Guest Commentary

Cloaked anti-Semitism still lives

Four days after shots rang out at the Jewish Community Center, the impact of the murders hit me again.

I’m a student at the University of Missouri from Washington, D.C. It was quite a transition to come from the hustle-and-bustle of the mid-Atlantic to the Midwest.

A criminology professor asked my lecture hall on April 17 if we’d seen the news about the shooting. A student in front of me whispered to his friend, “If you’re going to shoot up a Jewish center, at least kill Jews.”

It was the latest in a slew of off-the-cuff anti-Semitic remarks I’ve encountered at MU and seen throughout the state of Missouri. It was another shotgun blast through the multiculturalism that the university and our enlightened society strive to achieve.

Later, when my professor spoke of Jews being forced to register by pro-Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine, three students argued, “it wasn’t that bad” and “it’s not like the Holocaust.” Others patently denied the news reports.

Even in Columbia, one of the most progressive environments the Midwest has to offer, anti-Semitism, albeit a cloaked brand, is still alive. Elsewhere it lives in ignorance. It lives in yawns. It lives in misinformation. It lives in deed.

It’s time for that hate to be dragged out from the shadows where it comfortably lives. Jews are members of the Kansas City community. They are members of the Columbia community. They are moms and dads and Little League coaches and Boy Scout troop leaders. They are sons and daughters and grandparents. They are neighbors and friends.

Jews want peace and security. They want love and charity. They are patriotic and loyal. They are Americans.

This region responded admirably to console the families of the three victims and restore faith that the Jewish community will have a safe home in the Heartland.

But informal anti-Semitism is still pervasive. It emerges when professors teach lectures they call the “Holocaust Extravaganza” and when sorority girls go to parties at a Jewish fraternity “to end up with a Jewish guy who’s good with money.” It leaks into our society like cracks in the Missouri River’s levees. It has become acceptable.

Meet Dan Clevenger, recently shunned mayor of 2,000-person Marionville, Mo., in southwest Missouri. On April 16, he said he “kind of agreed,” with shooter F. Glenn Miller’s views that Jews harm the economy and dishonestly run the Federal Reserve.

Mr. Clevenger’s views mark an all too common thread in the fabric of Midwestern conversation. Rejecting multiculturalism and tolerance is acceptable to move a discussion along or, in the case of Mr. Clevenger, get through a radio interview.

Such attitudes and indifference foster a culture where the extremist hate held by individuals like Miller can fester and survive. As Americans, it’s our collective duty to eradicate that evil and ensure that our neighbors of any creed, race, ethnicity, religion, and more have a home among us all.

Only then can we truly repair the wound from the shots fired through the peace of Johnson County. Only then can we be the neighbors and friends we aspire to be; the mothers and fathers we were raised to be; the community leaders our nation deserves.