Let's Occupy this debate


By Orlando Radice
October 28, 2011
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It was sad to hear that antisemitism found its way into the Occupy Wall Street demonstration in New York. The odd banner bearing the age-old tropes about Jewish bankers were spotted in the crowds. But the idea that the whole movement should be tarred with the brush of Jew-hatred is absurd: there was a Kol Nidre service near Wall Street on Yom Kippur, which led to the establishment of Occupy Judaism, swiftly followed by Occupy Simchat Torah, both of which have been camped out in and around the heart of the protest site, Zucotti Park. Anyhow, wasn’t the message of the protest something to do with capitalism, or am I straying from the point here?

Despite the issue of antisemitism being, evidently, a marginal one, prominent US conservatives – notably the Republican National Committee, Rush Limbaugh and columnist William Kristol – have stepped over themselves to condemn the protests as embodying race-hatred. Meanwhile, the NYT reports a reply from Sean Spicer, the communications director of the Republican National Committee, that: “Democrats were quick to single out any instances of perceived extremism among Tea Party supporters, But with Occupy Wall Street, they turn a blind eye.”

So like everything else in the US, Jews become a political football in an extreme sport where the opposing side must be battered into the pitch with the first tool that comes to hand.

Anyway, is capitalism unfair? Not something that can or should be answered quickly, but, contrary to Bill Clinton, who said about the Occupy protest “They need to be for something specific, and not just against something”, it is a important question to raise, even on the back of the most cursory search for statistics: Britain is Europe’s biggest turbo-capitalist experiment but is one of the continent’s lowest-ranking countries on the Gini index – a measurement of inequality in a country. Cameroon and Kenya score better than the US on the same list.

On the other side, capitalism is the reason that countries such as China and India have lifted many millions out of poverty over the past decade.

So let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. But let’s keep asking questions – something that Jews aren’t at all bad at.

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