Madeleine Kunin: The specter of antisemitism still elicits a small tremor

Madeleine M. Kunin, who was a three-term governor of Vermont, is the author of “Coming of Age: My Journey to the Eighties.”

Antisemitism is like an old scar on the body politic that I had thought had been healed over. But recent events made the scab fall off, exposing ugly, raw skin.

Antisemitism — whatever form it takes — is abhorrent and frightening. President Trump’s recent dinner guests at Mar-a-Lago were an antisemite and a white supremacist; he bestowed legitimacy on them both.

This event and other incidents are not exactly forerunners to another Holocaust. There are enough protections in our laws to prevent the annihilation of American Jews, and there are too many good people in this country who would fight to protect their Jewish fellow citizens.

Trump sign, swastika
UVM students found this sign in 2016 three doors from the Hillel Center in Burlington, a Jewish organization.

Part of me says, “Don’t worry. Those people who marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, were just a small group of extreme white supremacists. They won’t harm you. But as I listen to their chants, “You will not replace us,” they sound ominous.

What does that phrase mean? That a half-filled jar can only hold a fixed number of jelly beans? If you add two beans, you have to take two out? That is a false assumption.There is room in our country to add any number of jelly beans, and of lots of different colors.

American Jews are largely assimilated. They are not interested in replacing anyone. Most Jews embrace the American Dream like other Americans. That dream encouraged them to be successful. The beneficiaries of that dream are a society richly fulfilled as a whole in science, the arts and a multiplicity of other fields.

Logic is a poor weapon against prejudice. Hatred, though, is deeply entrenched in some people. It is difficult to scratch it out. But we must vigorously continue to excise bigoted speech from our national conversation. Words have consequences, as we know well.

I feel safe as a Jewish woman in the United States. But even as I write these words, I experience a small tremor. Could some disturbed person try to attack me because I’m Jewish?

“Brush that anxiety way,” I tell myself. “You must condemn antisemitism wherever and whenever it appears. Only when many voices form a chorus of disapproval will this terrible specter of antisemitism be ostracized and silenced. Then will we all feel safer.

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Madeleine May Kunin

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