Tag Archives: Racism

Sustainable Tzedakah

By Steven Philp

Now that we have entered the month of November, many of us look forward to the prospect of spending time with loved ones for Thanksgiving. Yet during times of celebration, Jews are also called to remember the needy through the commandment of tzedakah. Tzedakah often takes the form of charitable giving–small donations to help the less fortunate meet their most basic needs. Yet many people continue to struggle to make ends meet, and every year we are given the difficult task of counting our blessings in the face of endemic poverty. It is written in the Talmud that the highest forms of tzedakah are those gifts that enable another person to become self-sufficient. As Jews, we ask ourselves: how can we give in a way that contributes toward a permanent solution?

In 2009, activist and lawyer Maggie Anderson asked herself a similar question: as a successful woman of color, what could she do to make a positive–and enduring–contribution to the black community? Her answer was the Empowerment Experiment – a commitment to buy exclusively from black-owned businesses for one year. This pledge took courage; according to Anderson, some labeled the project as pointless, or worse: racist. Yet the sense of pride and community it fomented among her family and friends was worth the effort. The project also helped demonstrate the power of the dollar, when spent correctly. In a recent lecture at the University of Chicago, she paraphrased Martin Luther King Jr., stating that charitable giving–although wonderful–only treats the symptoms, rather than the cause, of poverty. Unlike other ethnic enclaves–the Jewish community included–where a dollar will circulate among local businesses for seven to twenty-nine days, the black community sees money leave their local economy within six hours. Contributing to this problem is the belief that there are no quality black-owned businesses. According to Anderson, there is some truth to this; as young black businesses are outsold by more established operations, they find it difficult to provide competitive services. As a result, a growing number of businesses within black neighborhoods are owned by people who live elsewhere; money spent at these stores is then filtered to those communities, rather than reinvested in their own.

The Empowerment Experiment challenges consumers to replace their charitable giving with charitable spending, finding and sustaining local businesses in an effort to bolster financial stability in our communities. As a result, money is redirected back in to the local economy and invested in projects that increase the standard of living; as businesses thrive, local services – such as schools, libraries, and childcare programs – improve through an increase in tax revenue and sponsorship. With more conscious spending, these communities can support local businessmen and women, and help the needy become self-sufficient. According to Anderson, the data collected through the project has shown a positive impact.

So what can we, as Jews, learn from this project? Perhaps this winter, rather than setting aside our loose change for charitable giving, we can aspire toward the highest level of tzedakah through charitable spending. For Thanksgiving dinner, purchase what you can from food vendors in your community. When preparing for Hanukkah next month, try to see what items on your menu can be bought from local, sustainable sources. Buy your holiday gifts from local businesses, especially those owned by members of minority communities. A component of this project takes courage, traveling outside your community in to neighborhoods you may perceive as less safe. Yet there can be no change without chutzpa, as exemplified by Anderson; facing down her critics, she has shown how a simple change of habit can make a positive impact on your community.

A Familiar Injustice

by Ben Goldberg

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  If that’s the case, Italy and France’s recent treatment of Roma (aka gypsies) should give us pause.

Originally from South Asia, the Roma are a nomadic people who have settled all across Europe.  Often linked to crime, the Roma have a long history of being persecuted.  In the Holocaust, they suffered proportional losses greater than any ethnic group besides the Jews.

65 years later, they are being persecuted once again.

France has deported more than 1,000 Roma to Bulgaria and Romania, linking the ethnic group to high incidents of crime. Despite condemnation from Human Rights watchdog groups, the Italian city of Milan quickly followed suit, demolishing and bulldozing several Roma camps.  Meanwhile, the Serbian government has forcefully evicted Roma gypsies from their homes in Belgrade, demolishing the houses while the families looked on. Most of the Roma in Belgrade came only after being expelled from other parts of Europe.

Anti-immigration sentiment is common, and it remains a hot button issue in America, across Europe, and around the world. But the unabashedly racist rhetoric surrounding the expulsion raises a big red flag.

“These are dark-skinned people, not Europeans like you and me,” said Riccardo De Corato, Milan’s vice mayor and a member of Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s ruling party.  He is in charge of ridding Milan of the Roma camps.

Corato’s blatant racism is a stark reminder of how quickly a seemingly tolerant nation can change course, a reminder with which Jews, in particular, can identify.  While expulsion is a far cry from the mass extermination of a people, it’s worrying to see such overt prejudice toward an ethnic group based on a mix of political maneuvering and shady logic. Those in power blame a convenient scapegoat—in this case the Roma—as a means of “doing something” about difficult or intractable problems.

The underlying reason may be political but the racism and the intolerance that it breeds are at the heart of the issue.  Hitler blamed the Jews for Germany’s troubles. De Corato blames crime on the gypsies.  “Many of them are criminals,” he told the Post. “They prostitute their own women and children.”

De Corato isn’t the only one who feels this way. As one news source puts it, “many Europeans view Roma as swindlers, social welfare system abusers, and people living parasitical lives on the shoulders of society.”

One blogger notes that this recent surge of anti-immigration in Europe coincides with a wave of anti-Islam sentiment in Europe, as manifested in France’s decisions to ban burqas and the Dutch government’s plans to do the same.

“There is a worrying trend in Europe in which we are seeing the embrace of populist policies. They are creating a new climate of intolerance in Europe with movements in some countries now openly hostile to ethnic minorities and migrants,” Benjamin Ward, the Europe deputy director for Human Rights Watch in London, told The Washington Post.

Such intolerance is worrying.  After his “dark skin” remark, De Corato added: “Our final goal is to have zero Gypsy camps in Milan.”

Sounds eerily familiar.

UN Racism Conference Starts Today–Ahmadinejad Accuses Israel of Genocide

By Benjamin Schuman-Stoler

European diplomats walk out in protest as Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad attacks Israel during a speech Monday at a U.N. conference in Geneva. (Michael J. Jordan)

European delegates walk out during Ahmadinejad's speech (via JTA)

Well, it’s not as if the United Nations Durban II conference against racism was ever going to avoid controversy. The primary storyline going into the conference was the contentious–if not by any means surprising–abstention by the United States and Israel (as well as Canada, Italy, Germany, Australia, and Holland). 

But news has just come out about Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s speech earlier today that we must post first.

JTA has the scoop on the speech, which occurred a few hours ago, in which European diplomats walked out in protest:

In a speech at the U.N.-sponsored anti-racism conference in Geneva, the Iranian president first blamed the West for injustice, then went on the offensive against Israel, calling it the “racist perpetrators of genocide.”

“Under the pretext of Jewish suffering, they have helped bring to power the most oppressive, racist regime in Palestine,” Ahmadinejad said, to heavy applause from Iranians in the upper gallery and pockets of Muslims elsewhere on the floor. “They have always been silent about their crimes.”…

At the first mention of “Jewish,” representatives of the 23 European Union countries that chose to participate in the conference noisily got up from their seats and marched out the door—a move met by more clapping from Iranian and Arab delegates, while other diplomatic delegations refrained…

Ahmadinejad went on to criticize the United States for the bloodshed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and for the global economic crisis.

He railed against those who use their “economic and political influence” and control of the media to back the “barbaric racism” of the “Zionist regime.” He called for the world to “put an end to abuses by the Zionists” and the “conspiracies by some powers and Zionist circles.” Continue reading