By Danny Schechter
When I was growing up in a Jewish community in New York in the late fifties, there was a predictable collective response to news events that expressed itself in one question:
"Is it good for the Jews?"
Many persecuted minorities made up largely of immigrants operate in an inward looking culture characterized by a fear of persecution, and a desire to keep a low profile for fear of stirring up anti-semitism or just "trouble."
Jews who have been victimized throughout history tend to look at the world though the prism of that victimization, even when their own community is being viewed by others as victimizers. Their fears are easily manipulated with appeals to a collective memory deeply embedded in our history and psychology.
Back in my youth, every time some big crook's picture was splashed in the tabloids, I was reassured by being told,
at least he isn't Jewish.' Although later, I learned about Jewish gangsters like Meyer Lansky who practically ran the Mafia. If you want proof, rent one of those Godfather movies. (Of course, there are also plenty of books on the subject.)
Later, I learned from YIVO, The Institute for Jewish Research, there had been as many criminals in our community as in others, Learning about this helped me contextualize what I came to see as a perversion of Jewish values into a dominant Zionist narrative that embraced or ignored crimes from the earliest days of the conquest of Palestine up through the current war on the people of Gaza.
Jewish writers have not downplayed this history, reports the YIVO Encyclopedia that even speaks of Jews from Latin America:
"Literary stereotypes, exemplified by the refined Jewish pimp in Sholem Aleichem's short story "A mentsh fun Buenos-Ayres" (A Man from Buenos Aires; 1909) created the image of white slavery as a quintessentially Jewish occupation. Scholars remain divided as to the extent to which Jews were disproportionately represented in the trade. The association of Jews with international prostitution prompted energetic communal initiatives in Europe and in the Americas against gangs of Jewish procurers."