|January 30, 2020 [St. Petersburg, FL] — Elizabeth Gelman, Executive Director of The Florida Holocaust Museum and Michael Igel, Board Chair of The Florida Holocaust Museum issued the following statement today.
There is no question that we are witnessing a significant increase in overt antisemitism in the United States and abroad. In addition to terrible violence and rhetoric, a more pernicious form of antisemitism has appeared. Noted historian and author Deborah Lipstadt calls it “Clueless Antisemitism.” It occurs when people engage in antisemitism unintentionally. On the surface, this may seem benign. However, it is extremely dangerous. This is important because whether used purposefully or ignorantly, it feeds into society’s perceptions of Jews.
One such antisemitic term seemingly rising in popularity is “getting Jewed down.” Tampa Councilman Orlando Gudes became the latest to use the phrase when he spoke to a Tampa Bay Times reporter. Just before Christmas, this phrase was also used on multiple occasions in city council meetings in two different cities in New Jersey. Notably, one council member defended his word choice by saying that it was “a term of endearment” while growing up.
Rest assured, there is not a Jewish person on Earth who finds the phrase endearing.
In fact, the phrase “getting Jewed down” feeds into tropes and superstitions created in medieval times when Jews who did not convert to Christianity were literally demonized as “working to benefit Satan.” For centuries, the story of Judas Iscariot betraying Jesus for money has been used to inspire Christian hatred of Jews. As time has passed, the caricature of Jews as money-hungry and dishonest increased as Jews were forbidden from owning land and forced into jobs on the fringes of society as peddlers, tax collectors and moneylenders. These stereotypes set the stage for pogroms and massacres against the Jews in eastern Europe and helped pave the way for the Holocaust.
There is a normalizing function that happens when anything gets repeated. It becomes a legitimate and acceptable part of a story. As we know too well, repetition of lies and propaganda has historically been a tactic used to normalize violent and abusive behavior.
We appreciate that Councilman Gudes recognized that he spoke inappropriately, and that he apologized. All of us need to pay better attention to what we say, what we type, and how we act. We also need to continue to listen and learn.
In order to progress as a society, we must be willing to confront our family, neighbors, friends and politicians when they say something inappropriate. Their intent is irrelevant. Your voice is most effective within your own group. Don’t be afraid to use it.
Most importantly, we need to equip the next generation to recognize and reject antisemitism and any other group-based form of intolerance and discrimination. Unchallenged antisemitism encourages people to believe that prejudice, discrimination and even attacks on particular groups or types of people are acceptable.
Communication shapes our world. It is up to us to create the community, the country and the world we want our children to live in. About The Florida Holocaust MuseumOne of the largest Holocaust museums in the country, and one of three nationally accredited Holocaust museums, The FHM honors the memory of millions of men, women and children who suffered or died in the Holocaust. The FHM is dedicated to teaching members of all races and cultures the inherent worth and dignity of human life in order to prevent future genocides. For additional information, please visit www.TheFHM.org.