We have heard during the current health crisis a good many accusations against elected officials because of comments they made considered to be Anti Semitic. Were they? Let me take you back to Germany, in the first half of the twentieth century, to meet a playwright: Bertold Brecht. He was a pacifist when pacifism was not in fashion, a critic of politics at a time when politics was considered in high regard, and a socialist during the time of the Weimar Republic when Socialism was still considered to be a standard of hope (that is before its spectacular failure later in that century). He wrote a short story called "If Shark were Men".
Now, if there is any segment of Humanity we associate with Sharks, jockingly or seriously, used car dealers, lawyers and politicians would make the top of the list. Politicians in particular are not very popular these days (even without COVID).
In his story, Brecht imagines a small child asking whether if sharks were human, would they treat little fish any better?. This imagined question is the starting point for Brecht to describe a shark society which is not very different from the human society we know. Jokes about politicians (or lawyers) aside, his point was that in the same way that sharks cannot ignore their nature - neither can human beings.
Mayor Bill De Blasio made an impromptu comment about Hassidism (and Jews) which prompted an immediate and strong reaction from many corners qualifying the comment as anti Semitic and demanding an apology. I consider this situation a wonderful opportunity to explore Human Nature.
Like the sharks, De Blasio cannot ignore his nature - he is Human. As a Human being, he is still moved by the same basic instincts as any of us; preservation being at the top. In these uncertain times we are all to some extent afraid whether we recognize it or not. This pandemic is real; it kills people - over 1,000 in Georgia alone and over 62,000 so far in the US (with a quarter of a million worldwide and counting). In the same way each of us is being careful because of our will of preservation, De Blasio (like many elected officials) feels the pressure not only of his own preservation but the responsibility to meet the expectations of those who trusted him with the office. In that context it is not surprise that he lost control of Political Correctedness. Why the Jews? Well, the Media plays a role. While it is to some extent true that among ultraorthodox Jews there are those for whom the Government guidelines take a backseat to the imperatives of Torah, the infamous funeral mentioned by De Blassio had in fact been coordinated with the NYPD, a fact that the Media ommitted when reporting on it. Mayor De Blassio, in a spur of the moment comment, reacted to the situation by warning those the Media highlighted... and it was a group that strongly supports him in office: Ultra Orthodox Jews.
Then came the community reponse. As Jews, we are almost genetically programmed to expect anti Jewish backlash in any crisis situation: war, economic foes, pandemic. As a result, like the sharks, we are also driven by the instinct of self preservation - in this case, the preservation of a status as American citizens which Jews achieved very rarely during our history in the Diaspora. I can only think of the Golden decades in Spain, The Weimar Republic, and the USA. We cherished this country because this country gave Jews an equality we have rarely seen. So when anybody (politician, Hollywood maven, member of any clergy or whoever) singles out Jews (or so we perceive), like the shark we attack back - not out of aggressiveness, but our of the fear of losing.
Crisis situations, particularly those involving life-and-death as the current pandemic does, bring out in people the worst and the best. The worst come easy, on the best we must work hard. Volunteering and helping others is the best side of Humanity; let us work on it to control our fears. Maybe, if Sharks were men and worked on it, they WOULD treat little fish better,,,
STAY SAFE - STAY HEALTHY - STAY CONNECTED.