'Occupy Wall Street' occupied by anti-Semitism charge

Protest more diverse, less controlled than allegations would suggest.

Occupy Wall Street 311 R (photo credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton )
Occupy Wall Street 311 R
(photo credit: REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton )
NEW YORK – Is Occupy Wall Street an outgrowth of tikkun olam sentiment – or a burgeoning sore of latent leftist anti-Semitism? How you answer this question depends largely on what news sources you read and where your politics lie. On the Internet, one can view clips of a Kol Nidre service in New York that attracted hundreds of Jews, secular to Orthodox, in a moving and meaningful tribute to the power of prayer.
One can also find YouTube clips of a protester telling a man wearing a yarmulke (and, incongruously enough, a seersucker suit) to “go back to Israel.” The conservative Emergency Committee for Israel has subsidized an ad showing this clip as well as others.
In a statement, Anti-Defamation League National Director Abraham Foxman said that while there have been “some individuals holding anti- Semitic signs at the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ rallies, 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,’” such expressions “are not representative of the larger views of the OWS movement.”
“There is no evidence that these anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are representative of the larger movement or that they are gaining traction with other participants,” Foxman’s statement read. “However, history demonstrates time and again how economic downturns can embolden anti-Semites to spread malicious conspiracy theories and promote stereotypes about Jews and money. As a consequence, these statements must not be left unchallenged.”
In reading this statement, though, one quickly recognizes its essential flaw. At the moment, Occupy Wall Street is a self-styled grassroots protest, propelled less by defined leadership than by vague consensus.
There is no one at the moment, then, to stand up against radical anti-Semitic individuals in the protests – other than other individuals in the protests themselves.
A trip to Zuccotti Park, home of the New York protests, this week yielded no anti-Semitism sightings whatsoever – but instead, a collaborative touchy-feely ethos that bore more semblance to the ideals of kibbutz life than the indignations of hatred.
When I visited, two kippawearing Jewish protesters were sitting by the Occupy Wall Street succa, with lulav and etrog at the ready. Rather than defending the succa from anti-Semites, they told me, they spent their time explaining it to other protesters who were interested.
“They tell us we got a nice set-up,” one protester told me with a smile, gesturing to the people around who were sleeping on the cement under wrinkled tarpaulins.
The only ‘trouble’ the succa had run into, the protesters told me, was that the New York Police Department had come by... to make sure the succa was a halachic one.
“They told us that we had to be able to see the stars through the roof,” one protester said, gesturing toward the thatched s’chach.
Halacha-savvy police? “Well, this is New York,” he responded.
In the time I was there – which obviously is anecdotal rather than scientific evidence – there was no indication of any anti-Semitism toward the present and obvious Semites themselves. One man came by to eat cookies in the succa.
“They’re not organic,” he joked. ‘Is that okay with you guys?” Of course, had I wanted to write a story about the protests as a well of radicalism or raving lunacy, there were certainly candidates. I could have talked to the guy dressed as a skeleton who was doing a self-directed piece of oddly-choreographed performance art. Or I could have talked to the guy stomping around with the huge Chinese flag handing out copies of China Daily. The fact that in China even murmurings of an Occupy Wall Street-esque protest would get someone thrown into prison seemed to have eluded this gentleman.
A camera’s lens, after all, is only so wide. It will always only show what the person looking through the viewfinder wishes you to see.