Black anti-Semitism is a very big problem and I experienced it
By Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS
The world and the Jewish community are coming to the defense of Blacks worldwide because of the brutal death of George Floyd. They are sympathizing, marching, and fighting with the black community crying against the racial injustices. The American Jewish community has been vocal in their support so much so that a word in opposition can lead to anyone being canceled. Anti-Semitism among the black community is not just some leaders, like Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, but it comes out in the day to day interactions too. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) consistently finds a higher rate of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism among the African American community. I know I just experienced it and we in the Jewish community need to speak out loudly against it no matter how politically incorrect it seems.
The Black Lives Matter protests have led to an increased sensitivity that any word perceived as a slight, we are erasing history, culture, people anything or anyone that did not in society conform to present view on race relations. Recently, McGill University Professor of History and Zionist activist and thinker Gil Troy was attacked for an op-ed he wrote in The Jerusalem Post bringing up that Jew-hatred is a problem among blacks. Troy wrote, “Nevertheless, some blacks and some Jews keep clashing…. Our intimate, overlapping pain intensifies the fury, fueled by self-righteous ‘how-dare-you-ism.’ ‘You, of all people,” should avoid antisemitism, Jews say to black Jew-haters, shocked that enduring racism doesn’t inoculate them against antisemitism… Black antisemitism is mainstreamed — and validated by some influential elites… Meanwhile, blacks became red, the color symbolizing anger and signifying the Marxist worldview seeing life as a political power struggle.”
Fellow Montreal Jew, stylist, and personality, Jessica Mulroney, born Brownstein was recently canceled for a message she wrote Canadian black social influencer Sasha Exeter. After believing Exeter was talking out against her on social media, Jessica threatened civil litigation. Mulroney wrote Exeter, “I have also spoken to companies and people about the way you have treated me unfairly. You think your voice matters. Well, it only matters if you express it with kindness and without shaming people who are simply trying to learn. Good luck.” Jessica is the great-granddaughter of the founder of Montreal’s high-end show store Brown’s, she is married to the son of a prime minister, and friends with the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle. She is also a Jewish woman, who grew up in Montreal; she witnessed the anti-Semitism that has long overrun the city and province.
Would we care if this exchange happened between two white people, no, it would not have even caused a stir if Exeter had written the same email to Mulroney? Instead, Mulroney’s life, career, and reputation have been destroyed, she has had to apologize for her “white privilege,” writing in a public apology “I promise to continue to learn and listen on how I can use my privilege to elevate and support black voices.” Even her husband Ben Mulroney, the son of former Canadian Prime Brian Mulroney had to quit his successful career as a talk show host because of the backlash. It is easy to villainize Jessica, we forget, however, that Jessica, is Jewish, what if rewrite this incident as a moment of anti-Semitism. We won’t, Jessica is now toxic, nobody has come to her defense, and the Jewish community won’t even acknowledge her because micro-aggression and confrontation with blacks are all perceived as racism. We cannot understand a situation until we too have been confronted with black Jew-hatred.
I have not been vocal in the Black Lives Matters protests, I believe in equality for all, and especially minorities, and that no one should experience what George Floyd did or other black victims’ brutality. I have written some short essays on the civil rights movement but I acknowledge I am also a historian, who studies Southern Jewish history and anti-Jewish prejudice during the Civil War era. In this hostile climate, I would rather remain apolitical but after a personal incident, I believe North American Jews need to be aware of how black Jew-hatred can infiltrate our daily lives. Horrendous treatment and brutality by blacks and the history of racial injustice give a blank check for blacks to destroy property in protests or spew hate to other groups, including Jews. We cannot blindly ignore it, because we too are a minority, and we deserve respect too, anti-Semitism is no less of injustice, and it has taken the lives of millions of Jews and continues to thrive and even be acceptable because it is against a group perceived as privileged or justified as political when it comes as anti-Zionism and anti-Israel rhetoric.
During the Covid-19 pandemic front line workers, including grocery store clerks are being praised for their work as groceries have given over their stores to volunteers preparing orders for the elderly and most vulnerable in the community. Others feel an increased comfort from online no contactless orders, I am someone who needs to use this service and has used it for years. At my local store in the mostly Jewish suburb of Cote-St-Luc, many of these perceived angels are blacks.
Three weeks ago, I received an order than troubled me because it looked somewhat ransacked opened and torn packages. Items that were readily available in the store were missing, because the clerk, who put it together was black, I said nothing. It is a pandemic after all; we must not pass judgment, even though I was out some money from the mess. The incident made me weary about future orders, so much I would make orders because I needed items, but then the days before canceling them to avoid the store and the mess. For years I had been bullied by the establishment for calling out messes and waste of my money in the orders, location limits where you can get orders.
Last week, when a worker at the Montreal Jewish Community’s Federation CJA called the store on my behalf for a promised credit from the high days of the crisis; I again ended up on the receiving end of harassment and threats. First, the manager canceled my order and then threatened to not allow me to have online orders from his store. I had reason to leery; a health incident in my family caused me again to cancel an order when I called Monday to ensure the order was canceled as per the manager’s request I spoke to the black clerk responsible for fulfilling the orders. I have tried my best to be friendly to the clerk, but her treatment of me has been prickly at best.
What I experienced was a ranting spew of hatred personally insulting me coming from this clerk, it left me in tears after the end of the call, to note this clerk knows I am Jewish. She didn’t care I had to cancel the order because my elderly parent was sick. She screamed at me throughout, telling me I am a horrible person, and I treat people horribly, and that is why they treat me horribly. That she is the boss, and she decides she will never make me another order again. She made up stories about not one but two orders were made for me at the store but I never picked them up, and that I spoiled all the groceries, I don’t know how I barely buy perishables, especially during the pandemic.
When I said why anybody didn’t call me and instead, she lied saying the store did call, I have call display no one did, I said, I swear to g-d and I am religious, no one called. It didn’t matter to her, because of a lack of respect for Judaism. Then she reverted to screaming nobody has to call I should know I have an order, I didn’t have an order I had canceled it, but she screamed I should have called the store they don’t have to check if an order is canceled. The computerized system lets the clerks know if an order is canceled when an order goes through the cash because the amount tabulated is posted when I pointed that out, she tried to make like the system doesn’t do that ever, it’s been years the system does that. I was begging and pleading with her that it’s in a middle of a pandemic you can’t deny the elderly food in this situation, nothing moved her, she kept up with her righteous screaming hanging up on me in the end.
When I called back and spoke to a manager, she told me I am Jewish go to Federation CJA to have them make me an order the store doesn’t want to, the thing is the store makes all the orders for Federation CJA. The experience left me shaking, why should I have been treated like pure trash when I am always a good customer putting down hundreds at a time for orders? Why should anybody be personally attacked and screamed at over a canceled grocery order? Why should I an educated and accomplished person be so belittled over by a grocery clerk, who does not know me except that I am Jewish and have an elderly parent? Nobody should be left reeling from anti-Semitic verbal attacks and not find support from their community.
Today, the black clerk is still working there. No business would ever allow an employee to scream and personally insult any customer, but in this racially sensitive climate, even if she was wrong, nobody dares do anything because it would be deemed as racist. If the situation would have been reversed, the clerk would have been on every news station in the city about the abusive racism she received from a white Jewish privileged client. Instead, because it happened to me nobody cares; the Jewish community ignores the single incident of black-Jew hatred. I tried reaching out to the Federation CJA worker, who started the dominoes in my anti-Semitic incident. She did not even want to hear the story, my rabbi hung up on me, others are unreachable as we enter the Canada Day holiday here. One wise person gave me great advice to take it to social media, so I am. The Jewish community should not ignore the incident because when we allow one incident to pass it continues, and the hatred towards us grows.
During his speech at the August 28, 1963, March on Washington the leader of the Civil Rights Movement Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. eloquently said, “I have a dream that my four children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Unfortunately, these days some blacks are ruining a movement for equality. They are looking to gain privilege because of the color of their skin instead of being judged by good deeds and character. We all should be judged by our character and how we treat others.
Bonnie K. Goodman, BA, MLIS is a journalist, librarian, and historian. She has a BA in History & Art History, and an MLIS, Masters in Library and Information Studies both from McGill University. She has done graduate work in Jewish history at Concordia University as part of the MA in Judaic Studies program. She writes about American Jewish history and anti-Semitism and race in the Civil War South.