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Published 01/03/2020 | Reading Time 2 min 37 sec
From the Editorial Board
Anti-Semitism is more than swastikas and slurs. There are religious, cultural and economic aspects to anti-Semitism that can manifest in various ways. A common anti-Semitic narrative is that Jews are money-obsessed, stingy and greedy. Moreover, they act as master-manipulators, conspiring to control various facets of society for their own gain at the detriment of others.
This narrative can be found in the monsters and goblins of European fairy tales, in the propaganda of the Third Reich, and in tweets from Donald Trump and his white supremacist fanbase. It’s embedded in our culture in ways we may not fully see, whether in the form of miserly, hook-nosed goblins working at Gringotts Bank in the universe of Harry Potter or in an article positing that grand philanthropic scheme is to harvest one community’s poverty for his own financial gain.
The New York Times has done it. The Edmonton Journal has done it. J.K Rowling has done it. The University of California at Berkeley’s official school newspaper has done it. And on December 17, 2019, one local Tulsa news company joined the ranks of publications who have run anti-Semitic cartoons.
In Tulsa, a controversy began on the first day of Hanukkah 2019 when a local news company published an editorial titled, “George Kaiser’s Social Impact Philanthropy: How a Billionaire Transformed North Tulsa’s Misery into a Cash Cow.”
The article was accompanied by a cartoon depicting a wrinkle-faced wealthy Jewish man grinning into the distance with his liver-spotted arms wrapped tightly around a young Black boy who smiles broadly while giving a thumbs-up sign and simultaneously staring suspiciously at the man.
After many in the Jewish and north Tulsa community took issue with the illustration, the publisher distanced itself from the labels of anti-Semitism, noting that the cartoon was based on an actual photograph of the Jewish philanthropist from 2017, in which he is holding a child in his lap while giving a thumbs-up. However, the publisher did not address the question of why they had chosen not to use the original photograph, in which the philanthropist is not ghoulishly grinning broadly, and the young boy is not staring frighteningly at him.
The publisher’s Facebook page noted that anti-Semitism is a national threat, but followed that by arguing that the controversy over anti-Semitism in the cartoon “is merely an attempt by white power structures to discredit and silence black voices in Tulsa.” Yet both the article and the cartoon were created by non-Jewish White contributors.
While the article itself does not once use the word Jewish, the title — which notes the Jewish philanthropist is a billionaire — further reinforces typical anti-Semitic tropes of Jews trying to take over the world, or in this case, North Tulsa.
Philanthropy and billionaires do merit critique, especially given the outsized power that philanthropy holds in Tulsa in the face of a state and federal government that has slashed the social safety-net for decades.
Having equity of power and voice is a significant challenge in a philanthropy-rich, injustice-drenched city like Tulsa. This dialogue is an important one and criticism of all foundations and billionaires can be made without infusing anti-Semitism.
Bringing in Jewish tropes and anti-Semitism obfuscates or clouds the focus of the article, which seemed to be: Let’s critique private philanthropists because nobody is above criticism.
The original article isn’t terribly factually inaccurate; however, when a publisher chooses to start with anti-Semitism off the bat — in an altered recreation of an innocent photo, it’s hard to take the article seriously and easier to get readers off-topic.
The original article, whoever approved the cartoon and title, really did not help the overall point.
Keeping the conversation fact-based and free of conspiracy theory or historical propaganda, tropes, out-grouping, othering is essential, as is analyzing Oklahoma’s philanthropic community in the broader context of Oklahoma and what policies and decision-makers, such as the state’s legislature have created and perpetuated the circumstances that allow for philanthropy and corporations to wield so much power in our community.
Publisher’s Note: As a response to the inquires that many Tulsans have, concerning philanthropy’s role in marginalized communities, the Black Wall Street Times is planning a series of panels to help all better understand philanthropy’s part in our community. Subscribe to our email and follow us on social media to stay informed on when those dates will be.