Thursday, June 23, 2016

Toss 'Em Out, They're Robbing Us Blind

I only thought the Jews in Venice had it tough. Yes, their forced isolation gave us the term “ghetto,” but there weren't so many of them and they got to stick around better and longer than in Vienna, where I am now. Here they have been expelled at least three times. The first was in 1421. A hundred eighty years later, the emperor let them back in because he needed their business acumen to finance for the Thirty Years War. He put them in a ghetto, though, in a flood-prone area near the Danube.

Part of "The Gates of Violence," by Alfred Hrdlicka, Vienna.
Having Jews around wasn’t working for Leopold I, so in 1670 he expelled them again.

By 1848, enough Jews had returned and prospered that the issue of their civic equality boiled over.

“There can be no mistaking the partiality of some Jews for a republican government form so as to come into unlimited possession of all civil rights (emancipation) and hence to achieve all the more certainly the most complete domination over you and an even greater control of the state treasury and of the more lucrative positions.” (The words of a denigrator at the time.)

In response, Emperor Franz Joseph stripped them of their rights to own property and join civil service. He let them stay, though, and eventually they earned something close to equality. 

Until 1938 and the years of WW II, when they they were not only expelled but murdered en masse. Sixty-five thousand of them.

What strikes me about the story of Jews in Vienna is not just that they were persecuted, but that their tormentors took not only racist pleasure but also practical delight in what they were doing. Local burghers happily admitted they wanted to be free of commercial competition from Jews.

Every time I go to Europe, I end up face-to-face with the marginalization, abuse and murder of Jews. It’s sickening. It makes me ashamed for all of us.

But that’s not the end of the story. Indeed, the problem is that the story doesn’t end. Even as I write this, we’re doing it again. No, continuing to do it, would be a better way to put it.

Disenfranchising blacks. Marginalizing women. If our right-wing has it’s way, expelling Muslims.

But wait, there’s more. And from places you might not associate with the contemptible behavior of racists and anti-semites. The Viennese abhorred the financial power of the Jews. Know anyone else railing against the moneyed oligarchy? Do you find it ironic that Bernie Sanders is Jewish? Shouldn’t he know better than to speak in categoric denunciations? Does he have no memory or understanding of where that leads?

We don’t need more revolutions. Not Bernie’s kind or any other. The quest for equality is an enduring struggle, not a war. We don’t need to throw out the bankers, we need to work with them. After all, we may end up like that Austrian emperor in 1600, the one who needed the financial mavens of his time to raise money to fight a real war.

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