Donald Sutherland in 1978 version of

Column: Outreach or “Pod Squads”? Breaking Down Bias on The Left and The Right

Top federal officials and Jewish leaders spoke to each other, and together they spoke to the public at large, the public that reads newspapers, watches television news programs and listens to those who run our government. But they did not speak to the people that count.

This is the mass of people whose antisemitism or defiance of Israel is well-ingrained in them. The Jews killed Christ, some of them say.. They will not accept Jesus as their savior. They are rich and powerful. They make trouble. They cannot be trusted. They ensure that Israel receives special treatment while the cries of poor Americans are ignored. America wages a “Jew war” to protect Israel and in the process sacrifices our sons and daughters. Israel persecutes the Palestinians just as America persecutes Blacks and Native Americans as part of a practice known as intersectionality.

The roundtable hosted by Biden administration officials last week to confront spiraling antisemitism could even boomerang. Some might ask, hey, how do the Jews rate a national roundtable? What about us? Once again, those Jews receive special treatment.

The summit, held at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building next to the White House, could well be productive in many ways. The very meeting of all these minds last Wednesday (December 7) calls attention to the issue, and this session may lead to many steps to thwart antisemitism.

One potentially forceful trick is to shrink the membership rolls of any kind of undertaking that enables antisemitism. That will mean convincing said followers that they are supporting a warped, fraudulent movement.

It will take outreach, a massive, vigorous effort. We need to reach those followers who are mainly employed as shock troops whose numbers bolster the influence of these movements. Organizers build such movements by embedding themselves with citizens in the grassroots and focus on their rage and/or their idealism.

My impression is that a great many followers are not inherently evil, but they genuinely believe that their factions are right. Maybe they will re-think their viewpoints if they hear from different perspectives.

I thought of this approach because Israeli critics have given pause when I broached some concerns. Four critics apologized when I called them out, politely, on assumptions that they made about my comments on Israel. A senior manager at a child-welfare agency conducted seminars on Middle East issues that colleagues described as an exercise in revisionist history. After a controversy spotlighted her sham tactics, some of her recruits abandoned the program, according to my colleagues who sat through one of her classes.

As limited as these examples are, I sensed that engagement with people with negative attitudes toward Jews and/or Israel could succeed. This approach might work best with the left because their appeal is mainly political. They recruit by distorting the situation, telling would-be converts that Israel stole the land from the Palestinians. They neglect to mention that Jews have lived in Israel and the territories continuously for 4000 years, that Israel has been under siege from the Arabs since its inception as a sovereign state 75 years ago and that Palestinian leaders have repeatedly rejected proposals for an independent state.

These misrepresentations lead not only to disdain for Israel but also to blaming American Jews for their support of Israeli right-wing policies and approval of invading Iraq.

We can tell these followers that the vast majority of American Jews likely do not back conservative Israeli policies or the attack in Iraq, judging by voting patterns. Anywhere from two-thirds to 80 percent of Jewish voters have supported both Clintons, Gore, Kerry, Obama and Biden in their presidential campaigns. If they favored the Iraq war, why didn’t they vote to re-elect George W. Bush in 2004?

Granted, that leaves a strenuous faction of Jews who readily support right-wingers in Israel’s Knesset. However, they still do not reflect the attitudes of the majority of Jews here.

Most of all, we need to address intersectionality. Because there is none. The Palestinians are not fighting for justice and better living conditions. A great many of them seek to destroy Israel, not live with it on equal terms. That is not what racial minorities are struggling for in America.

The right is a different story. I never understood their prejudices. When I lived in central Pennsylvania, many people behaved robotically, as if they were zombies in a horror film. It was like something out of “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in which human forms would grow in large pods and emerge to replace real people.

Their contempt for Jews is deeply entrenched in their beliefs, both religiously and ethnically. It was natural for residents where I lived to separate Jews from themselves. They likewise looked down on Blacks and Hispanics, buying into all the stereotypes. Except, of course, for anyone who was not white and Christian, and there were conflicts between Protestants and Catholics.

When I inquired about joining a theater group, their reception to my presence was frosty, and one actor made a racist joke about iconic singer Michael Jackson. I recall being the only person who did not laugh. My experience with theater groups in Philadelphia is, as we would expect, that racist jokes are avoided.

An antisemitic couple who lived next door in an apartment building did not bring out the welcome wagon when I moved in, but weirdly enough we became friends after awhile despite having little in common. I attribute it to us getting used to each other and their feeling that I was a good person.

There have been members of hate groups who broke away and later denounced them, which offers evidence that some of these followers can change. Those who back arch-conservative policies have legitimate grievances that can lead to radicalization.

Many white people, even those with some level of education, feel as if they are being sidelined. When their only allies are the hate groups, they should find it easy to buy into the ”great replacement theory” – the ideology which, in America, means that “an elite cabal of Jews and Democrats is ‘replacing’ white Americans with Black, Hispanic and others of color by encouraging immigration and interracial marriage – with the end goal being the eventual extinction of the white race,” as The Guardian newspaper explains it.

Probably some of these followers can recognize they are overreacting to the problems they face, but in smaller numbers than those on the left.

If outreach does not work, we can always launch “a pod squad” that locates and destroys pods before they can conceive and snatch our bodies.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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