Antisemitism in Context
Reporting that leads to a greater understanding of antisemitism
Rep. Ed Stafman believes that Republicans in the Montana legislature singled him out not because he’s a Jew, but because he’s the wrong kind of Jew.
The Great Nonreplacement
Recently the president of the American Foreign Service Association (AFSA) called for the removal of a foreign service officer who operates an antisemitic and racist blog. Since 2009 Fritz Berggren has served as a diplomat and has worked in Bahrain and assisted with African immigrants. His website has hundreds of blog posts, videos and podcasts dating back to September 16, 2017. Content ranges from descriptions of Jews, African Americans, members of the LGBTQ community and other minorities as “subhumans” to variations of “the great replacement” theory and the need to “protect and advance the white race.”
Berggren and his website first made headlines in February 2021, and by that August more than 70 Jewish diplomats had sent a letter asking Secretary of State Antony Blinken for Berggren’s removal. Blinken has neither responded to the letter nor acceded. Berggren’s current placement is unknown, but the controversial foreign service officer is still employed at the State Department. However, Ambassador Eric Rubin, the AFSA president continues to raise this issue on a regular basis. According to the ambassador, these conversations have faltered as State Department leaders refuse to disclose anything about Berggren. Rubin suspects that the federal government’s hesitation to fire Berggren stems from its fear of litigation.
There are rules that govern diplomats’ behavior on and off duty, but Berggren’s blog may fall into a gray area. According to a former State Department attorney, if Berggren can prove that he did not use work hours or federal equipment to create website content, then the department may not be able to take action against him under the First Amendment. Rubin counters that Berggren is unfit to represent the United States and its basic principles, and that the Foreign Service should be able to fire him on that basis. He also finds the case especially frustrating in light of the State Department’s and the Biden administration’s repeated claims that they value diversity and are committed to fighting antisemitism.
Austria, June 5, 2023
After a long-standing debate over its preservation, the Viennese authorities have decided to tilt the statue of Karl Lueger, an antisemitic politician, 3.5 degrees to the right. Lueger was the mayor of Vienna from 1897 to 1910. During his campaign he exploited anti-Jewish sentiment and emphasized Christian and Germanic supremacy. Adolf Hitler admired and was inspired by Lueger to the extent that he wrote about the Viennese mayor’s “charisma and popular appeal” in his political manifesto, Mein Kampf. Authorities have debated the statue’s fate since 2012, when it renamed a section of the Ringstrasse, the city’s central boulevard, from Dr.-Karl-Lueger-Ring to Universitätsring. Repeated acts of vandalism and demonstrations, such as a “vigil of shame” in 2020, put additional pressure on authorities to come up with a solution. Viennese artist Klemens Wihlidal proposed this “off-kilter” solution to change observers’ “view and perspective” of the statue. According to Wihlidal, the tilted statue will resemble a sinking ship, giving the impression that Lueger’s legacy will topple over at any moment.
Poland, June 6, 2023
Michael Schudrich, the chief rabbi of Poland, sent a letter condemning Artur Pomianowski, the mayor of Kazimierz Dolny, for organizing a party where kids played in soap bubbles at the site of a former Jewish cemetery for Children’s Day, an annual holiday celebrated on June 1 in many European countries. Although the cemetery was demolished approximately 50 years ago, hundreds of bodies remain. Representatives of Polish Jewry have offered alternatives involving turning a nearby field into a new cemetery and moving the bodies, but the town’s authorities have repeatedly canceled meetings to facilitate these solutions.
United States, June 7, 2023
After a 12-hour standoff with a man on a rooftop brandishing a gun, Chicago police and SWAT teams stormed the building and found the man dead, surrounded by a swastika flag, a gun, a flamethrower and other weapons. Although the Cook County medical examiner’s office disclosed that the man’s death has been ruled a suicide, they have not released his name. His neighbors have told The Chicago Tribune and The Chicago Sun-Times that he regularly went onto a building’s roof to make antisemitic comments and play antisemitic music over a loudspeaker. While there he would threaten government officials and the police, use his flamethrower or shoot his gun while threatening to kill an unknown target. His neighbors made more than forty police reports and formed a community group before law enforcement took action.
Spain, June 8, 2023
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain (FCJE) strongly condemned Amparo Rubiales, the president of the Spanish Socialist Workers’ Party in Seville, for calling Elías Bendodo, the leader of the People’s Party (PP) a “Nazi Jew.” In its statement, the FCJE explained that Holocaust metaphors are antisemitic because they “trivialize one of the most criminal regimes in history.” Rubiales resigned a few days later.
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We often only talk about racism and antisemitism from the outside, but many Jews of color also experience discrimination from within the Jewish community. Maryam Chishti, co-executive director of The LUNAR Collective and Jacqueline Mates-Muchin, the first Chinese-American rabbi and senior rabbi at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA, conversed with former public radio host Michael Krasny about the joys and struggles of being both Jewish and Asian. They discussed the importance of challenging the internalized biases people may hold about what it means to be Jewish and shared ways to foster inclusiveness that lets all members of the Jewish community know that they belong.
This conversation is part of a program series sponsored by Moment Magazine and The WNET Group’s reporting initiative Exploring Hate: Antisemitism, Racism and Extremism.
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