I conducted a survey this morning. I went into my office in Macon, Georgia and interviewed all 15 or so office workers. They are engineers, sales people, accounting personnel, and purchasing agents. All of them are at least high school graduates and about half have a college degree. They are all hard working and smart, even though as the one who hired most of them, I realize I am biased.
I asked each of them one question, “What is the blood libel?”
Most never heard the term and not one of them knew the significance of the term the way a student of Jewish history and anti-Semitism would. When I explained that the term referred to an accusation from Middle Age Europe (though it is still believed by too many in the Middle East) that the Jews would torture and kill Christian children and use their blood to make Passover Matzos, they were genuinely horrified.
Even if one knew about the use of ‘blood libel’ in the context of Middle Age anti-Semitism, that does not preclude it being used for its literal meaning, to be wrongly accused of spilling blood or an act of violence. As a Jew I found absolutely no offensive in Palin’s remark. Nor did Alan Dershowitz.
I did not expect them to know the significance of the term, and I certainly did not think any less of them because they were ignorant about its possible application in the context of Jewish history. But the fact that a few from the East Coast media thinks that it is horrible that Ms. Palin referred to the accusations made about her in the last few days as a ‘blood libel’, only indicates how enormously out of touch they are with the rest of America, especially Christian America.
When Mel Gibson released the Passion of the Christ most Christian Americans could not understand the alarm many Jews expressed about the film. Few Christian Americans knew about the history of the Passion Play as it was performed in Europe hundreds of years ago when it was used to incite pograms and acts of violence against the Jews in their villages. During the performance each year Jews would hide in the woods to avoid the wrath of the play’s audience.
But it was foolishly ignorant to expect Christian Americans today to act like European Christians four hundred years ago. With few minor exceptions there was no outburst of anti-Semitic activity as a result of Mel Gibson’s movie (not withstanding Mr. Gibson’s drunken anti-Semitic outburst to a Los Angeles traffic cop). Very few American Christians walked away from the movie hating Jews as a result.
In fact modern Christian American has come a very long way from its European roots. Evangelical Christians are some of Israel’s strongest supporters. John Hagee delivered an impassioned speech at AIPAC a few years ago, calling on his brethren to accept Jews rather than try to convert them, and to reject the anti-Semitism that has plagued both religions.
Yet we expect an airline stewardess on a flight from the Mid-West to New York not to be alarmed when a young Orthodox Jew wraps tefillin, a religious ritual that wraps two small leather covered boxes around one’s head and arm with a leather strap. Very few Jews practice that ritual at all, much less in public or on an airline in flight, and Jews are still a very small percent of our total population.
Ethnocentric is a great word to describe the absence of understanding of any religious, cultural or ethnic behavior or customs other than your own. It is that assumption that expects everyone to believe and act as you do. Usually it applies to a dominant majority that is unaware of other beliefs and traditions. But when some members of a small minority expects the dominant majority to know or understand traditions, nuances of history, and rituals of their group it practices a form of expectation that is equally unreasonable.
It would be nice if Americans knew more about other religions. It would be nice if we all knew more about Muslims, Hindus, and other religions of the world. But we probably understand and respect each other more in this country than in most any other, even without knowing the details of each other’s history, observance and rituals. We can be tolerant even without being fully informed.
As political opportunists over the last week have called for more understanding they have displayed very little. If you are constantly looking for a reason to be outraged you will likely find one.