Our readers who know their local Jewish history are familiar with the 1946 article in Common Ground magazine by journalist Carey McWilliams. The article titled “Minneapolis: The Curious Twin” examines the “divergent anti-Semitic patterns to be found in the twin cities of St. Paul and Minneapolis.”
McWilliams found that “the pattern of anti-Semitism is much more pronounced in Minneapolis than in St. Paul. One might even say, with a measure of justification, that Minneapolis is the capital of anti-Semitism in the United States. In almost every walk of life, ‘an iron curtain’ separates Jews from non-Jews in Minneapolis. Nor is this ‘iron curtain’ a matter of recent origin; on the contrary, it seems to have always existed.”
The writer went on to point out that Jews were excluded from “service clubs” — Kiwanis, Rotary, Lions, Toastmasters — in Minneapolis; but this was not the case in St. Paul. “Even the Automobile Club in Minneapolis refuses to accept Jews as members. Mr. Hugh Craig, secretary of the club, recently declined to accept the applications of a well-known and highly respected rabbi.”
The article goes on at some length about discrimination against Jews in many spheres of social and economic life in the Mill City.
In this thumbnail history, I will just add that the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) was founded in Minneapolis, in the 1930s, as a response to the persecution of Jews in Nazi Germany; the activities of the Silver Shirts, the German-American Bund and similar organizations in Minnesota; and “the anti-Semitic overtones of the 1938 Minnesota gubernatorial campaign,” according to an entry on the Web site of the Minnesota Historical Society. From 1936 to 1939, “an informal organization, the Anti-Defamation Council of Minnesota, was the vehicle of Jewish protest” against all forms of anti-Semitism. “Members included Arthur Brin, Charles I. Cooper, and 21 other Jewish leaders in Minneapolis. A sister organization was established in St. Paul.”
Also in the late 1930s and 1940s, William Bell Riley, of the First Baptist Church, and Luke Rader, of the River-Lake Gospel Tabernacle, both located in Minneapolis, spewed anti-Semitic sermons from their pulpits. Rader billed himself as “America’s Pioneer Radio Evangelist,” and made use of the radio airwaves to spread his message of Jew hatred.
In view of this abysmal history, it’s sad to report that anti-Semitism has returned to Minneapolis.
Earlier this month, the Star Tribune published an op-ed by Ahmed Tharwat, a public affairs commentator of Egyptian origin, which argued that American Jews who make aliya and join the Israel Defense Forces pose a security threat when they return to the United States: “When and if those fighters return, fully charged and indoctrinated, and live among us, shouldn’t this raise concern for thousands of Arab- and Muslim-Americans who are spied on and monitored systematically? Shouldn’t we demand an investigation from the U.S. State Department and the FBI?”
Tharwat — who was responding to a news item about FBI fears that local Somali-Americans were going to Syria to fight — termed these Jews, with dual U.S. and Israeli citizenship, “Jewish jihadists.” He wrote: “These are people like the ones in the recent Gaza conflict whose loyalty is so strong to the Jewish state that they have left the comfort of American life to fight Arabs in the Middle East, much like the Crusaders of old.”
I understand that Tharwat hates Israel. His peculiar thing is to smear Jews and Israel with the epithets associated with the violent Islamist militants — or as the “Crusaders” of yore. He never bothered to learn that it is legal for American Jews to have dual citizenship and serve in the IDF.
Further, there is no actual basis for his fear that young American Jews will return from Israel “fully charged and indoctrinated” and perpetrate criminal acts, such as the Boston Marathon bombing last year, which was the work of Tamerlan and Dzokhar Tsarnaev, who were from a family of Chechen refugees. Tamerlan, the elder brother, became in thrall to the ideology of Islamist militants in the Russian Caucasus, returned to the States and enlisted his young brother, Dzhokhar, in the deadly Boston bomb plot.
Tharwat turned things up a notch in a subsequent article, which branded Israeli forces as the “Jewish ISIS,” in reference to the brutal Islamist faction that is terrorizing a wide swathe of communities in Syria and Iraq. In the “Jewish ISIS” column (which appeared for a time on the Web site of the Twin Cities Daily Planet, a local news consortium that includes the American Jewish World), Tharwat cited “Jewish Watch” (sic) as an authoritative source.
In fact, Jew Watch is one of the most vile anti-Semitic Web sites, with links to articles propounding Holocaust denial, and the classical anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish control of the media, banking, government (“Zionist Occupied Governments – ZOG”), etc. I don’t know why he thought this collection of writings by anti-Semitic scum merited a citation.
I’ve also learned recently that Ed Felien, publisher of Southside Pride, a community newspaper distributed door-to-door in south Minneapolis, wrote a piece titled “With God on our Side: the theology of Zionism” (sic). In this screed, Felien, a former member of the Minneapolis City Council in the 1970s, offered a selection of verses from the Tanach (Hebrew Scriptures), in a benighted effort to show that barbaric and Jewish supremacist ideology underpins Zionism. Although Zionism was a movement propounded by secular Jews in 19th century Europe, Felien would have his readers believe that the present state of Israeli-Palestinian relations goes back to biblical times.
Felien wrote: “The Phillistines (sic) lived in what is now Gaza, so the current struggle between Israel and Gaza goes back 3000 years.” Israel has been a state for 66 years; Jews lived in exile for around 2,000 years, prior to the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Apparently, the Jews were just biding their time, waiting for the next round of fighting with the Philistines.
In his nutty article, Felien stated: “David fought the Phillistines (sic) and felled the mighty Goliath with a slingshot, and Palestinian children throw stones at Israeli soldiers…. History, it seems, repeats itself.” History? Perhaps Felien thinks that Philistines is similar to Palestinians, so go for it.
It is possible that some unhinged people will read Felien’s malign essay on evil Jews and Judaism, and vent their feeling on the Jews in their midst — as we’ve seen happen during protests of the Gaza war in European countries. If folks hate what Israel is doing in Gaza, and decide it’s a continuation of Jewish behavior since biblical times, perhaps they will see Jews as suitable targets for revenge — or they will attack a synagogue, the place Jews gather for their rituals. In the beginning was the word.
You might think that I’m making this up, but Tharwat hosts a public access cable TV show called BelAhdan, and guess who he invited as a guest on the show? Ed Felien. You can watch this spectacle on YouTube, if you don’t have a better use for 14 minutes of your life.
As you might expect, the conversation on the segment “Jewish ISIS and the Establishing of the Jewish State” was rife with factual errors. For example, early on, Tharwat wonders about the population “breakdown” in Palestine, in 1947. Jews were “less than seven, eight percent” of the population, he guesses. Felien replies, “80 percent Palestinian, 20 percent Jewish or Israeli,” in pre-state Palestine. The correct answer is that Jews accounted for about 32 percent of the population back then, and they were the majority in the areas partitioned for a Jewish state.
Then Felien, who has never been to the Middle East, uncorks this one: “The Jews that are in Israel right now are Ashkenazi Jews, they’re not Sephardi Jews, they’re not the Middle Eastern Jews, they’re the Europeanized (sic) Jews.” In fact, a majority of Jews in Israel are of Middle East, Asian and African (excluding South Africa) paternal origin. Another 2.2 percent are from Beta Israel (Ethiopia). If Felien ever visited Israel, he would see that the Jews are kind of swarthy looking — and he certainly wouldn’t be able to distinguish Arab Israelis and Jewish Israelis.
Apart from the factual errors, both Tharwat and Felien should be condemned for denigrating Jews and stirring up anti-Jewish hatred. Employing a term like “Jewish jihadists” seems like a calculated effort to offend both Jews and Muslims.
I think that people are becoming more crazed, as Israel’s war in Gaza continues and the toll of civilian casualties mounts. Those predisposed to hate Israel have become more irrational in their denunciations, and pro-Palestinian demonstrations in some cases have included expressions of anti-Semitism. This does not serve the cause of Palestinian sovereignty.
In Israel over the last 50 or so days, there has been repression of antiwar views by the police, and by groups of thugs that have attacked protesters. Two weeks ago, an antiwar protest in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square attracted around 10,000 people — the police could not stop that group from gathering and speaking out.
And there has been some rhetorical sniping from the “pro-Israel” faction locally. I have pointed out that Israel, while subjected to war crimes by Hamas, does not have the right to commit war crimes by attacking civilians in Gaza. Not everybody has agreed with this view.
On Aug. 11, B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights monitor in the Occupied Territories, reported that Israel has bombed “dozens of residences… while residents were at home.” There were 72 incidents of bombing or shelling, in which 547 people were killed, “including 125 women under the age of 60, 250 minors, and 29 people over the age of 60.”
B’Tselem noted that these figures “are very preliminary, and are still being cross-referenced and checked. In the months ahead, B’Tselem plans to further investigate the incidents, including confirming the identity of the individuals killed and whether or not they took part in the hostilities.”
In any case, this should give readers some idea of the human toll in Gaza, a situation that arose out of the dangerous status quo since 1967, when Israel began its occupation of the Palestinian Territories.
— Mordecai Specktor / editor [at] ajwnews [dot] come
(American Jewish World, 8.29.14)