Guest Opinion | Like all forms of racism, anti-Semitism is rooted in misinformation and slander

The United States history taught to students does not inform nearly as well as it should, leaving gaps in knowledge open to be exploited by conspiracy theorists.

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The last several weeks have seen an uptick in anti-Semitic social media postings. The ones that have been receiving the most traction have been from Black athletes and celebrities Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson, Stephen Jackson, P.Diddy, and Nick Cannon. The main anti-Semitic conspiracy echoed in their posts have been that Jews controlled the Trans-Atlantic Enslaved Persons Trade. The five men who made these tweets are not representative of every Black American, but represent a far greater issue within American society.

Most Americans still do not know the history of American Jews. This is due to a fault in the American educational system. The fault is that we are taught the framework of why, in theory, America is the best place to live regardless of your race, gender, and/or sexual preference. But we are not the history as to why Jews, like many minorities, are still fighting towards a pursuit of happiness rather than already having achieved happiness.

Once high school and even college course work is completed, several Americans are still so uninformed about histories and daily lives of the Jewish community in their own country. This lack of knowledge is so severe that the simplest and most cathartic answer towards dealing with complicated issues involving the Jewish community is by spewing hate and racist conspiracy.

According to historian Jacob Rader Marcus, more than 75 percent of Jewish families in Charleston, South Carolina; Richmond, Virginia; and Savannah, Georgia, owned slaves. That is a staggering number, but also quite a misleading one.

Yale University Professor David Brion Davis concludes that in the Southern United States in the year 1830, there were 120 Jews among the 45,000 slaveholders owning 20 or more slaves and only 20 Jews among the 12,000 slaveholders owning 50 or more slaves.

The Jewish Virtual Library estimates that only 4,000 to 6,000 Jews lived in the United States in 1830 which was far less than 1 percent of the worldwide Jewish population. A vast majority of Ashkenazi American Jews can trace their ancestors’ arrival to the United States between 1880 and 1914. The Jewish Virtual Library estimates the American Jewish population increased from 150,000-200,000 in the pre-Civil War era to over 4,000,000 by the mid-1920s.

So what were all the other Jews around the world doing from 1000-1880? Mizrahi Jews in the Middle East and North Africa were relatively safe. Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula, were purged, imprisoned, and executed during the Spanish Inquisition. Ashkenazi Jews in the Russian Empire, like my family, often fled from organized raids on Jewish communities known as pogroms.

When the majority of these Jews arrived in America they were poor and hardly spoke any English.

So no, people like myself did not have ancestry in or responsibility for the Trans-Atlantic Enslaved Persons Trade.

Growing up in Los Angeles, I have been blessed to have had Black educators in the form of classroom teachers, athletics coaches and/or straight up role models. But at the University of Iowa, where I tripled majored, I had zero Black professors. So I wanted to take a note from a number of my role models who have been posting on Facebook recently. That note is this:

Do not just expect your Jewish friends, if you have any, to converse about anti-Semitism because it may be difficult for them to clearly express themselves without evoking emotion you might find unbecoming.

To clarify, I harbor no hard feelings towards anyone who makes these claims.

What I harbor is empathy and sympathy, words that should be taught in history classes.

I empathize with being unwanted, unliked, and mistreated. I empathize with being talked down and drowned out when trying to fight for representation outside of my community. I empathize with being pigeonholed into a political ideology or position based on who I am from a standpoint of my race and not who I am as an individual.

I empathize with being called racist epithets by white Americans who know nothing of my experience in America when going against the grain of my community’s stereotyped set of beliefs.

And most of all, I hope that you took the time to drop down your guard and process information that may be sensitive to your ego.

If you did not, then there may be some work ahead for you should you ever want to become a decent person who truly cares for all lives and doesn’t just say it.

-William Silverstein, J.D. candidate at Drake University

Editor’s Note: William Silverstein is a former DITV producer

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