Monday, June 15, 2009


The murder of United States Memorial Holocaust Museum guard Steven Tyrone Johns once again shines a cultural spotlight on anti-Semitism. It is a true portrait of public resistance to multi-culturalism and social change. Consider it: James Von Brunn, an 88-year-old white anti-Semite murders a black American in cold blood at the doorstep of the world’s most comprehensive museum about the extermination of six million Jewish people. Here are the details:
Just across town, the U.S. Congress (still mostly white and male-dominated) is set to consider the appointment of a Hispanic woman to the U.S. Supreme Court, who has been nominated by the country’s first black President. Approximately 6,328 miles from the U.S. Capital, the extremist President of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, poised for a questionable re-election, continues to assert his belief that the Holocaust never really occurred. Meanwhile, 2,171 miles from Tehran, an alleged Nazi sadist nicknamed Ivan the Terrible, 89, is set to stand trial from the annihilation of tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

Anti-Semitism, once blatant and highly visible in this country, continues to exist, albeit in a more underground fashion than, say, 50 years ago. To mainstream media, anti-Semitism is almost considered old news. Consider the fact that after the shooting at the Holocaust Museum, there was nothing about it on the front page of the New York Times.

Then there is the case of Dennis Ross, the U.S. State Department envoy to Iran. In case you haven’t heard, Ross was relieved of his duties this week. No one seems to be able to point to any wrongdoing on his part. The buzz in Washington is that Ross is being replaced because Iranian officials never accepted him as a representative of the U.S. Ross is Jewish.

Then there is the Reverend Jeremiah Wright,(below, left) who caused such a stink during the 2008 Presidential campaign. Just last week, Wright commented about his lack of access to President Obama: "Them Jews aren't going to let him talk to me.” Once outed in the press for making the comment, Wright tried to backpedal. He issued an apology in which he explained he didn’t mean to say “Jews.” Instead, he meant to say “Zionists.” I think somebody forgot to tell the Rev that Zionists are Jews. All of this comes just a couple of years after actor Mel Gibson went on his much-publicized rant about Jews during a drunken traffic stop. From Hollywood to Washington D.C. to Tehran to Berlin, anti-Semitism is alive.

There seems to be some kind of crazy misconception in this country that when a minority population assimilates into the mainstream culture, prejudice and discrimination against that population dissipates. False. Let me break that down: Chances are, in whatever media market you live, you probably have one or more black news anchors on your local stations. I dare you to try and find a black executive with that same station. In our culture, the emphasis on diversity has largely turned into an effort to show an organization is diversified, rather than to truly diversify the decision-making team at the core of the organization. Hispanic reporters are hired by news organizations and then assigned the Hispanic community as their beat. True diversity would be to hire the Hispanic reporter because he or she is highly capable, and then allow the person to report on all aspects of society.

That being said, try not to mistake visible success within the Jewish American population as widespread acceptance of Jews in America. You can choose to think of James Von Brunn as a fringe-element, extremist nut job who just opened fire one day at the Holocaust Museum. Or, you can dig deeper and see that Von Brunn is really just a reminder of deep-rooted hatred that permeates the American culture. I can’t help wondering if the history books will mark this period in our culture as one where technology intersected with economic doldrums to galvanize haters to act out. Von Brunn maintained a hate-filled web site, just as he had been cut off from Social Security. No longer able to maintain the web site, since he was going to have to sell or pawn his computer, Von Brunn was apparently driven to make a more public statement of his hatred.

The moral of this story? Do not get too comfortable in 21st century America. Hate is still widespread, and technology offers a platform for the haters to express themselves.

Von Brunn, shot twice in the head, is expected to survive and stand trial for the murder of Steven Tyrone Johns (right). Meanwhile, the American Jewish Committee has established a memorial fund for Johns’ family. The Committee pledges that all of the funds collected will be donated to the family. Click here to donate.

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