I felt very left out this week. For days, my social media feeds filled up with comments about space lasers and I didn’t get the joke. Then, when I figured it out, I realized it wasn’t funny after all – although humor is a traditional Jewish defense mechanism. A Facebook post from November 2018 by Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene, before she ran for office, pushed the term and hashtag “Jewish space lasers” into Twittersphere, cyberspace and public discourse.
In the post, uncovered by Media Matters, Greene, who is now a rookie representative from Georgia, theorized that the Rothschild banking family was involved in starting California wildfires using lasers from outer space. According to her twisted reasoning, Rothschild bankers (and you might as well read that as “The Jews”) were deliberately setting the fires in order to profit from stock manipulation in collusion with the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.
Greene, not the brightest spark, could easily ignite a nasty incident with her constant hate conspiracies.
Her comments were shared virally, but Greene refused to back down even after being called out on them. Among those who condemned her was the Republican Jewish Coalition which issued a statement saying that, “She is far outside the mainstream of the Republican Party, and the RJC is working closely with the House Republican leadership regarding next steps in this matter.”
The RJC is right to be concerned. But although Greene is associated with the pro-Trump QAnon conspiracy theorists and has spread many outrageous claims, she is far from the first to accuse the Jewish banking family of manipulating the weather. She wasn’t even the first that year. In March 2018, a Democrat Washington DC Council member, Trayon White Sr., posted a video of snowfall in the US capital in which he can be heard saying:
“Man, it just started snowing out of nowhere this morning, man. Y’all better pay attention to this climate control, man, this climate manipulation. And DC keep talking about, ‘We [are] a resilient city.’ And that’s a model based off the Rothschilds controlling the climate to create natural disasters they can pay for to own the cities, man. Be careful.” White later apologized following an uproar, although whether he actually changed his mind is a different matter.
If the accusations of controlling the weather come from both far-Right and far-Left, it doesn’t make the end result acceptable. It reminds me of the old joke that if your head is in the oven and your feet are in the fridge, around about your waist you should be feeling a comfortable temperature.
I sometimes think that blaming the Jews – and particularly the rich Rothschilds – is one of the few things that draws extremists from both sides together. That’s because they are not polar opposites, but united behind our backs by irrational hatred.
The year 2018 must have been a good one for Rothschild conspiracies: Attending a UN-sponsored seminar in Moscow in September that year, I was personally accused by a Palestinian journalist of being part of the Jewish conspiracy to control the world media and global economy. He obviously didn’t consider that if I could influence banks and the press, my personal finances and workday would look very different.
The blasts from the past by Greene and White might be colorful, but they are far from the only antisemitic conspiracy theories around. Although these comments were made in 2018, they cannot be easily dismissed. They reflect an ongoing trope – a blood libel – which has cost many lives over the centuries. In fact, just recalling the attack in which 11 people were killed at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue complex in October 2018, it should be clear that hate speech can have a deadly effect. The Rothschilds don’t control the weather, but the Jews are the victims of the climate of hatred.
Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic last year, hate crimes have increased everywhere, and antisemitic attacks have spread like the wildfires allegedly set by the Rothschilds. It’s as crazy to ignore conspiracy theories as it is to spread them.
I HATE the atmosphere of hatred. Scenes in Israel in recent days of thousands of members of extremist ultra-Orthodox (haredi) sects crowding, maskless, in funeral processions for their spiritual leaders who died of COVID-19, albeit at a very advanced age, have given rise to a response that occasionally crosses the line into the antisemitic.
Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, the head of the Brisk Yeshiva in Jerusalem and scion of the well-known Soloveitchik rabbinical dynasty, died at the age of 99 on January 31 and an estimated 10,000 people attended his funeral. Later the same day, some 8,000 people participated in the funeral of Rabbi Yitzchok Scheiner, the head of the Kamenitz Yeshiva, who died at age 98.
It was infuriating to see masses of people gathering during the COVID lockdown, without respect for their lives or the lives of others likely to be infected with the deadly disease as a result. In the early days of the pandemic, it could be argued that the insular communities – which don’t have Internet or electronic media – were not aware of the dangers of such gatherings, but with the death rate soaring in Israel and many of the victims coming from the ultra-Orthodox world, this is no longer the case.
Many people condemned the police for not enforcing the lockdown regulations and dispersing the gatherings, but police officials rightly noted that using heavy riot control tactics in such a crowd in a confined space could have had lethal consequences. Strangely, many of those demanding stricter police action against the haredi mourners criticized the law enforcement when it was carried out against protesters, contravening the terms of permits for demonstrations, near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
From the start of the restrictions in Israel, last March, I have failed to understand why mass demonstrations have been allowed while only 10 people are permitted to gather for prayers, even outdoors.
It’s hard to complain about generalizations without generalizing, but when I see social media posts referring to “the haredim” – all haredim – as parasites, I cringe. Comments about how the ultra-Orthodox shouldn’t complain about the difficulties of the lockdown because they chose to have large families, often in small apartments, without the technological means to hold lessons over Zoom are harsh and judgmental. A suggestion that the country’s housing shortage could stem from the haredi population’s growth rate was sad – or at least it saddened me – and I waited to see the haredim en masse blamed for global warming along with the rest of their sins. Haredim are, after all, the most identifiable type of Jews. They must be party to the Rothschilds’ conspiracies.
A side effect of the novel coronavirus seems to be a worsening of societal splits: between Left and Right, religious and non-religious; and economic haves and have-nots. Being patronizing about anyone who thinks or acts differently to you is not helpful.
Hate is itself a virus that can mutate with lethal consequences. There is a need to consider what steps should be taken to bring the extremists back under the authority of the state, to foster fuller integration in sharing the taxpayers’ burdens in the workplace and with either military or a national civil service – burdens currently being carried by an increasingly smaller sector of Israeli society. Such measures need to be considered rationally and respectfully, not in the heat of the moment and neither patronizingly nor out of spite.
There’s a need to calm down and stop fanning the flames. Space lasers don’t light fires, inciteful words do. Extreme weather conditions are devastating. Ditto an atmosphere of extreme hatred.