What Happened With The Irish And The Jews Of America?
By John Ward
I remember the days when the Irish and the Jews traditionally fought for the rights of the underdog. Perhaps it was because of so many years of persecution by the empire du jour that gave these two peoples a real and intimate understanding of what it is like to be the underdog.
Most people know the story of the Jewish mountain fortress: Masada where the Jews bravely fought off the Roman army until the Romans had to build an enormous ramp to get to the rebel Jews. When it was obvious to the rebels that the Romans were about to breach their fortress they chose mass suicide to rob the Romans of their final victory.
During the Inquisition in Europe, which routinely targeted Jews as a threat to the homogenized belief system installed by the Catholic Church, Jews were arrested, tortured and executed in horrifying numbers. To escape the hysteria of these witch-hunts, Jews routinely took on assumed names that made them appear to be Catholic, names like “Nostradamus,” a man who was Jewish but who wisely took on the Latin name for “Our Lady” to avoid the horrors perpetrated by Torquemada and his ilk.
The Pogroms in Russia brutally drove Jews off their land and deported them without mercy, leaving them homeless and starving. During the Second World War, Nazis and Fascists subjected the Jews to inhumane brutality. Stalin murdered about as many Jews as Hitler did, but a blind eye had to be turned to this brutality as Russia had switched from being on the side of the Axis powers to an Ally. The Jews have suffered immeasurable persecution through the ages.
The Irish were treated like animals by the British throughout their history with Oliver Cromwell being the worst perpetrator of all. His brutality towards the inhabitants of Drogheda in 1641 is remembered to this day and the expression “The curse of Cromwell be upon you” is still widely used in Ireland.
During the Potato Famine of 1845 the English land owners threw their tenant farmers off the land leaving whole families to starve to death on the roadsides. Although the potato crops failed and worsened in 1846, the other crops did well. Barley, wheat, oats, etc., were in great fettle, but the English land owners preferred to sell these crops in Europe, where they could get a better price. Ireland starved and England would not help. Even when some American Quakers offered to send food to Ireland, the English demanded that it be sent to England first and be shipped over on English ships, similar to what happened in the Gaza strip recently. This was such an outrageous demand that, eventually, the English Parliament acquiesced and the ships were allowed to travel to Ireland directly.
Nevertheless approximately one and a half million Irish died and over a million emigrated to Canada and the USA. Then, in the USA the dominant English immigrants treated the Irish like animals. Restaurants had signs that read: “No dogs or Irish allowed.” Huge gangs of British thugs formed in New York and Boston and beat the tar out of the Irish at every opportunity until the Irish organized their own gangs and fought back.
During the Mexican – American War, the newly arrived and conscripted Irish who were fighting for their new homeland realized the injustice being perpetrated upon Mexico by this war and many of them switched sides to fight for the Mexicans, who they believed were the underdog. Those who were captured were hanged in front of the rest of the Irish American contingent, to discourage anymore truth-based loyalty problems.
The brutality by England continued through the early nineteen hundreds and into the middle twentieth century with groups like the Orangemen and the “Black and Tans” terrorizing Irish Catholics in Ulster.
Was it these experiences that made the Irish and the Jews more sensitive to the plight of the underdog?
In the USA, Irish populations have traditionally been Democrat, the Kennedy family being one of the most prominent. The Jews were active in the civil rights era, marching with African Americans to Selma and on Washington in support of equal rights, but if you listen to the news, watch television, read the papers, you will find that attitudes amongst these two peoples have changed dramatically. What is going on? I am half Irish and I am ashamed of this behavior. Has the attitude amongst the normally compassionate Jews changed because of the old adage: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” and therefore whoever kills Arabs is a friend of Israel and Jews around the world?
Is it possible that the mercy and understanding traditionally shown by these two groups of people is only grounded in their own experience and is not more deeply rooted in a compassionate philosophy? How sad would it be to find that people can only show compassion if they themselves have suffered. Has no-one any imagination anymore? Surely people don’t have to have suffered to know what it is to be treated with hatred, contempt, prejudice and violence.
I call on these two peoples to examine their roots or, if they are too far removed from them, to recognize that there are certain universals that we share with everyone on the planet; universals that go beyond religious, ethnic and national differences. Mothers love their children, people have families throughout the world, they argue, reconcile, love, cry, and laugh. Everyone wants to get ahead and better his or her life and everyone wants to live in peace. It is the greedy and ambitious war mongers and industrialists who want people to fight and, with words like “honor,” “glory,” “bravery” “patriotism” and even the word “peace,” they will send the younger generations into battle to die without the slightest twinge of conscience. There is not one main stream religion that preaches violence. What in the name of all your Gods are you thinking?
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