Anti-Semitism is certainly not a new phenomenon, and current headlines emphasize that anti-Semitism is very much a current event. From the kosher supermarket in Paris to the synagogue shooting in Denmark, anti-Semitism is not a historical reference but a current movement. Last summer, the Anti-Defamation League conducted a global survey of anti-Semitism, involving 102 countries and territories and interviews with over 53,000 people. Sadly, the survey found that 26 percent of the world’s population still harbors anti-Semitic attitudes — that’s 1.09 billion people.
As French Prime Minister Manuel Valls powerfully said in a speech to the French National Assembly, “History has shown us that a reawakening of anti-Semitism is the symptom of a crisis of democracy.” Hate is powerful and rocks the foundation of our communal belief in the pursuit of equality and justice.
Anti-Semitism is certainly not only a European problem. It is an issue in the United States — as we saw in the horrific shooting at the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas, last year, for example. Anti-Semitism is unfortunately a New Orleans problem, as well.
This Mardi Gras, on the St. Charles Avenue parade route in New Orleans, amidst the revelry and joy of celebration was an anti-Semitic sign that read “Don’t be a Mardi Jew. Throw me something mister.”Someone used a hateful stereotype about Jews in a public plea for Mardi Gras throws. This sign in the midst of a traditional and well-traveled parade route demonstrated that anti-Semitism exists with a strong heartbeat in our community.
It would be easy to look at the person holding the sign as a lone despicable hater, but the sign itself is only one component. We have to ask, how many of us, who claim to be concerned with discrimination in New Orleans, spoke up and requested the sign to be taken down? We have to wonder, was the sign effective in attracting some sympathizing Mardi Gras throws?
These are key questions for our community. To answer them meaningfully requires both words and actions. When discrimination surfaces, do we speak up and confront it? Or do we let it fester and then seem surprised when it becomes front-page news, like in Paris, Denmark and Kansas? When anti-Semitism is expressed, does it validate other prejudiced beliefs putting all of us in danger?
I believe that New Orleans is better than the sign along the St. Charles parade route. This is a city that does not welcome those who disrupt a celebration. I hope that we all speak up for each other and stop discrimination in the moment. Otherwise, I fear that we will lose our reasons for festivities.
regional director, Anti-Defamation League