Anti-Defamation League keeping an eye on ‘Occupy Wall Street’

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In the wake of several incidents of anti-Semitism at “Occupy Wall Street” protests, some Jewish observers are remaining vigilant.

During periods of economic strife, certain people cling to anti-Jewish conspiracy theories, said Carolyn Stein, an analyst at the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. But the ADL is not prepared to charge the movement as a whole with anti-Semitism.

“[It is] not uncommon during difficult economic times [when] there is scrutiny on the financial situation in the U.S. and elsewhere to look to possible explanations,” she said. “And there are some, usually on the fringe, but sometimes in the mainstream, who incorporate Jews or Jewish conspiracy theories into their explanations for that.”

Stein added that while there have been some demonstrations of anti-Semitism in the “Occupy Wall Street” movement, the ADL does not see it as an institutionalized problem. However, the group is continuing to observe the protests and plans to dispel any conspiracy theories that arise.

“We have seen instances of individuals promoting these views. We do not think that it is or has been institutionalized in the ‘Occupy Wall Street’ movements,” she said. “But I think the bigger issue is sort of that when there is a heightened focus economic strife and the financial industry it is not surprising to see these messages. Yet, we will continue to be diligent, looking for them and combating the promotion of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories should they arise.”

Much of the concern over possible anti-Jewish sentiment among the protests has risen from the fact that the anti-consumerist magazine AdBusters, which has published a number of articles over the years that have pushed the envelope on conspiracy theories, initiated the protests.

David Brooks wrote in his Monday New York Times column about a possible connection between anti-Semitic sentiment and the movement due to its progenitor. (RELATED: Anti-Semitism at ‘Occupy Wall Street’?)

“Take the Occupy Wall Street movement. This uprising was sparked by the magazine Adbusters, previously best known for the 2004 essay, ‘Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?’ — an investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy,” he wrote.

Others, such as Commentary’s Abe Greenwald, have been far more direct in charging the protesters with anti-Semitism.

“The Jew-hatred among protesters and sympathizers is diverse and unapologetic. It is, in fact, atmospheric,” Greenwald wrote Tuesday. “Tune in randomly to live television coverage of the spectacle and you’ll see — as I did — placards scapegoating Israel, Zionism, or ‘Hitler’s bankers.’ Check out the continuous flurry of protest-supporting tweets and blog posts, and you’ll get more of the same.”

Others have denied any evidence of anti-Semitism in the movement.

“I have witnessed zero anti-Semitic signs or chants, and literally maybe two or three having to do with Israel/Palestine, themselves bearing rather bland slogans about liberation and occupation,” Marc Tracy wrote in the Jewish daily, Tablet Magazine, Tuesday. “The most offensive sign I saw was one held yesterday that declared that the people’s revolutions had worked in Egypt, Tunisia, and Venezuela. If Occupy Wall Street falls into a pit of useless Third World radicalism, its heroes will be Che and Chávez, not Arafat and Ahmadinejad.”

Nevertheless the ADL is keeping an open mind, watching the protests from the periphery, prepared to refute any institutionalized bigotry which may come up. As of now, Stein says it is not a primary force within the protests.

“We are certainly keeping an eye on it as we do, in general, with social justice and responses to a political and economic climate in the U.S,” she said. “I think that it is an important thing to look for any time there is this sort of focus and scrutiny on the financial industry and the economic climate and it’s of great concern to us. Thus far, we would not say that it is in anyway a driving force or a driving message for this particular set of protests.”

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