Tuesday, April 27, 2010

They're Coming

As a Jew, an American Jew, a Jewish American, I’m always apprehensive. I have that underlying fear, that tension hard-wired into my DNA by centuries of oppression, scapegoating and progroms, that no matter how good life is in the United States, under the surface the stability and safety of my co-religionists are forever at stake.

Though the parallels to Jewish life in pre-Nazi Germany are many—including media power, economic power, intellectual power, political power and the accompanying resentment by many in the population at large because of those power concentrations—we are told that state-sponsored anti-Semitism cannot happen here, that our system of laws with their checks and balances would deny the hate-mongers. But read Linda Greenhouse’s column in today’s NY Times to discover how close we were, and are, to the Supreme Court capitulating to prejudice: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/04/26/breathing-while-undocumented/?hp.

Arizona. So soon after the Texas Board of Education voted to re-write history, Arizona’s legislative and executive actions on illegal immigration frighten me. Politicians abandon long-held beliefs. If a man such as John McCain, revered for his service to his country and for his principled stands, a man who could have become our president, can be buffaloed into selling out basic constitutional rights, it provides a current history lesson on how the Weimar Republic’s president, Paul von Hindenburg, accepted evil incarnate into the German government in 1933.

I am not condoning the influx of illegal aliens, nor any of the abuses any of them perpetrate. But we cannot permit our distaste for this situation to transform us into a police state. As Debra J. White wrote in one of the Letters to the Editor in today’s NY Times, “Immigrants, undocumented and legal, are blamed for crime, unemployment, crowded emergency rooms, pet overpopulation and every other social ill that comes to mind (http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/27/opinion/l27arizona.html?scp=1&sq=debra%20j.%20white&st=cse).” Are we to believe these problems would vanish with the banishment or incarceration of illegals? Do these troubling conditions not exist where there are no illegals?

Sadly, our nation’s history is studded with examples of radicalism and bigotry gone amok, from the Ku Klux Klan to Father Charles Coughlin to Joe McCarthy to David Duke to Glen Beck to, yes, even Sarah Palin. Cults of personality cloud too many perceptions, leaving us vulnerable to a step by step loss of our freedoms.

Arizona—and Texas—cannot be considered aberrations anymore. We must all keep in mind the sentiments of this poem by the German pastor Martin Niemöller, and act responsibly:

First they came for the Communists,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Communist.
Then they came for the Jews,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I wasn’t a Jew.
Then they came for the Catholics,
and I didn’t speak up,
because I was a Protestant.
Then they came for me,
and by that time there was no one
left to speak up for me.