I had a conversation a few days ago with a man who is a very well-known businessman here in Houston, Texas. He is a Jew, like I am. He is a loyal and dedicated American, as I am. We discussed the horrific acts of anti-Semitism being exhibited on American college campuses and protests in our big cities, not only here in United States, but around the globe. The protests themselves are not what is offensive. People have a right to protest for a cause they believe in. However, based on the signs in the crowds and the interviews with many of the protesters, it is apparent that these are not pro-Palestinian protests alone. What they are calling for, and the people that are protesting are in favor of, is the massacre of the Jews.
And in this light, first I am a Jew.
I am a proud American. My maternal grandfather was one of the early leaders of the United Auto Workers. His parents immigrated as children from Russia. He grew up in extreme poverty in the slums of Bayonne, New Jersey. His father took his own life when my grandfather was only 13 years old. He was forced to go to work at the dairy where my great-grandfather was employed to help support his mother and younger siblings. The older workers in the dairy took an interest in my grandfather, because, unlike many of them, he was very tall. In fact, my grandfather was 6‘5.” Like today, sports was one way for impoverished people to get ahead in life. My grandfather trained as a boxer, and at the age of 21, he won the Golden Gloves in the state of New Jersey. He wore his satin blue trunks with a Star of David emboldened on them. At that time Jews of the Diaspora would frequently wear the Star of David as a symbol of pride and identity.
My grandfather was a dedicated American who cared deeply about the lives of the poor. He was the man in charge on the ground of the violent Bell aircraft strike in Buffalo, New York in 1947. He suffered a cracked skull and was refused medical care by the local Sheriff until Eleanor Roosevelt herself got involved. He was the man who took the lead in the UAW over the civil rights movement. The UAW provided significant funding in the 1950s and the 1960s to promote and support civil rights. My grandfather was there with his UAW paper hat sitting behind Dr. King during his famous “I Have A Dream” speech. He embodied what I defined as the Jewish soul. To give those less fortunate a helping hand. Provide for them an equal opportunity. This was the environment in which I was raised. But my grandfather was also an avid Zionist. He grew up in a world where there was no safe place for the Jews of Europe to go. They were refused by the U.S. in large numbers and refused by many other countries. Thousands ended up back in Europe only to be exterminated in the concentration camps. America was the closest thing the Jewish people had ever had to a country where they can practice their religion freely and they could show their identity over time just as every other group has the right to do.
That is what made the United States unique until 1948.
The underlying theme of identity politics is to identify as something—black, Hispanic, Native American, etc.—that one can take pride in. Children need to know that they come from a culture of strength and pride. It is supposed to create a higher self-esteem and is generally a very good thing. I am writing this from the perspective of the people who don’t respect me or my history. They have no respect for the hardships, discrimination, and true genocide that my ancestors endured. They “choose” to choose my identity for me.
They say “First, you are a Jew.”
The first Jew arrived in England during the Norman conquest of 1066. Early on Jews were given a special dispensation by the king of England. The vast majority of English citizens lived in a feudal system, where the lands they lived on were owned by the local Lord. These peasants and merchants were required to pay taxes to their Lord, who was required to pay tribute to the king. Jews were excluded from this system. The Jews of England were granted a status as direct subjects of the king. They paid their taxes directly to the king. Their role in English society was necessary, because at the time, the Christian church outlawed earning interest on loaned money. The Jewish religion allowed it, and that was a loophole that the King of England was able to exploit. Almost 200 years later, King Edward the 1st was engaged in many foreign wars that was bankrupting his kingdom. In 1287 he expelled the Jews from England and seized their property. A few special Jews were allowed to sell their homes and keep the money, but the vast majority were thrown out with a little to nothing. For 223 years the Jews in England thought of themselves as subjects of the king first. They were valued members of society in their own minds. “I am English” was the prevalent attitude among many. However, history has since taught: first, you were a Jew.
In the 15th century under the reign of Isabel and Ferdinand, the Jews of Spain learned the same lesson from a similar experience. They were members of Spanish society. They were a valuable part of the Spanish economy. But due to the Spanish sovereigns’ insatiable desire for conquest and trade, Ferdinand and Isabel, bankrupted Spain. One solution to the problem resulted in what became known as the Spanish Inquisition. Because, of course, sovereigns could not possibly make the errors in judgment that were made. Therefore, it must be the fault of the Jews. As in England, two centuries earlier, the Jews of Spain thought of themselves as “I am a Spaniard first.” No. First you were a Jew.
During the 1700s and 1800s, the Jews of Eastern Europe in what today is Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, etc., lived as members of their communities. Krakow was the Jewish center of Europe for centuries. Many lived in segregated shtetls on the outskirts of towns and cities. Even those Jews interacted with their non-Jewish neighbors and provided services and goods. They were completely peaceful neighbors. That didn’t prevent the Passion Plays from being performed that identified them as those that crucified Christ and whipped the ignorant hordes of Cossacks into a frenzy. The pogroms of Eastern Europe were the main cause of Jewish immigration into the U.S. during this time. These people were attacked, killed, and raped because “First, you are a Jew.”
To the Jews that stayed in Germany, thousands served as brave and honorable soldiers for the Kaiser during WWI. They served because, “First, I am German.” Despite their gallant service, despite their unwavering support for Germany, when Hitler’s popularity was rising it was because “those dirty Jews” betrayed us. Most Jews of the time were blind to the situation in Germany at the time. “I served the Kaiser in war!! They are just radicals!! I am safe!!!”
Then Hitler came to power.
First came the protests and speeches.
Then came the anti-Jewish rules.
Then came the identifications.
Then came everything else…by that point it was too late.
“First, you are a Jew.”
We know what happened. Most of the Jews were savagely murdered after torture, slave labor, and humiliation. Rape was common as were summary executions. It was one the most barbaric periods in modern human history.
Hitler told us what he intended to do, yet the intellectuals and the community leaders didn’t believe him.
We know the result.
We also know that Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, and many other radical elements in that part of the world and ours deny the Holocaust ever happened.
Hamas and Hezbollah have told us what they want to do. It is written in their “constitution.”
“From the river to the sea” means the complete annihilation of the Jews of Israel. Hamas has now shown us how they intend to accomplish their goal. There is extensive video evidence that Hamas recorded and uploaded how “from the river to the sea” will be imposed. When college kids and other protesters chant this “slogan” and carry their signs we ALL know what they mean. Yet, once again, many Jews (let alone other groups) don’t believe them. They refuse to see what is plainly in front of them.
Not only have they declared in favor of the annihilation of the Jews of Israel, they have also promised the annihilation of “ALL JEWS—everywhere!” I am using their words, not mine. I, for one, believe them.
I have one thing to say to those who don’t. As they execute their plan to accomplish their goal, they won’t care that you protested FOR them. They won’t care that you supported them. What they care about is: “First, you are a Jew.”
So this is where I am. The descendant of immigrants that came to the U.S. before and shortly after the U.S. Civil War. The descendant of a man who dedicated his entire life to fighting for “the little guy” and the civil rights movement.
Yet, in the eyes of the protesters, the eyes of many in the media, the eyes of many in the DC bureaucracy: “First, you are a Jew.”
For centuries this phrase has been used against us. But now many of us state it proudly, with all the pride Herzl envisioned. And those Jews who haven’t yet gotten there should now understand the tremendous gift it is to finally define ourselves, proudly.
I have been blessed with an interest and knowledge of history. I have also been blessed with a natural ability to be insightful and to see trends.
What I see concerns me.
It scares me.
Yet I stand resolute as a proud American, an American who sees the threat to me and my people. I proudly state without reservation, “First, I am Jew.”