Is Occupy Wall Street anti-Semitic? Some groups on the political right really want you to think so.
If you’ve been watching cable news over the past couple of days, you’ve probably seen the ad that shows Democrats like Nancy Pelosi and Barack Obama praising the Occupy Wall Street movement — followed by the question “What is happening at the Occupy Wall Street protests?” and clips of protesters making anti-Semitic remarks. One man shouts “Jews control Wall Street” and holds a sign that says “Hitler’s Bankers - Wall St.”
“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.”
The ad is put out by the Emergency Committee for Israel (ECI), whose board members include neoconservative columnist Bill Kristol and ultra-conservative former presidential candidate Gary Bauer.
Here’s the ad:
The idea that OWS is anti-Semitic has found an audience in some parts of the right. Rush Limbaugh argued that the terms “Wall Street” and “bankers” are just “anti-Semitic code” for Jews.
Glenn Beck’s The Blaze wrote that “each day of the Occupy Wall Street protests seems to come with its fair share of anti-Semitism.”
“The Jew-hatred among protesters and sympathizers is diverse and unapologetic. It is, in fact, atmospheric,” Abe Greenwald wrote for for Commentary last week. He adds: “Where the Tea Party couldn’t be tagged as racist no matter how hard liberals tried, Occupy Wall Street protesters are literally boasting of their Nazi credentials.”
And John Hinderaker wrote on the conservative Powerline blog: “Given the extraordinary media attention that was paid to fictitious claims of racism at Tea Party rallies, it is amusing to see the press avert its eyes from repeated incidents of anti-Semitism at Occupy Wall Street protests, even as Democratic politicians endorse the “movement” almost unanimously and without qualification.”
But though the Anti-Defamation League condemned the comments portrayed in the ECI’s video, it also noted in its statement that there’s “no evidence that these incidents are widespread.”
“Thus far, however, anti-Semitism has not gained traction more broadly with the protestors, nor is it representative of the larger movement at this time,” the statement said.
But they didn’t totally let OWS off the hook. “As the focus of the demonstrations continue to develop and evolve,” the statement adds, “ensuring that the movement does not get hijacked by extremists or anti-Semitic elements is critical. Public rallies like OWS often draw a wide range of people with various personal or organizational agendas, including those seeking to exploit public rallies for their own purposes.”
Dan Sieradski, who calls himself the “de facto spokesman” for Occupy Judaism, an effort to rally the Jewish community out to the protests, was emphatic that those featured in the video were outliers — or as he called them “a couple of jerks and idiots.” He pointed out that OWS held services for Jewish High Holidays, which he said brought a thousand people, and that protesters have even been celebrating the Jewish holiday of Sukkot in ceremonial structures known as Sukkahs, which have been built in 12 cities including London and Toronto.
Sieradski dismissed the ECI’s video, noting Kristol’s involvement and saying the group “is funded by hedge fund managers. It’s the 1% cynically abusing the threat of anti-Semitism” to discredit the movement. “It has nothing to do with them being Jewish,” he told TPM, “it has to do with them being investment bankers.”
“There is anti-Semitism everywhere in the world, and no more here than anywhere else,” Sieradski said.
And, as the Jewish news site JTA.org describes, in some cases OWS protesters have been fighting back against those outliers. In the case of one man who calls Obama a “Zionist puppet,” among other things, OWS protesters have held their own signs calling him “A—hole,” and have even chanted “Nazis: Go home!”
“Wherever you go to a public demonstration,” Rabbi Michael Lerner, editor of the liberal Tikkun Magazine, told JTA, “you always have a few nutcases standing on the side.”
The ECI has not yet returned TPM’s request for comment.