It’s hard to justify the term “Jewing” someone down as anything but offensive. I know. I’ve tried.
A friend of mine once created an exclusive Facebook group called “Us Them Down.” We considered it satirical and somewhat safe since everyone in it was Jewish. We were laughing at ourselves but still felt a little unsettled by the term.
What’s more unsettling is when politicians use “Jewing down” matter-of-factly and justify it.
In New Jersey, Trenton City Council President Kathy McBride recently told her colleagues during an private meeting that the reason a legal settlement was so affordable was because the city’s attorney was “able to wait (the paintiff) out and Jew her down.” That attorney, by the way, is Jewish.
When McBride’s comment became public, City Councilwoman Robin Vaughn defended McBride by saying to “Jew down” is “in reference to negotiating, not ‘I hate Jews.'” Councilman George Muschal added, “The expression has been said millions of times.”
Yet all of them later apologized for the use of the term and their defense of it.
I cannot believe these people, apparently intelligent enough to be elected by their peers, really believe that “Jew down” is simply a harmless verb and not a slander against Jews. If they knew history, they would understand it comes from a negative stereotype about Jews being stingy, tight-fisted or excessively frugal. It paints the picture of us as lovers and hoarders of money.
Unfortunately, I am starting to see and hear other adults – many of whom I consider educated and of decent character – similarly showing their cultural ignorance. They might not consider themselves anti-Semites, but they are espousing words and feelings that mimic those who have a dislike, if not an outright hatred, of Jewish people.
For example, and very appropriate considering what happened in Trenton, I was recently at a local meeting for a well-known charity. The chapter president was talking about yard sale haggling and how this person’s dad could really “Jew them down.” I looked dead-on at this person and asked, “You do know that I am Jewish?” The person looked at me, shrugged their shoulders and kept talking.
On another occasion, I was having a calm discussion with someone very close to me who knew I was Jewish. As the conversation drifted to Jewish schools, I explained how they take care of children – mainly my own – when it comes to learning. I immediately saw the expression change on this person’s face. It was the first time in my life I saw someone physically triggered. What came out of this person’s mouth next made me realize I did not really know them or their true feelings toward the Jewish people, let alone me.
All of these incidents make me wonder how most Americans truly feel about the Jewish people. We all know when something racist slips out of the mouth of a politician, a celebrity or a CEO there is an outcry that they be removed from their position. But when an anti-Semitic phrase comes out, there may be complaints but likely no similar repercussions. In fact, as in Trenton, others sometimes run to the defense of the perpetrator as the situation is swept away.
Why are we, as Jews, still fighting this scourge after thousands of years? Why is it when we mention anti-Semitism we are poo-pooed away? Why is anti-Semitism not considered the same as racism?
It has now been weeks since the Trenton councilmembers’ statements, and all seems to have been forgiven. Nevertheless, in my mind, as a Jew, it will not be forgotten. It is why we will always say Never Again – because we do mean Never Again.
Marie A. Fischer is a member of the Project 21 black leadership network.
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