Editorial Opinion: Breeding Hate

Stephen Tahbaz, Editorial Director, Junior

It has become abundantly clear that anti-Semitism persists in Pelham. The incidents of late September and early October in which swastikas were discovered in the middle school serve to highlight the disturbing truth that, for as progressive as some like to think we are, the seeds of hate have been allowed to flourish in our own town.

Was this a childish prank by a kid who had little knowledge of the historical significance associated with the swastika? It is not my belief that there is a significant gathering of neo-nazism in Pelham. The reality of the situation is that students choose to take offensive actions as forms of humor, without really contemplating the severity of the decisions they are making until it is too late. With that said, there must be an environment in which these students feel comfortable espousing distasteful jokes to their peers, and learn the offensive material to begin with.

From personal experiences as a student at PMHS, far and away the most common forum for this behavior to occur is through social media. According to the Anti Defamation League, there were 4.2 million anti-Semitic messages reported last year, on Twitter alone. The discrete nature of internet usage and platform provided to bigots and racists allows for otherwise unheard opinions to be molded into memes and jokes. What would normally be heard only at neo-nazi rallies is now available for my classmates. A Washington Post investigation from August of this year highlights just how deliberate and successful white supremacists have been on-line in attempts to recruit teens. This is the truth which will hopefully scare both teens and their parents into thinking twice before being sucked into the vacuum of hate. Yet, I do not think that social media alone can be at fault for the ease with which students express hate towards Jews in school.

Recognizing that PMHS does not teach hate, and that social media accounts for only part of the responsibility, I believe that certain students either learn or are allowed to express anti-Semitic views in their homes. Again, our school does not preach hateful messages and at no point in the curriculum are children taught to feel superior to others. In fact, aligning itself with the District Plan, our education is more culturally sensitive than ever. Surely, there are some students whose parents tolerate, if not encourage, anti-Semitic values in the home. Children are not born haters; children become haters. According to Psychology Today, babies cannot be born with racial premonitions. Even if the premise that students learn this hate on-line is accepted, there must be a place where they can experiment with their beliefs before bringing them into school.

An equally concerning issue to ponder is that today, the problem is anti-Semitism, but tomorrow, it will be something else. Whether it be racism, homophobia, or sexism, no hate will be new to PMHS, and as we know as a community, those buzzwords are certainly not foreign to past conflicts in Pelham. In 2014, a swastika and the word “power” were drawn in cement right in front of Siwanoy Elementary School. In 2015, multiple officers and the chief of the Pelham Manor Police Department were asked to resign after a scandal involving racist emails sent between policemen. Our town is not immune to hatred, it doesn’t even hide in the shadows. A 2013 arrest involving two Pelham Manor Police officers and an African American man resulted in a lawsuit that the Village of Pelham settled for an undisclosed amount. Hatred in Pelham has infiltrated all ranks of our society. If our own schools and police have been riddled with problems, the scope of this issue clearly supersedes child education.

The time is over for neglecting the blatantly obvious issues in our community. The most recent incident of anti-Semitism in the middle school is certainly terrible but, sadly, it is nothing new. If the well-meaning people of Pelham want a solution for this problem of extreme hate, or an answer to the questions of why, how, when, and where, then they must turn inwards, and examine the messages they preach in their own homes.

This is not a call to investigation, but rather a call to action. When, as a town, we can recognize that hate starts at home and not the schools, we can start taking steps to achieve equality. Endemic and systematic anti-Semitism is nothing new, and I would be foolish to believe it will disappear any time soon. But instead of finding an easy out by blaming our education and our Twitter accounts for the clear hatred among us, let us take effective action to prevent further hate in our town. Let us look inward, to our homes, and to ourselves.