Bear with me for a moment as I try to make my point. Over the last few years, I, like many others, have written about and bemoaned the lack of civility in our political discourse and I have expressed my fears and concerns about how the use of violent rhetoric could lead to political violence. I have also used this blog as a place to take the right — and the Tea Party in particular — to task for the use of both violent and racist rhetoric. And I have been particularly harsh on the use of Holocaust-related themes (such as the comparison of President Obama to Hitler) or anti-Semitic tropes (such as my criticism earlier this week of Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel”).
In doing so, I’ve made an effort to be sure that I could back up the allegations that I made. Thus, when I talk about violent rhetoric from the Tea Party, I’ve included pictures like this:
When I’ve spoken about racism, I’ve included photos like these:
And when I take offense at Holocaust or anti-Semitic themes or imagery, I’ve included pictures like these:
and unbelievably, this:
I’m not suggesting that every Tea Partier is a racist, anti-Semite, or even violent. But I think that the evidence clearly demonstrates that there is at the very least an undercurrent of racism, anti-Semitism, and violence that runs through some elements of the Tea Party.
Then, in response to the statement on the attempted assassination of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords issued by Sarah Palin earlier this week, I was very critical of the use of “blood libel” (Remind Me Again Why Jews Don’t Like Sarah Palin). Some on the right, including a few Jews, have defended Palin’s use of the term. But far more have been critical of the insensitivity of the use of that term, not to mention Palin’s attempt to make the issue about her and her “victimization,” rather than confronting the use of violent rhetoric both by her, her supporters, and others on the right (“Second Amendment remedies” or “armed and dangerous” for example).
What prompted this post, however, was an editorial from right-leaning The Washington Times to defend Palin’s use of the term “blood libel”. In that editorial, the paper said:
This is simply the latest round of an ongoing pogrom against conservative thinkers. The last two years have seen a proliferation of similar baseless charges of racism, sexism, bigotry, Islamophobia and inciting violence against those on the right who have presented ideas at odds with the establishment's liberal orthodoxy. Columnist Paul Krugman took advantage of the murders to tar conservative icon Rush Limbaugh and Fox News superstar Glenn Beck as "hate-mongers." It's this sort of reflexive and dastardly mudslinging that drowns out reasoned discussion of public-policy alternatives and poisons the well of political debate in America.
Go ahead, pick up your jaw off the floor. Then read it again. Now, keeping in mind some of the images that I’ve reposted above (and note that I didn’t bother with images of sexism or Islamophobia; it didn’t seem worth the effort, but I’m sure I’ve got the goods if pushed), ask yourself if any of those charges are “baseless”. As to Limbaugh and Beck being hate-mongers, I don’t have enough space (let alone mental energy) to go through the voluminous examples of that kind of speech from each of them. Let’s just recall Beck’s recent three-day anti-Semitic hatchet job on George Soros that repeated previously debunked claims or the man imprisoned in California who had planned to attack the Tides foundation following Beck’s repeated charges against that organization. Or take a look at this “Top 10 List” of Beck’s idiotic and hateful quotes from 2010. And just a few days ago, Limbaugh claimed that Democrats support the man who attempted to assassinate Rep. Giffords. And query whether that paragraph is a “reasoned discussion of public-policy alternatives” or whether it’s nothing more than the sort of “reflexive and dastardly mudslinging that … poisons the well of political debate.”
But the phrase that I want to really focus on comes in the first sentence of that paragraph: “an ongoing pogrom against conservative thinkers”. That the word “pogrom” would be used — in a defense of Sarah Palin’s use of the term “blood libel” — is so stunningly stupid and insensitive as to defy comprehension. Let’s go back to the Jewish Virtual Library (the same source that I used previously for a definition of “blood libel”) for a definition of the term “pogrom”:
Pogrom is a Russian word designating an attack, accompanied by destruction, looting of property, murder, and rape, perpetrated by one section of the population against another. In modern Russian history pogroms have been perpetrated against other nations (Armenians, Tatars) or groups of inhabitants (intelligentsia). However, as an international term, the word "pogrom" is employed in many languages to describe specifically the attacks accompanied by looting and bloodshed against the Jews in Russia. The word designates more particularly the attacks carried out by the Christian population against the Jews between 1881 and 1921 while the civil and military authorities remained neutral and occasionally provided their secret or open support. The pogroms occurred during periods of severe political crisis in the country and were linked to social upheavals and nationalist incitement in Eastern Europe. (Similar events also occurred during that period, though on a more limited scale, in the context of the antisemitic movements in Germany, Austria, Romania, and the Balkan countries, and of nationalist and religious fanaticism in *Morocco, *Algeria, and *Persia.)
The Jews of Russia were the victims of three large-scale waves of pogroms, each of which surpassed the preceding in scope and savagery. These occurred between the years 1881 and 1884, 1903 and 1906, and 1917 and 1921. There were outbreaks in Poland after it regained independence in 1918, and in Romania from 1921.
Or perhaps you’d prefer the definition from the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:
Pogrom is a Russian word meaning “to wreak havoc, to demolish violently.” Historically, the term refers to violent attacks by local non-Jewish populations on Jews in the Russian Empire and in other countries. The first such incident to be labeled a pogrom is believed to be anti-Jewish rioting in Odessa in 1821. As a descriptive term, “pogrom” came into common usage with extensive anti-Jewish riots that swept Ukraine and southern Russia in 1881-1884, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II. In Germany and eastern Europe during the era of the Holocaust, as in Tsarist Russia, economic, social, and political resentment of Jews reinforced traditional religious antisemitism. This served as a pretext for pogroms.
The perpetrators of pogroms organized locally, sometimes with government and police encouragement. They raped and murdered their Jewish victims and looted their property.
So, in defending the use of the term “blood libel” — the charge that Jews murdered Christian (or today, Muslim) children in order to use their blood to make Passover matzah, — a leading Republican newspaper charges that criticism of Palin or the right for violent or racist rhetoric is a pogrom against “conservative thinkers”. Clearly, whoever chose to use the term “pogrom” is not one of those conservative thinkers, as no thought was evidenced in the choice of that word.
In one paragraph, the editors of The Washington Times manage to use violent rhetoric at the same time that they’re arguing that the allegations of the use of violent rhetoric are baseless. Moreover, they’re managing to create a false equivalence for accusing people of doing something that they have in fact done, with the organized government-sanctioned murder of tens of thousands of people that led, inexorably to the Holocaust.
Let’s be clear: Republicans or “conservative thinkers” or Tea Partiers are not being dragged into the street, beaten, shot, and pushed into mass graves. They’re not be sent to gas chambers or forced into ghettos. They’re not even being accused of killing anyone. Nope. The accusation is simply that their rhetoric is inappropriate and may lead to violence of the sort that we’ve witness in Tucson last Saturday and in other places in our country over the last few years.
Words have meanings. Maybe it’s time for those “conservative thinkers” to learn what words mean. And (though I recognized that this might be a stretch) to think a little bit before using certain words or drawing certain analogies.
Oh, and on behalf of my relatives who lived (and died) in the shtetls of Russia and Poland, I have this to say to Sarah Palin, The Washington Times, and those who believe that the use of violent, racist, or anti-Semitic imagery is acceptable: Fuck you. And to Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Virginia), the new majority leader in the House of Representatives (and the only Republican Jew in Congress): It is time for you to remember who you are and the history of Jews, both in Europe and America. Then grow some balls, show a little chutzpah, and tell your Republican colleagues to start talking issues and ideas and stop the violent, racist, anti-Semitic, and eliminationist rhetoric.
The images above come from a series of posts showcasing images of the Tea Party previously posted on this blog. Here are links to all (I think) of the other posts in the series:
A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News
A Sampling of Signs from the "Tea Bag" Parties That You Didn't See on the News (update 1)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 2)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 3)
Here We Go Again: More “Tax Protest” Signs (Part 4)
Tea Party Idiots Are Back ... and Just as Vile
How Do We Respond?
Yet More Tea Party Signs: Racism, Violent Rhetoric, and Idiocy
and just for fun (with a bit of bonus racism):
Teabonics: More Reasons to Fear the Teabaggers.
Labels: Anti-Semitism, Civility, Politics, Racism