October 19, 2010

DAVID B. OFFER: Bigot with spray paint leaves scar on our political process

If you search for “Jew ZOG” on the Internet, you will find articles titled “Ravenous, Bloodthirsty, Satanic Jew ZOG,” “Jew$, ZOG and Facebook” and “(Black) Child Molester Set Free by Jew ZOG” (except that it uses another word for “black.”)

Bigots are not limited in whom they attack.

You also will be directed to websites such as JewWatch.com, filled with articles about “domestic and worldwide Zionist criminality.”

In the lexicon of anti-Semitism, ZOG stands for Zionist Occupation Government. It is used to support a conspiracy theory that Jews control this country and other nations and that elected governments are puppet regimes.

I doubt that most Americans — or most people in central Maine — have heard the term. But two weeks ago, someone in Augusta spray-painted “Jew ZOG” on one side of a sign supporting Roger Katz, who is running for the state Senate. He or she painted “Jew Pig” on the other side of the sign.

At least one bigot in central Maine has a spray can.

The sign, in the Sand Hill neighborhood, was taken down quickly. The words are no longer visible, but the scar they left on the community may never fade.

The anti-Semitic attack angered and upset Katz’s opponent, Patsy Crockett, who called Katz as soon as she heard about it.

“I thought it was just a terrible thing,” Crockett said. “I was shocked. … We can’t tolerate this.

“None of us would expect anything like this in this area,” she said.

Crockett was “most gracious in her expression of outrage,” Katz said.

This incident had nothing to do with politics or about which candidate would be the better senator. Katz’ sign was a target of opportunity for someone who wanted the world to see his or her demented world view.

Outrage over this sort of hate is reasonable, but it also engendered another emotion.

“It made me sad,” Katz said. I agree.

“It’s so unrepresentative of the community that I grew up in and where we raised our family, but it’s a reminder that there is still hate and prejudice out there, even if it is only a tiny minority,” Katz said.

This is the first time anything like this has ever happened to him or his family, he said.

News of the sign filtered through the community. I learned about it while getting a haircut at Duke’s Barber Shop. Duke was as angry as if the attack had been aimed at him. I heard from more people in stores and at the golf course.

Katz said he received support everywhere. People in the Franco-American community were especially disturbed that the sign-painting happened in their neighborhood, he said.

“I’ve always thought that the Franco-Americans and the Jewish people have much in common because both have been victims of discrimination,” Katz said. Some told him that, “We consider that this happened to us.”

Crockett made the same point.

“I remember when the French were not treated as they should have been,” she said. “For the most part, this does not exist anymore, and it shouldn’t,” she said.

There is nothing new about spray-painted words or symbols in this community. Someone painted a swastika on a street in Winthrop last year. Blacks, gays, Franco-Americans, Muslims, Catholics or anyone else can be targeted. Most often the spray cans are in the hands of thoughtless teens who do something stupid without considering the meaning or the hurtfulness of their action.

This spray-painting does not seem to follow that pattern. I doubt that many kids have heard the term “ZOG” or know what it means. I suspect that this message came from a hate-filled adult, and that is, indeed, sad.

Rabbi Susan Bulba Carvutto of Temple Beth El of Augusta said the spray-painting “makes me feel physically sick. Any one of us as Jews could be subjected to this.”

Feeling that the overt anti-Semitism demanded a response, the rabbi began contacting other members of the clergy in Augusta, inviting them to sign a letter she drafted about the incident. She said everyone with whom she spoke was upset.

In addition to the general ugliness of anti-Semitism, the rabbi said, this incident had special significance.

“It was an attack on the democratic process” because Katz is running for office, she said.

Attacking a person who is willing to serve the community is especially offensive.

“Somebody sticks their neck out to serve the public, and this is what they get,” she said. She said she hopes the community will learn from this incident.

“It’s a teachable moment,” she said. “It’s sickening. It demands a response. It should not be swept under the rug.”

David B. Offer is the retired executive editor of the Kennebec Journal and the Morning Sentinel. E-mail davidboffer@hotmail.com. 

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