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Last month, anti-Semitic leaflets were dropped on three Montana communities. Butte, Billings and Livingston residents woke up to find unwelcome fliers on cars and outside of homes. Once again, the Gallatin Valley Interfaith Association (GVIA) — consisting of leaders from many Christian denominations, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Unitarian Universalists, and others — unites to say unequivocally that hate, religious bigotry, and anti-Semitism are unacceptable in our community and state.

In these economically troubled times, the message of one of these fliers is especially pernicious. The image of a torn dollar bill forms a declining line graph purporting to show the value of the dollar since 1913, headlined by the words “With Jews you lose.” Recalling insidious myths of Jewish financial manipulation and government control, the message preys upon the fear and uncertainty the world is experiencing due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Blame the powerful, money-loving Jews, this trope instructs us. As has occurred many times in history, Jews are targeted to be scapegoats.

Anti-Semitism takes many forms. The three Montana communities victimized this time all responded to this overt hatred with expressions of solidarity and “not in our town.” Concerned citizens, law enforcement, and local media united against the actions of a very small number of people. The Billings Gazette published an editorial recapping anti-Semitic events—and the response to those events—of the 1990s. We are grateful that overt anti-Semitism is recognized and rejected by the vast majority of Montanans.

Yet there are additional ways that the same anti-Semitic trope is being invoked under our big sky. The GVIA is a diverse organization, representing diverse religious congregations. We include in our number people of different political outlooks and convictions, and we are proud that even in today’s polarized climate, we are able to disagree on important topics and remain in community with one another. Thus it is with humility and respect that we offer criticism of a recent fundraising letter of the Gallatin County Republican Central Committee. We believe that one sentence of the letter unwittingly includes a more subtle form of the anti-Semitism which sows distrust in Jews regarding money.

The sentence, highlighted in bold print in the letter, states, “Historically, we have been outspent by George Soros and his minions by large amounts.” The Anti-Defamation League, the foremost U.S. authority on anti-Semitism, alerts us to the danger in statements such as this. They write, “In far-right circles worldwide, Soros’ philanthropy often is recast as fodder for outsized conspiracy theories, including that he masterminds specific global plots or manipulates particular events to further his goals.” This is the all-too-familiar anti-Semitic trope. George Soros is a wealthy Jew, a Holocaust survivor, and a supporter of numerous progressive causes. Our democracy encourages difference of opinion and participation in the democratic process through financial donations. There are many wealthy people who contribute to progressive causes. Why is Soros singled out? He has not been a player in Gallatin County politics and insinuating that he has “minions” who are following his direction is a subtle form of anti-Semitism.

This form of anti-Semitism is dangerous. Extremist white supremacist websites motivated the shooter who murdered 11 Jews in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. He believed the claims on these websites that Soros was controlling the world economy and bankrolling the caravan of Central American migrants traveling to the U.S. He referred to this theory on social media before he killed innocent Jews at worship.

We are confident that the Gallatin County Republican Party does not intend harm to anyone in the local Jewish community, and we are sure that most people, whether Republican, Democratic, Independent, or other, reject anti-Semitic calls. Our caution is extended to anyone, of any political persuasion, to be alert to all forms of religious bigotry and avoid the demonization of individuals and groups.

We have the example of history to teach us in this time of economic crisis. In Germany in the 1930s, economic depression was the seedbed in which Nazism grew. Extremists preyed on the desire for blame, and scapegoats were identified. Anti-Semitism was nothing new, but in that environment it took on monstrous proportions. The GVIA reminds us all of the need to be vigilant against hate and stand with one another. For as the German Lutheran pastor Martin Niemoller confessed in 1946, after being released from Dachau:

First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a trade unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

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Submitted on behalf of the The Gallatin Valley Interfaith Association by Rev. Lindean Barnett Christenson, GVIA moderator; and Rev. Jody McDevitt, past GVIA moderator.