Jonathan Neumann — January 2012

On the eve of Yom Kippur, Jews across New York City hurriedly finished their pre-fast meals before dashing to synagogue for Kol Nidre services. But on that night in October, several hundred Jews foreswore synagogue and headed to an obscure park in the Wall Street district where a protest claiming to represent the exploited 99 percent of society against the exploitative 1 percent was in its third week. A protest that, along with its sister protests across the nation, would become marred with incidents of murder and suicide, sexual assault and rape, violence, drug use, theft, bullying, public defecation, indecent exposure, defacement of American flags, littering, and disease—even tuberculosis.

A Kol Nidre service was being held there.

By that point in the brief lifespan of the Occupy Wall Street protest, disturbing comments and placards directed against Jews and Israel had been on display on a daily basis and had, understandably, become a matter of interest to Jewish commentators and a cause of concern for Jewish communities and others in the city and across the nation.

What did Jews and Israel have to do with protests ostensibly intended to focus the nation’s attention on domestic economic issues? And why, despite the apparent hostility toward them and the Jewish state, were Jews so involved?

The Yom Kippur service, the Sukkoth that followed several days later, a Simchat Torah celebration that followed the Sukkoth, Shabbat dinners, a prayer meeting to mark the onset of the new Jewish month—all were held not only to help those Jews who had chosen to take up residence at Zuccotti Park practice their faith, but also to lend the Occupy Wall Street protest a religiously Jewish coloration.

Even now, following the removal of the Occupiers from the park and from similar makeshift protest locations across the country, three salient issues demand consideration by anyone, Jewish or non-Jewish, concerned with contemporary anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism—and all the more so in light of rumors that the protests may return with force after a winter hibernation. First is the extent of the anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism at the protests. Second is the role Jews played in the protests. And third is the question of the connection between the protests and Judaism itself.


Defenders and supporters of Occupy Wall Street have tried to downplay the extent of anti-Jewish and anti-Israel hostility, but it was more prevalent than their initial denials suggested or their belated statements of concern conceded.

To begin with, any conspiracy theory that connects a tiny portion (in this case 1 percent) of the population with exploitative banking practices is susceptible to taking on anti-Semitic undertones. This is especially the case when the list of supporters includes the American Nazi Party, Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, Louis Farrakhan, white supremacist David Duke, Socialist Party USA, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Hezbollah,, International Bolshevik Tendency, and myriad other dubious organizations and individuals. With such comrades in arms, leaders of Occupy Wall Street ought to have been much on guard against anti-Semitic talk.

Nor was the hostility a matter of undertones only. The tone, very early on, was set in part by signs and messages that were overtly anti-Semitic. “Google: (1) Wall St. Jews, (2) Jewish Billionaires, (3) Jews & FedRsrvBank,” read one sign. Another: “Nazi Bankers Wall Street.” The man holding up a sign that read “Hitler’s Bankers,” upon being pressed by passersby to explain himself, replied “Jews control Wall Street.” He was then asked whether the Fox News Channel had asked him to hold up the sign, presumably to make Occupy Wall Street look bad, and he responded, “F— Fox News. That’s bulls—t. F—ing Jew made that up.” Another protester, upon being interrogated by a skeptical elderly passerby sporting a yarmulke, brushed him away saying, “You’re a bum, Jew.”

An Occupier who had traveled from Georgia explained his anti-Jewish animus to a reporter from the New York Post by stating that “Jews are the smartest people in the world,” that “they control the media,” and that nobody is willing to point out this simple truth because “the media doesn’t want to commit suicide by losing the Jewish advertisers.” Still another Occupier expostulated in a widely circulated video: “The smallest group in America controls the money, media, and all other things. The fingerprints belong to the Jewish bankers who control Wall Street. I am against Jews who rob America. They are one percent who control America. President Obama is a Jewish puppet. The entire economy is Jewish. Every federal judge [on] the East Coast is Jewish.”

Occupy Wall Street’s group page on Facebook was littered with images of the title page of Henry Ford’s notorious pamphlet, The International Jew, as well as a picture featuring the phrase Arbeit Macht Frei, lifted from the entrance gate at Auschwitz, with the accompaniment: “We don’t work for bad money.”

At Occupy Los Angeles, one sign explained, in remarkable detail: the “[The] satanic cult called the Illuminati…represents Masonic and Jewish bankers who finagled a monopoly over government credit….Thus the people who control our purse strings are conspiring against us.” (It went on to claim how this nefarious force funded the first two world wars and is planning a third.) Another sign read “Humanity vs. the Rothschlds” [sic] as a speaker further advanced this classic trope: “How many people know that the wars, in WWII, both sides, were funded by the Rothschilds? Those are the bankers. So banking and war is [sic] very intertwined.”

To highlight such talk is to invite one predictable retort: One cannot hold an entire movement responsible for the excesses of outliers. But, despite the assertions of its advocates, Occupy Wall Street was not in fact a movement. Its ranks never numbered more than a modest few hundred people in Manhattan—which made its anti-Semitic cohort statistically significant. Its lack of structure, moreover, and near inability to repudiate sentiments by its participants meant that even a fringe was no less part of the whole.


Read the rest at