For me the final shock that came out of the Florida debacle in 2000 had nothing to do with Supreme Court decisions or ups and downs of the recount process. It came from the most unexpected person: my mother. While we were watching Gore’s concession speech she suddenly said, “I guess we should have expected this outcome. America is not ready for a Jew at its helm.” She believed that Joe Lieberman’s presence on the ticket led Democrats to lose the race. At that time I did not take her argument seriously. In Russia, we were constantly targeted for being Jewish. We came to America because it held the promise of peaceful coexistence of all religions. Her argument simply did not make sense.
Unfortunately, I am no longer convinced that she is wrong. In the last several years there has been a dramatic increase in anti-semitism throughout the country. Most of it consists of “usual” acts of vandalism like burning synagogues or painting swastikas. These occurrences did have happened in the past. However, the sheer volume of them has increased. There are more alarming signs, of course. For example, “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — an anti-semitic text created by the Russian Czarist Security Service, which has been since proven false — was taught at University of California at Berkeley as if the story were legitimate. It is easy to say that these events come from a mentally unbalanced fringe. But how about an anti-semitic movie called “Passion,” produced by none other than Mel Gibson, one of the most revered American actors?
Mel Gibson’s “Passion” is one of the most talked about movies of the year. Gibson claims that it provides a definitive account of Jesus’ death. Instead, it is based on a rabidly anti-semitic version of it. It seems that Gibson craftily used anti-semitism for personal gain. I think he realized early on that the genre of “Jesus movies” is one of the hardest to do well. Countless movies about Jesus’ life already exist. Many of them are great masterpieces. Gibson’s new movie has to compete with all of them. Unless he did something radically different, Gibson was running the risk of having a grand total of ten people showing up to see his movie, all of them his close relatives. He needed something original, something fresh. Standard Hollywood tricks would not work. Adding more emotion? Hardly possible with a movie about Jesus. Using colorful explosions or superb swordplay? Obviously unacceptable. What’s the obvious solution? A healthy dose of anti-semitism of course! The next thing we know, he is producing the most talked-about movie of the year. The movie is now collecting ringing endorsements left and right and is slated to rise to the top of the charts once it is released. The fact that Gibson could capitalize on anti-semitism so well means that there is a lot of it to go around to begin with.
Let’s go back to presidential elections for a moment. To be honest, the current list of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination reminds me of Adam Sandler’s “Hanukah Song.” You thought that Wesley Clark is an authentic southerner? Surprise! His father came from a long line of rabbis. Kerry has to be a true Irishman, right? Nope, both of his paternal grandparents were Jewish. His name would have been John Kohn if his grandfather did not change it at Ellis Island. Howard Dean is in fact a true WASP pureblood. But, he is married to Judith Steinberg and raised his children as Jews. And, as you are no doubt shocked to hear, Joe Lieberman is also Jewish. It looks like we will soon hear Al Sharpton humming Hava Nagila.
You are thinking, “Hold on, if all of these people are running for president, how could you say that there is anti- semitism in America?” The ultimate test is not if these people can run, but if they can get elected. Do you think Americans will tolerate Shabbat dinners at the White House? Or perhaps they will settle for a Menorah in the Oval Office window? I doubt it. I don’t think America is ready for a Jewish president. After all, he would have to be elected by the same country that is dying to see Mel Gibson’s “Passion.” I hope I am wrong. Let’s wait and see.
Boris Volodarsky is a junior in Trumbull College