My Turn: Anti-Semitism is on the rise in New Hampshire

For the Monitor
Published: 1/21/2021 6:00:09 AM

Speaker of the House Sherm Packard either doesn’t know what anti-Semitism is or he refuses to acknowledge its existence.

Either way, as a state political leader whom people look up to, he has a moral obligation to set an example for the people of New Hampshire and to renounce the evil and unacceptable ideology of anti-Semitism in the strongest terms.

Speaker Packard can use his position to act against hate; I am asking him to do so.

Speaker Packard may not at first have understood the anti-Semitic sentiment expressed in the photo of part of a mural that state Rep. Jim Spillane publicized on the social media site Parler at the beginning of January.

The Spillane post was made public and shows six well-fed men seated around a Monopoly-like gameboard that is balanced on the backs of crouching darker-skinned humans. One man with a big beard has a thick wad of cash in his hand and appears to be counting the money. Four of the men have large hooked noses. These are very common anti-Semitic images. The people on whose backs the game board is balanced appear to me to represent forced laborers.

It is impossible to square the anti-Semitic image with an intent by Spillane to convey some other message. He said he can’t see how the picture can be construed as anti-Semitic. He is claiming ignorance as a defense for what he did.

Speaker Packard has been told what the mural symbolizes and how deeply offensive it is. He can no longer deny its anti-Semitic meaning. The mural is replete with anti-Semitic symbols and signs. Still Packard has refused to hold Rep. Spillane accountable in any way. He has not stripped the representative of committee assignments, nor called for any discipline.

This lack of accountability is especially disturbing given Spillane’s vile social media post a few months ago advocating burning and looting houses that display Black Lives Matter signs. Hate is spilling over into the very legislative body Speaker Packard has been newly elected to lead.

Nor has Speaker Packard held newly elected representative Dawn Johnson accountable for the anti-Semitic cartoon she posted on social media last December.

Her post said that she tried to share the “truth” but Facebook “will not allow it.” Her post included a link to the Daily Stormer and a cartoon of a man with a large hooked nose. To her credit, she did remove the post after an outcry was raised. Speaker Packard thinks she apologized. She did not.

She dissembled by saying that she did not realize she was posting something anti-Semitic even though the post originated from the Daily Stormer, which is notoriously anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi in ideology. She claims she was ignorant of her source. She has yet to apologize for the image itself.

Are we coming to the point where anyone can say anything anti-Semitic and get away with it by claiming ignorance?

True, anti-Semitism has existed for eons, but it seems to be reaching further into New Hampshire than it has before. Anti-Semitism is moving away from the fringe and seeping into our government. We must all work to stop this.

Speaker Packard is missing a huge opportunity here. In fact, the Republican majority in the New Hampshire House missed a huge opportunity on Jan. 6 when it rejected a rules suspension to allow a late introduction of a bill against hate speech. Have they no decency? Have they lost their sense of morality?

Sadly, Gov. Chris Sununu has not stepped up to ask for accountability. He has not even suggested that the Legislature discipline Reps. Spillane and Johnson. This is strange. The governor knows from his own experience that if you look the other way too long, you will find hate in your own front yard. He did call anti-Semitism “repugnant and appalling.” That’s a start. But it doesn’t amount to so much as a slap on the wrist. There must be action to back up the words.

Anti-Semitism has fueled atrocities all through history. It is a hateful and dangerous ideology, and we all have to stand up and oppose it most vigorously.

Perhaps Packard is not a student of history and so does not recognize the critical role propaganda played in whipping up the anti-Semitic frenzy that allowed the Nazis to take power in Germany in the 1930s and to kill over 6 million Jews.

My family’s experience in Nazi Germany is why we came to America. My parents and grandparents were imprisoned for being Jewish, listening to Allied radio news, and participating in the July 20, 1944, plot against Hitler. Endless anti-Jewish propaganda made people believe Jews were subhuman and would destroy the country. Once belief in this propaganda was established, it wasn’t much of a step for people living near extermination camps to “not know” what was going on. The smells and smoke from ovens where Jews were murdered should have educated them.

People being willfully ignorant allowed the Nazis to destroy the fledgling democracy that was Weimar Germany. The Nazis used anti-Semitism as a tool to undermine democracy – anti-Semitism poisoned any possible dialogue.

What is happening in America today is far too familiar for comfort.

After World War II, the victorious Americans were my family’s heroes. My family thought Americans to be just, merciful, and kind. My parents and grandparents are in my heart every day. One small thing I can do to honor them is to stand up for what is right and for our democracy.

Anti-Semitism is wrong and contradicts the values the United States was founded upon. It is a hateful expression of intolerance and that is a threat to democracy.

Speaker Packard displayed a lack of judgment and awareness that he now needs to address. His continued failure to act is emboldening anti-Semites.

The speaker must never again be blind to the anti-Semitism found here in New Hampshire in the very House he leads.

(Claudia Damon lives in Concord.)




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