The tiny Jewish community of Bermuda was victim to a vicious anti-Semitic tirade published in the local newspaper. How should they react?
By Henry Roth, United with Israel
In the 1980s and early 1990s, I lived in Bermuda with my wife and two young sons. Being somewhat observant, we were delighted to find a tiny but vibrant Jewish community on the island. Numbering less than 100 people, they still managed to welcome the Sabbath with a festive communal dinner, and Passover and the High Holidays were celebrated with great enthusiasm at the chapel at the U.S. Naval Air base.
The Jewish community’s relationship with other residents of Bermuda was, frankly, a non-issue. Being so small in number, the Jewish presence barely registered on the locals’ radar screen. There was the occasional hiccup, such as the time I asked for permission to excuse my sons from school on the High Holidays and was answered with an emphatic ‘no’ by their teachers, who had probably never even met a Jew (knowingly).
That decision, thankfully, was quickly reversed by the school’s principal, an ex-pat from England who undoubtedly had a bit more experience with ‘others’ than the lifelong Bermudians whose reaction was one of benign ignorance rather than malevolence. In fact, we found Bermudians to be overwhelmingly welcoming, generous and tolerant, and our family greatly enjoyed our time there.
We try to keep in touch with what’s happening in Bermuda, primarily by reading the local newspaper (Royal Gazette) online. A couple of weeks ago, I was reading about an interfaith initiative that had local Christians and Muslims working together to foster goodwill. I posted a comment on the story, suggesting that it would have been nice had the local Jewish community been invited to participate in this worthwhile venture. The response to what I thought was a fairly innocent observation : a vile anti-Semitic screed:
‘Jews Are Very Unlikeable People’
“Why don’t Jews actually act human for a change. All over the world and throughout history, the Jews have been hated and driven out of every land they occupied. Why have they been hated so much? There’s a reason they’re a bunch of greedy, money-lovers who think they’re special and value themselves over all others. It’s why the Germans turned on them. The world will turn on them again, mark my words. You can’t even say these things in most places because the Jews start hysterically screeching that it’s anti-Semitism. No, it’s just that Jews are very unlikeable people.”
I was stunned that a reputable news outlet would allow such vile, hateful comments to be printed, but I was even more appalled when the editor defended the publication of those comments by saying that the Royal Gazette did not moderate or review postings and relied on readers’ feedback to determine if comments merited deletion (they did remove the posting after they received my objection). I replied to the editor by saying that in this era of growing anti-Semitism and online anarchy, perhaps the editors’ laissez-faire attitude was no longer appropriate. I have yet to receive a response.
I don’t want to over-react to what may very well be a one-off attack by a deranged, hate-filled individual who has probably never even interacted with a Jew, but it was painful to read such hurtful comments, and I can only imagine how much anguish this has caused Bermuda’s Jewish residents. They enjoy a serene, relatively untroubled existence in Bermuda, so knowing that one of their neighbors harbors such heinous sentiments about them must be more than a bit upsetting.
They must also be aware that should they utter any public pronouncement about this letter-writer’s disgusting screed, there is a very real risk of unleashing some heretofore suppressed anti-Jewish sentiments, so it would not surprise or disappoint me if the local Jewish community chose to remain silent about this anti-Semitic diatribe.
I would also understand, knowing that the Jewish residents of Bermuda are proud of their Jewish identity, if they felt obliged to express their revulsion at this vicious slander and hold the Royal Gazette accountable for their role in allowing the comments to be published and to remain on their website for so long.
I am completely sympathetic to the conundrum the Jews in Bermuda must be experiencing, pulled in opposite directions. Whichever way they choose to react, some will be enthusiastically on-board while others will be upset and offended.
Bermuda Jews’ Right to ‘Self-determination’
If I were still living in Bermuda, I know what I would do, but I’m just an old hothead who doesn’t really care about offending those who harbor ill feelings towards Jews. Accordingly, I intend to pursue a dialogue with the Royal Gazette’s editor to ensure that such hatred-drenched comments do not find the light of day in the future.
But as far as the ‘correct’ response from Bermuda’s Jewish community, I repeatedly admonish Jews living in the Diaspora to keep their noses out of Israeli politics. Bermuda’s Jews deserve the same right of ‘self-determination’, and I therefore respect their right to decide for themselves what is the proper response to this and any other local event or issue that may arise.
I know the Jews in Bermuda are proud of their heritage, and they go to great lengths to ensure their children are well-grounded in Jewish history and religious practices. That’s enough for me, and I wish them – and all Bermudians except for ‘DBC’, the author of the venomous tirade, a healthy, happy New Year.
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