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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Anti-Semitism on the rise?

ABC primetime asks, ‘what would you do?’

Published: February 4, 2011
Section: Opinions

In November, ABC’s show “What would you do?” quoted a recent survey taken in the United States by the Anti-Defamation League. It showed that close to 30 million Americans hold anti-Semitic views and that an average of three anti-Semitic occurrences happen every day. They posed the question: “Would you speak out against Anti-Semitism?”

To find out, they sent two actors into a bakery asking to post a flyer about a job fair in their temple that was open to everyone. The clerk, also an actor, refused to post their flyer and began saying anti-Semitic comments.

One of the accusations made was that Jews “trashed the economy.” He then accused them of trying to steal all the jobs. The first man to defend the Jewish couple was also a Jew and calmly told the clerk that his comments were offensive and that, although he is entitled to his opinions, the way he was expressing them was hurtful.

Soon, more people began defending the couple, among them a pastor. He explained to the clerk that Jews and non-Jews are human beings and they all deserve respect. The clerk persisted, claiming that Bernie Madoff, who “took everyone’s money,” was a Jew and that therefore all Jews were the same. Customers were so offended that they began leaving the store in protest.

The study showed that non-Jewish onlookers became more upset than Jewish onlookers. The psychologist ABC consulted diagnosed this as the “black-sheep phenomenon.” In this case, the “black sheep” was the clerk. The psychologist explained that since the clerk wasn’t Jewish and the majority of the people in the store were not Jewish, they felt that the clerk was making them look bad and thus he had to be reprimanded.

There was one man shown in the video, however, who agreed with the clerk, blaming the Jews for the war in Iraq, and even attacked other customers. When interviewed later, the man who agreed with the clerk said that the Jews should have left the store after the clerk had dismissed the proposal to hang the flyer, but the Jew had continued to push, and that this is a trait common to all Jews. Jews cannot take “no” for an answer and they push themselves on people.

It is disturbing to know that there are real occurrences similar to the one staged by ABC News. It is comforting, however, to know that both Jews and non-Jews will stand up against prejudices. After all, this does not just happen regarding Jews. Similar circumstances happen with regard to Muslims, Hispanics and other minorities. Discrimination is still a part of everyday life and it is important that everyone stand against injustice.

The man who agreed with the clerk said the Jew should have taken a step back. But the question becomes, what would he say if the roles were reversed? Would he lay down and let his tormentor walk all over him? I doubt it. I commend all the people who stand up for themselves, even more impressive are the ones who stand up for themselves and keep a cool head when faced with misguided accusations.