What’s with that!

Last evening we watched a documentary-style television program hosted by a dark-skinned moderator concerning the ancestry of a man and a woman (unrelated) of Jewish heritage. The disturbing accounts of the pogroms (organized massacre of Jewish people in Russia and eastern Europe) were strangely quelled by the investigation of them by a man who might well have historical roots in slavery. All three persons involved in the dialogue were exceedingly intelligent and successful by any measure. What however captured my more earnest inquiry was why these pogroms began in the first place. What was it that so compelled one set of human beings to respond so violently to another?

The term “pogrom” became commonly used in English after a large-scale wave of anti-Jewish riots swept through south-western Imperial Russia (present-day Ukraine and Poland) from 1881 to 1884; when more than 200 anti-Jewish events occurred in the Russian Empire, notably pogroms in Kiev, Warsaw and Odessa.

The trigger for the pogroms was the assassination of Tsar Alexander II for which some blamed “foreign influence agents”, implying the Jews. One of the conspirators was of Jewish origins, and the importance of her role in the assassination was greatly exaggerated during the pogroms that followed. Another conspirator was baselessly rumored to be Jewish. The extent to which the Russian press was responsible for encouraging perceptions of the assassination as a Jewish act has been disputed.

Local economic conditions (such as ancestral debts owed to Jewish moneylenders) are thought to have contributed significantly to the rioting, especially with regard to the participation of the business competitors of local Jews and the participation of railroad workers. Russia’s industrialization caused Russians to be moving into and out of major cities. People trying to escape the big cities carried their antisemitic values with them, spread the ideas throughout Russia and caused more pogroms in different regions of Russia. That has been argued that to have been actually more important than rumours of Jewish responsibility for the death of the Tsar. Those rumours, however, were clearly of some importance, if only as a trigger, and they drew upon a small kernel of truth: one of the close associates of the assassins, Hesya Helfman, was born into a Jewish home. The fact that the other assassins were all atheists and that the wider Jewish community had nothing to do with the assassination had little impact on the spread of such antisemitic rumours and the assassination inspired “retaliatory” attacks on Jewish communities. During these pogroms, thousands of Jewish homes were destroyed; many families were reduced to poverty and large numbers of men, women and children were injured in 166 towns in the south-western provinces of the Empire such as Ukraine.

It is common knowledge that Jews are often associated with the less than inspiring term “money lender“. Its appearance in historical literature, including Charles Dickens, was frequent. The term is now so conventional that a search of its meaning on the internet will only portray local banks and other commercial options for lending; but the phrase no longer has the sense of usury once implied.

In many historical societies including ancient Christian, Jewish, and many modern Islamic societies, usury meant the charging of interest of any kind and was considered wrong, or was made illegal. During the Sutra period in India (7th to 2nd centuries BC) there were laws prohibiting the highest castes from practicing usury. Similar condemnations are found in religious texts from Buddhism, Judaism (ribbit in Hebrew), Christianity, and Islam (riba in Arabic). At times, many nations from ancient Greece to ancient Rome have outlawed loans with any interest. Though the Roman Empire eventually allowed loans with carefully restricted interest rates, the Catholic Church in medieval Europe, as well as the Reformed Churches, regarded the charging of interest at any rate as sinful (as well as charging a fee for the use of money, such as at a bureau de change).

It does not escape my horror to read that “religious prohibitions on usury are predicated upon the belief that charging interest on a loan is a sin“. Indeed as someone whose entire commercial enterprise is based upon having willingly involved myself with every chartered bank in Canada, I am at a total loss to comprehend the wickedness of loans except where one has as is often the case knowingly over-extended oneself. From what I can tell of the most recent monetary struggles in 2008 the so-called “prime rate” collapse was directly provoked not just by greedy lenders but equally by complicit inappropriate borrowers. I am also mindful of the New York City tradition of preserving seclusion of its most “desirable” personages by creating the legal fiction of a commune (better known as a co-op) whereby the residents were disabled to reside therein if they had to borrow money since the  entire legal structure was owned by one corporation which permitted its residents a long-term lease upon payment of the prescribed fee. The legal reasoning was an exemplification of the adage, “Nemo dat quod non habit” or “No one gives what he does not have“.  The application was that, since the corporation owned the entire building the investors (so-called apartment owners) did not “own” anything and therefore they had nothing to mortgage to a bank in order to secure a loan.  The upshot naturally was that only rich people with cash could afford to pay for the entitlement to a long-term lease of their apartment.  This effectively excluded the riff-raff and preserved the elite.

The pogroms of the 1880s caused a worldwide outcry and, along with harsh laws, propelled mass Jewish emigration. Among the passed antisemitic laws were the 1882 May Laws, which prohibited Jews from moving into villages in an attempt to address the cause of the pogroms, but in fact, the pogroms were caused by a different reason. The majority of the High Commission for the Review of Jewish Legislation (1883-1888) actually noted the fact that almost all of the pogroms had begun in the towns and attempted to abolish the laws. However, the minority of the High Commission ignored the facts and backed the laws. Two million Jews fled the Russian Empire between 1880 and 1920, with many going to the United Kingdom and United States. In response, the United Kingdom introduced the Aliens Act 1905, which introduced immigration controls for the first time, a main objective being to reduce the influx of Eastern European Jews.

In reaction to the pogroms and other oppressions of the Tsarist period, Jews increasingly became politically active. Jewish participation in The General Jewish Labor Bund, colloquially known as the Bund, and in the Bolshevik movements, was directly influenced by the pogroms. Similarly, the organization of Jewish self-defense leagues, which stopped the pogromists in certain areas during the second Kishinev pogrom, such as Hovevei Zion, led to a strong embrace of Zionism, especially by Russian Jews.

The parallel of historical account with current affairs is as plain as a pikestaff. It is disheartening that so many so-called “conservatives” have poisoned themselves with the contamination of baseless prejudice which is usually founded upon a hierarchy of dominance and superiority. It is no accident that so many Republicans have a legacy of wealth and political dominion (see for example Sarah Huckabee Sanders).

Sarah Elizabeth Sanders (née Huckabee; born August 13, 1982), commonly known as Sarah Huckabee Sanders, is an American campaign manager and political adviser who served as White House press secretary under President Donald Trump from 2017 to 2019.

Sanders was the third woman to fill the position of White House press secretary. She previously served as White House deputy press secretary to her predecessor, Sean Spicer, in 2017.

A staunch defender of President Trump, as press secretary, she frequently spread misinformation to defend the administration. While interviewed by the Mueller Special Counsel investigation, she admitted to investigators that she had made false statements to the public as press secretary. She hosted fewer press conferences than any of her 13 predecessors.

On June 13, 2019, Trump tweeted that Sanders would be leaving her role as press secretary for his administration at the end of the month. On January 25, 2021, Sanders announced her candidacy for the 2022 Arkansas gubernatorial election.

What is even less supportable is the patent demonstration by Republicans of the predominant importance of submitting to the base ideologies which the Republicans themselves have fashioned by persistent lies. Their leader Trump is the man who to this day pretends “We won by a landslide!” It is useless to condemn the “masses” for their ignorance when so many of them are unemployed and uneducated; or, they are relentlessly devoted to a succession of low-paying part-time jobs, raising a family and generally trying to make ends meet. It would be far more advantageous for them to improve their education and to get universal health care. But this substantive improvement lacks the innately human inadequacy of hatred and division.  These low-level motives are used by the hierarchy of both religious and political leaders to secure the ordinance of hoi polloi which they seek to advance with liturgical authority.

While some may be inclined to resile in fear from the impending violation of what Hilary Clinton rightfully called the “deplorables“, my bet is more upon the looming autocracy of thinking people who are fed up with opportunistic leadership and who have a legitimate hope to uplift people and maintain the beauty and strength of our planet. Nor is this some “radical left” or Marxist promotion. The once impenetrable division between the right and left of the world is about to face its inescapable moment. The issue is no longer winning.  It’s about humanity, The fictions of division are disintegrating at a rapid rate.  Self-interest no longer has its sway through imaginary proclamations of difference. Yes, there will always be good and bad. But the clarity of right and wrong has become far more discernible and gripping.