In recent years, the world has witnessed a surge in anti-Semitism. With the rise of populist movements and oppressive governments, many Jews no longer feel safe in places previously considered benign. The disturbing increases in hate incidents in France, Germany and Britain are the worst since World War II. In the United States, the neo-Nazi chant, “Jews shall not replace us,” and the murder of Jews at prayer in Pittsburgh and San Diego have revealed the ugly underbelly of anti-Jewish sentiment. Security is a concern in synagogues everywhere, and armed guards are becoming commonplace throughout the United States. Santa Fe is not an exception.
New Mexico is a welcoming place — a place of tolerance and respect for diversity where locals are able to practice their religion in a “live and let live” atmosphere. Jewish businessmen have been prominent in New Mexico since the mid-19th century, and Jewish politicians have held office throughout the state. Solomon Bibo was governor of Acoma Pueblo; Henry Jaffa was the first mayor of Albuquerque; Samuel Klein held that post in Las Cruces, and Santa Fe has had several Jewish mayors, including the incumbent, Alan Webber. When the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was built in the 19th century, the four Hebrew letters signifying the name of God were engraved above the entrance as thanks to the Jews of Santa Fe for financial assistance to complete the project.
Nonetheless, the state has seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents since 2015. A student wearing a Jewish star at the University of New Mexico was accosted by proselytizers who demanded she atone for her sins. These same bullies taunted her that Holocaust victims had deserved to die for not accepting Jesus as their savior. More recently, on May 1, a plaque honoring the six Spiegelberg brothers in the Santa Fe Railyard was defaced (“At park, evidence of rising intolerance,” May 2).
Some may say that what appears as, or is understood as, anti-Semitism is a legitimate protest against the U.S. pro-Israel policy. The question needs to be raised whether and to what extent the condemnation of Israel in the never-ending Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a convenient cover for underlying anti-Semitism. Does blaming Israel solely for the Mideast tensions rest on an ancient hatred? Is the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions protest movement on college campuses for some an excuse for expressing this hatred?
A cogent and provocative analysis of the current anti-Semitic manifestations on both the right and the left will be presented Aug. 4 at the James A. Little Theater by distinguished Emory University Professor and Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt, author of the recently published and highly acclaimed book, Antisemitism: Here and Now. Professor Lipstadt won the libel suit against her by British historian and Holocaust denier David Irving. That case became the basis of the 2016 feature film, Denial. The event in August is sponsored by the Santa Fe Distinguished Lecture Series and the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival.
Bonnie Ellinger, Ph.D., is a retired university professor of English and active in both the Santa Fe Distinguished Lecture Series and the Santa Fe Jewish Film Festival. She lives in Santa Fe.