The Occupy Wall Street camp at Zucotti Park harkens to the early kibbutzim of Israel. It's a self-sustaining scrappy community, with members eating, sleeping, and living collectively, braced against harsh climes, while dreaming up and playing at a better way to live. But in another sense, they aren't like kibbutzes at all. In the sense that few kibbutniks ever harbored unpleasant feelings towards Zionist Jews, given that they were them.
This week, a Los Angeles school district fired a substitute teacher for anti-Semitic remarks she made at a recent Occupy Wall Street offshoot in Los Angeles. In an interview Oct. 12 with Reason.tv, Patricia McAllister (pictured above) said, "I think that the Zionist Jews who are running these big banks and our Federal Reserve, which is not run by the federal government, they need to be run out of this country."
No Tolerance For Intolerance
The L.A. schools Superintendent John Deasy said he respected that these were McAllister's private opinions expressed in her private time as a private citizen, but he nonetheless said in a statement Tuesday that it was important to emphasize "to our students, who watch us and look to us for guidance, to be role models and to represent the ideals by which LAUSD lives, that we will never stand for behavior that is disrespectful, intolerant or discriminatory."
That same day, approximately 200 protesters, according to the Los Angeles Times, marched to the Los Angeles Unified School district headquarters to protest budget cuts and layoffs under the banner "Occupy LAUSD."
There, in another interview, McAllister defended her remarks to local TV station KTLA.
"It is not racist," she said. "It's me telling the truth. Anyone who speaks against the Jews are called racist nowadays."
"If someone said the same thing about African Americans they would be considered racist," the reporter replies to McAllister, who is black.
"If we were destroying this nation, you better say something," she says without missing a beat. "And take us down with it."
The Racism Card?
McAllister's comments weren't endorsed by Occupy LA or the local union United Teachers of Los Angeles, nor were they the purpose of the "Occupy LAUSD" rally, which was planned before McAllister's dismissal. At least one news outlet -- KTLA News -- nevertheless reported that the entire "Occupy LAUSD" protest came out in her defense.
McAllister's remarks have attracted much attention, particularly in the conservative blogosphere. And she is only the latest object in a string of anti-Semitism charges directed at the Occupy Wall Street protesters.
The germ of the Occupy movement came from activist group Adbusters, according to an analysis by SocialFlow, tracing the history of #occupywallstreet. Adbusters editor Kalle Lasn is not particularly popular in certain Jewish circles, because of an article he wrote listing how many influential neoconservatives were Jewish, and another that compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto.
"That's not to say the Occupy Wall Street movement itself is anti-Semitic," writes Alana Goodman in Commentary. "But if the top organizer behind the Tea Party turned out to have published a blacklist of American Jews he claimed had dual loyalty to the U.S. and Israel, the backlash from the media would be massive."
Israel Today pointed out that an American Nazi leader expressed support for the movement on the party's website: "Who holds the wealth and power in this country? The Judeo-Capitalists. Who is therefore the #1 enemy who makes this filth happen? The Judeo-Capitalists."
Last week, the Emergency Committee For Israel, a right-wing political advocacy group, which has Bill Kristol as a board member, released an ad which compiled clips of half a dozen individuals holding anti-Semitic signs or expressing anti-Semitic ideas. The video also includes clips of President Obama and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi sympathizing with Occupy Wall Street protesters.
"Why are our leaders turning a blind eye to anti-Semitic, anti-Israel attacks?" the ad asks. "Tell President Obama and Leader Pelosi to stand up to the mob. Hate is not an American value."
Noah Pollak, the executive director of the Emergency Committee For Israel told AOL Jobs that the ad "simply asks political leaders who side with these protests and say they reflect American values and frustrations to point out and condemn that there are elements of bigotry at the rallies."
In an editorial published last week in the Jewish Journal, M.J. Rosenberg condemns what he sees as attempts to delegitimize the Occupy Wall Street protests by smearing the whole enterprise as anti-Semitic.
Old Stereotypes, New Ends
There is a long history, he writes, of the wealthy and powerful using anti-Semitism as a tool to extinguish progressive movements and maintain the status quo. In this case, he sees the tactic as cleverly reversed. Rather than slandering the protesters as conspiratorial Jews, which today's society wouldn't swallow so easily, opponents have tagged them as anti-Semites. It's a post-modern twist on an old trick.
"There's a straw man argument going on," counters Pollak. "The ad doesn't say that all the protesters are motivated by anti-Semitism. There's just been enough of this sentiment expressed at these protests that it's a little disturbing to see political leaders fully endorse them."
Pollak himself hasn't been to an Occupy Wall Street protest, but he claims that other people who worked on the ad have.
McAllister certainly isn't the only protester to express anti-Semitic sentiments which hint at an intricate Jewish cabal, in the mold of the "Protocols of the Elders of Zion," which monopolizes the money supply and manipulates Wall Street to its whim.
There were enough glimpses of bigotry to prompt a statement from Abraham H. Foxman, the National Director of the The Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The group has seen anti-Semitic placards, he writes, and "some videos posted on YouTube from the rallies have shown individuals expressing classic anti-Semitic beliefs such as 'Jews control the banks' and 'Jews control Wall Street.'"
Foxman calls on the OWS movement to publicly condemn what he sees as marginal voices of bigotry, as "history demonstrates time and again how economic downturns can embolden anti-Semites to spread malicious conspiracy theories and promote stereotypes about Jews and money."
Anti-Semitism is clearly not a dominant message of the Occupy Wall Street protests. Even the conservative commentators pointing out incidences of anti-Semitism seem to agree on this point. Several hundred people in fact gathered together near Zucotti Park on the first night of Yom Kippur in a candlelit Kol Nidre service, praying for the end of racism, classism, and gay and lesbian discrimination.
It was an act of solidarity that has evolved into the subgroup Occupy Judaism, which organizes Torah services, workshops and Jewish cultural performances at the site.
Last Friday, one protester took up religious freedom as his pet cause, when a New York policeman asked him to dismantle a makeshift tarp enclave that he had constructed in the downtown park, where such structures are banned. The young man held up a sign explaining that it was a sukkah, the temporary structure built for the Jewish festival Sukkot -- a symbol of the frailty and fleetingness of life -- which was therefore protected under the constitution's guarantee of freedom of religion.
"That's not a sukkah," said the policeman gruffly. "Take it down."
The man continued to hold his ground, waving the sign, and preaching the sanctity of the First Amendment.
"That's a tent in the disguise of a sukkah," the policeman said, with no hint of a wink.
One columnist for the Jerusalem Post, disturbed by the reports of anti-Semitism coming out against OWS, paid a visit to Zucotti Park, and noted "no anti-Semitism sightings whatsoever -- but instead, a collaborative of touchy-feely ethos that bore more semblance to the ideals of kibbutz life than the indignations of hatred."
Labeling a movement as racist can be an effective way for opponents to taint and diminish it. The tea party faced similar skewering from liberal camps, and the NAACP even asked the movement's leaders to repudiate the racist elements within its ranks last summer, in an uncanny parallel to the ADL's call.
In response, Jenny Beth Martin and Mark Meckler wrote in an op-ed for Politico: "It seems that anyone who disagrees with the far left, socialist policies of Barack Obama and the current administration is subject to the heavy hand of the race card. This card is generally played when all else has failed. It was inevitable that it would eventually be used aggressively against the tea party movement."
The race card may be a heavy hand, but it can change hands pretty quickly.