Don’t Let History Repeat Itself
With your help, we have raised close to $225,000 (across multiple charities) to help Israel cope with the Hamas atrocities.
The offer still stands: If you donate $100 or more to one of these charities, we’ll be delighted to mail you a signed copy of one of my books - Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life or The Little Book of Sideway Markets. Donate $200 or more and we’ll send you both. (Email receipt to Barbara at email@example.com and indicate which book you’d like to receive. We can mail in the US only).
By the way, holidays are coming. Donate to these charities, and we can mail signed books directly to your friends as holiday gifts. Everybody wins!
Next week I will revert to my more traditional essays where I share my thoughts on AI.
Article available in Spanish here.
I am a value investor who typically writes about topics such as stocks and the economy and ventures into softer, “life” topics like classical music, parenting, and philosophy. Why did I intentionally step into a topic that will likely not make me many friends and possibly alienate some subscribers and maybe even a few clients?
Why did I write this?
Subconsciously I always wondered what I would have done if I were a Jew living in Germany on November 9th, 1938. Kristallnacht, the night when Germans attacked Jews across the country – a pogrom. Hundreds of synagogues were destroyed, Jewish businesses and hospitals were ransacked, thousands of Jews were arrested. Would I run? Would I fight? Would it make a difference?
In Soviet Russia, I kept my true nationality – my being Jewish – to myself. (I did not know that there was such a thing as the Jewish religion until I was 18, but that is a topic for the future.) In America, I have always embraced my Jewish identity with pride. But now, for the first time, I am afraid for the future of my kids and wondering if they will have to hide their identity like I did. For the first time in over 30 years, thoughts of hiding my Jewishness cross my mind. I absolutely hate these thoughts.
To my shock, my wife asked me if we should get a gun. And for the first time, I am actually considering it. I talked to a lot of my Jewish friends, and to my surprise a lot of them are getting them.
For the first time, I understood on a tactile level why Jews always lived in small communities. And this was also the first time I had to worry that Israel – a nation created to be a place where Jews were safe from antisemitism – might no longer exist. I am shocked that the United Nations has not passed a resolution condemning Hamas for their brutal killing of civilians, but with ease passed a resolution that condemned Israel for the deaths of Palestinians due to the collateral damage of war.
I am also shocked by the anti-Israel demonstrations we see all over the world. There are twenty Arab nations surrounding Gaza, yet none of them want to take in Palestinians. Even Egypt, which shares a southern border with Gaza, does not want to take them or to help them. Ironically, Israel has done more for Palestinians than any Arab nation. (It provides them with water and electricity, for starters.)
The world equates a shining light of democracy in the Middle East, Israel to the barbaric organization, Hamas. The world puts them on the same moral scale. Israel has incredible military might and nuclear weapons. If Hamas had Israel's military power, it would have killed every Jew three times over just for kicks. “Death to Israel” is what these sadists think about before they have breakfast. It is in the founding documents of Hamas – destroy Israel.
You don’t see Israel leveling Gaza the way the Allies destroyed Dresden during WWII or the way the US firebombed Tokyo and then dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, obliterating the populace. The IDF is going out of its way to avoid civilian casualties, putting their soldiers at risk to provide safe corridors for Gazans. I don’t recall any other army taking similar actions to protect civilians. This includes the US in Afghanistan and Iraq (though feel free to correct me).
Israel is a state created for Jews, but there are 1.5 million Arabs living in Israel who are Israeli citizens and have the same rights and protections as Jews. Take any Middle Eastern country, and you'll see that the Jewish population has declined by 99.9% over the last five decades. The common thread here is the antisemitism that I had not thought about for decades but that is now out in the open. The pretext for Kristallnacht was that a German diplomat was assassinated by a 17-year-old German-born Polish Jew. Yes, the pretext – the antisemitism was there just waiting for a spark.
However, I am not only concerned about my descendants. This world makes no sense to me. When George Floyd was killed, the world was engulfed in demonstrations. Most were peaceful (many of my Jewish and non-Jewish friends marched in them – and I’ve never divided my friends into these categories before). But many caused downtowns to burn, destroying private property. And we as a society appeared to be fine with that. Many were afraid to speak out because they were scared to be accused of being racist. I wrote it off as a diminished mental state caused by the pandemic lockdowns.
More than a thousand Israeli civilians were slaughtered in extremely sadistic ways on October 7th. However, even before Israel had a chance to formulate a strategy of how to respond to this horror, people took to the streets with terrorist flags and chanted "gas the Jews." Please tell me, does any of this make sense? Are we now a society with clear double standards? Have we simply traded one form of racism for another? The whole point of racism (and discrimination) is to treat people differently – and usually worse – because of their identity (their skin color, race, sexual orientation, what have you).
Just imagine if the policeman who killed George Floyd had received a medal and was celebrated in mass marches, instead of being sent to prison. This is exactly what these marches in support of Hamas feel like. And should feel like to anyone. Our goal is to become a society where every life matters. Yes, I said it. Cancel me! All life matters!
BLM has clearly turned into an antisemitic organization of hate. It is one thing to support the plight of the Palestinian people, but it is a completely different matter to put a paraglider on the logo, one day after 1,500 innocent civilians were sadistically slaughtered as paragliders swooped down on Israel. If I was a member of BLM, I’d cancel my membership, just as I would if I was part of a Jewish organization that put the KKK hood on its flag.
We fear being canceled for speaking our minds. That fear runs deep in our society. If we touch any topic that pertains to a protected minority, we risk having our professional career ruined. We start sheepishly self-censoring ourselves.
Visit your local synagogue on any high holiday and you’ll see armed to the teeth security as if the President was in town. You never see this type of security on high holidays at mosques or churches. Why? Jews represent less than 2% of the US population. Yet, half of all religion-based hate crimes are directed towards Jews. This hate-crime statistic is based on 2022 data from the FBI. Can you imagine what that figure is today, after October 7th? You’d think universities would be concerned about the safety of all of their students.
Diversity and equity offices in our colleges value the lives of people of color, LGBTQ+ people, and women, but if you are a Jewish young man at an Ivy League school and are mugged by a mob, locked in the library, or afraid to come out of your dorm room, you are out of luck. Your skin is white, you are straight, and you are male. Sorry.
Given hate crime statistics and the surge in antisemitism, how much sense does it make for our country's vice president to come out with a "National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia"? Antisemitism is skyrocketing, reaching new highs, and the message you send is "Let's fight islamophobia"?
We should stop categorizing people as we do endangered species. Yes, this is coming from a Jew, and there are only 15 million Jews in the world, or 0.19% of the world's population. All lives should matter. Yes, I said it again – you can cancel me twice. And no, hate speech inciting violence towards any group should not be tolerated. All students on campus should matter.
So, October 7th feels like a Kristallnacht moment for me. Writing only about investing, the economy, classical music, and parenting when the world around you is crumbling, when your kids are scared and confused, is impossible now.
I know young adults who have gone to Israel to fight to protect it from evil. I have friends who have put their lives on hold and gone to Israel to volunteer to help that country in any way they can. My pen is my gift. This is how I can make a difference. If I don't stand up now, then when? When my family is sent to the gas chambers?
I’ve been conflicted about listening to Wagner’s music for a long time. He was a raging anti-Semite and a horrible human being. Hitler’s love for Wagner’s music made Wagner even less likable. (But of course, by this logic, if Hitler loved Offenbach’s music would it make Offenbach’s music taboo? But then again, if I had nearly died in a concentration camp I’d probably feel differently.)
In 1981, Zubin Mehta performed an excerpt from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as an encore in Israel. Until then Wagner’s music had not been performed live in Israel. Mehta made a short speech in which he said that Israel was a democracy where all music should be played, and if Wagner’s music offended some people they were free to leave. Two orchestra members and some of the audience left, and the piece was played to its end.
There is no right or wrong answer as to what one should think about Wagner’s music. It is a deeply personal matter. If Wagner’s music elicits negative emotions, then one should not listen to it. However, at the same time, we probably should not judge those who do choose to listen to it. This piece that I am about to share with you, I heard for the first time in one of my favorite movies, The Great Dictator, starring, written, and produced by the most Jewish non-Jewish actor, Charlie Chaplin. My kids have watched this movie a dozen times (If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it).
The Great Dictator was probably one of the first anti-Hitler movies, made in 1940 before Germany invaded Russia. I wish Stalin had watched it; he might have been less naïve about Hitler’s intentions and more prepared for war with Germany. I was surprised to find that the stunningly beautiful music in the “globe” scene was not written by Charlie Chaplin but by Richard Wagner.
Vitaliy Katsenelson is the CEO at IMA, a value investing firm in Denver. He has written two books on investing, which were published by John Wiley & Sons and have been translated into eight languages. Soul in the Game: The Art of a Meaningful Life (Harriman House, 2022) is his first non-investing book. You can get unpublished bonus chapters by forwarding your purchase receipt to firstname.lastname@example.org.