ford, to their fury, still maintains full independence.
Again, the Jews are controlling the world. Hitler repeatedly references Jewish press, Jewish banks and Jewish world domination conspiracies in Mein Kampf and in his speeches. It is precisely for these reasons that Hitler claims the Jews need to be eliminated. Not because we are lazy or stupid or violent...but specifically BECAUSE we are, according to him, successful, dangerous, geniuses.
And lest you think that these concepts died with Nazi Germany, all you have to do is type in "Jewish bankers" into a google search and take a look at any of the thousands upon thousands of pages of absolute nonsense it returns. Shylock is alive and well today, it seems.
With the founding of the state of Israel, the Protocols found their way into the Middle East as well. Anti-Israel Arabs have been screaming about Zionist conspiracies for years and in 2003 several Arab countries aired Al-Shatat (The Diaspora), a popular series that is based on Ford's and Hitler's portrayals of Jewish conspiracies to dominate the world. Episodes covered topics like an alleged Jewish plot to drop the atomic bomb on Japan, an alleged connection between Zionists and Adolf Eichmann in which they agree they are not that different and a classic Passover matzah blood libel in which Jews slit the throat of a Christian boy. The series opens with a scene in which Edmund de Rothschild (a Jewish banker) encourages his children to do all they can to dominate the world.
As you can see, these ideas are still very relevant - and dangerous. Palestinian television has aired sermons which use these concepts as legitimate reasons for why nations have sought (and why Hamas, Hizballah, al Qaeda and their buddies continue to seek) to eliminate the "Jewish threat" once and for all.
These concepts have been used as excuses for murdering Jews in past, they are still used as excuses in the present and they will continue to be used in the future.
So as I listened to this "debate" between comedians on XM, I couldn't help but be disappointed that the only Jew in the room could not articulate these points in any way and it made me wonder how many other Jews in similar circumstances would remain silent.
We cannot assume that people who are not Jewish, especially other minorities like Blacks who have their own checkered history of being discriminated against, will understand the reasons for why these stereotypes bother us. We cannot assume that we will find sympathy with other minorities simply because we are also the target of stereotypes. We cannot run around suing people or demanding they be fired for offending us with their speech - especially when we often don't even know why we're supposed to be offended!
Rather, we must take the time to understand the reasons behind these stereotypes. We must take the time to address them and explain to others rationally and intelligently what the issues are. Shutting someone up just because he/she said something you didn't like only plays into the hands of the Jewish conspiracy crowd and actually gives credence to their propaganda.
The issue in this case was not the topic. I don't certainly blame Patrice for making that point because it is a legitimate question. But it is a question we must always have an answer for.