What would you do if you encountered a white supremacist in Sheepshead Bay? Would you walk away? Would you pick a fight? Or would you try to engage him and change his mind?
WNET MetroFocus reporter Daniel T. Allen apparently isn’t the kind of man to stand down in such an instance. The Sheepshead Bay-based writer ran into a white supremacist who lives and works in the neighborhood, and the chance encounter spurred him to write an op-ed on tolerance and the “kosher response to hate.”
The incident occurred in the middle of the night at Super Stop & Shop (1710 Avenue Y), where he caught site of a stock clerk wearing a “White Pride Worldwide” T-shirt that sports a cross symbolizing Stormfront, a white nationalist website. He couldn’t help himself, and engaged the worker, who likened his right to wear it to giving out pamphlets during Black History Month.
Apparently the existence of a white supremacist working the aisles of our local Stop & Shop is no secret to employees.
What really shocked me was that the diverse group of other supermarket employees didn’t seem to see anything wrong with an employee wearing a shirt bearing a white supremacist slogan. His manager, a Latino man, told me that when the stock clerk plays military parade songs on a portable radio in his aisle, they mock him by goosestepping to the music.
Still, the higher-ups were apparently alarmed to receive a phone call from Allen – as a “neighborhood customer” – expressing his disappointment about the T-shirt. That spurred management to warn the employee to adhere to the supermarket’s dress code.
This whole exchange came before the rash of anti-Semitic crimes plaguing Southern Brooklyn, including the firebombing of several cars in Midwood and the spray painting of swastikas and other vandalism elsewhere.
Mordechai Levy of the militant Jewish Defense Organization, organized a protest in front of the home of a known Stormfront operative in Gravesend. While covering the protest, Allen discovered the operative was his stock clerk.
While Allen wasn’t sympathetic to the stock clerk supremacist, he found himself turned off by the JDO’s militancy – which vowed violent retribution and vigilantism in the face of antisemitism.
Doesn’t calling for and responding to hatred with violence, even against white supremacists, perpetuate the cycle of hatred and violence? And, as the Midwood car burnings demonstrate, when there is even a possibility of “fake anti-Semitism,” do these types of reactions make sense?
It seems to me that Jews should respond to hate by working on strengthening our own community, rather than engaging with the haters.
Rather than lashing out at those who may be responsible for fomenting hatred, Jews should focus on celebrating and sharing our peoplehood. This sends a clear message to haters that we can be proud of our identity without discriminating or scapegoating others. In this way, we all become “brand ambassadors” — meeting violence with kindness and sharing the best our community has to offer rather than letting negative attention towards Jews dominate the headlines. This is the kosher response to hatred, and is the gold standard to which any community affected by bigotry must strive.
Antisemitism and other forms of racist or hate speech continue to be protected by the First Amendment, and the emergence of new media technologies provides a cheap and effective way for this cultural malignancy to spread.
So how do we stop it? Allen says we should represent the best of our culture, being a “brand ambassador” and rising above the fray. That draws from the best of American values for tolerance and the exchange of ideas, but more than 230 years after this nation’s formation, that American idealism has failed to cleanse our society of this scourge.
So what next? Commenters on Allen’s article suggest the tactics of the JDO are where we need to go. Violence needs to be met with violence, they say, and sometimes preemptively. As commenter AJ Weberman wrote:
you are an idiot my friend if you think Nazis are going change their opinion about Jews because you are Mr. Nice Guy. The only thing the Nazi understand is strength. They have to be driven back into their holes or gotten rid of in their entirety. They want to kill you and your family, they are Amelick and we got to get them first.
Meanwhile, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz said in a press release that a solution is more education:
I know that the Holocaust is required to be taught, but with the frequency of swastika incidents increasing, it is important to go beyond the history and discuss the present day implications of drawing a swastika in public. This is why I am asking Chancellor Walcott to expeditiously have grade appropriate discussion points produced and that teachers be required to bring this up with their students.
Yet all of these solutions seem to fall flat when it comes to your homegrown anti-Semite – the kind that has spent years forming his opinion, scouring white nationalist websites to reinforce those beliefs, and attending rallies with more of his ilk. In fact, there seems to be little that can be done on a policy scale to curb these individuals.
And, yet, we must. With the number of anti-Semitic and hate-fueled incidents skyrocketing in New York City, the solution to crimes already perpetrated is obvious: arrest the culprits, prosecute them, make an example of them.
But that’s only half of the solution. How do we stop tomorrow’s race-based crimes from happening in our backyard? How do we ensure that it never happens in our community?
When antisemitic incidents are on the rise, it’s not just the victims who need to worry or the culprits who need to be blamed. When it happens on our watch, it reflects on all of us.
So how do we stop it?
*Correction (1/31/2012 at 12:40 p.m.): The original version of this article stated that Allen’s outlet is WNYC MetroFocus. That was incorrect. MetroFocus is owned and operated by WNET. The post has been changed to reflect the correction.