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PostIs Anti-Semitism Wrong? An Open Letter (Luciano Dondero, Italy, 03/29/16 4:53 am)
(An open letter to those who say "I'm no anti-Semite")
This may sound like a silly question.
Of course, "everybody agrees with this statement."
However, I'm afraid this is not true. I bet that if we asked people to answer it, very few would actually be prepared to do so with a clear, unqualified "yes!"
Many would rather use a formulation of the type "yes, but..." followed by various qualifiers--from an almost unobjectionable "not all accusations of anti-Semitism are true and well founded," all the way to the barely disguised anti-Semitism of "anti-Zionism is a legitimate stance," with "criticizing Israel is not anti-Semitism" falling somewhat in-between.
Not many, at least among educated people and in the West, would be prepared to reply with a rotund "No!" Even those who think so, in fact, would rather nuance their denial with statements like "anti-Semitism does not really exist nowadays"; "too much propaganda abuses the notion of anti-Semitism"; "to be against the State of Israel is not anti-Semitism."
As you can see from the above, in fact the original question ("Is anti-Semitism wrong?") in the perception of many people would somehow shift to "Does anti-Semitism exist?"
Which leads to what could be called the "Mother of all questions pertaining to the Jews": "What is anti-Semitism?"
Indeed--while replying to "Is anti-Semitism wrong?"--both these questions may be raised in a legitimate fashion, in particular by people who are too young or otherwise too uninformed about current reality and history to know better. But many times these questions are a diversion and a cover for the unadulterated intent to simply deny that anti-Semitism exists here and now.
Let me just briefly outline what is anti-Semitism.
It is the notion that being Jewish is wrong. From this comes the potential to believe all sorts of accusations against each and every Jew, and against all Jews as an undifferentiated "reactionary mass."
This is rooted in Christianity.
The Roman Empire, which did fight against the Jewish kingdoms, conquered them and then managed to smash any subsequent Israelite rebellion, did not know the meaning of anti-Semitism, because the notion that a people could be "beyond the pale" would go against Rome's assimilationism, nicely summed up in the dictum: "Civis Romanus sum."
But Roman emperors, disguised as "gods on earth," could not bear people in their Empire who did not accept their "divinity." The early Christians and the Jews bore the brunt of that wrath, whenever they put their beliefs in "the one and only god" in the way of swearing allegiance to the "Cesar" of the moment. Then Christianity managed to overtake the Empire with the conversion of Emperor Constantine after 300 AD.
From then on the Jewish people as a whole was regarded as responsible for the death of Jesus. As Wikipedia puts it: "The ethnoreligious slur 'Christ-killer' used as the rallying cry of mobs intent on violence against their Jewish neighbours contributed to the effectiveness of many centuries of pogroms, the Crusaders' decimation of Jews, the Inquisition, and the Holocaust."
Nazi Germany gave Christian anti-Semitism a really bad name, or so it should have, so much so that many people today seem to think that Hitler was not Christian, or at least they claim they think so. But in actual fact even the Shoah was not enough for the Catholic Church: it took until the Vatican II Council in the 1960s for Rome to stop accusing the Jews of being "the murderers of our Lord"!
Is anti-Semitism a variant of racism? Not really, because Jews are not a distinct ethnic grouping--leaving aside the obvious fact that "racialism" is anyway an idiocy given that mankind is not made up of separate "races."
Is anti-Semitism a form of religious persecution? Not really, because the prejudice against Jews does not treat secular or atheistic Jews any better than it does religious ones.
Is any and every criticism of Jews or Israelis anti-Semitism? Obviously not.
Not only that, but in fact if you have a legitimate grievance against a particular Jew ("he stole my wife") or a group of Jews/Israelis ("Maccabi Tel Aviv smashed my football team last night") and use some slur against him/them, that does not make you ipso facto an anti-Semite--just a lout...
More seriously, you could claim, like most Arabs do, that the Jews of Israel took their lands away from them in Palestine. And whether this belief is juridically right or wrong, it's not really important. For instance, I have it on the authority of Anthony Julius, a British lawyer/historian, author of an impressive Trials of the Diaspora: A History of Anti-Semitism in England, that Edward Said was not an anti-Semite, no matter how twisted and false some of his accusations against Israel could be.
People tend to shirk from any notion of being in any way, shape or form associated with anti-Semitism nowadays, because after World War II and Hitler's war crimes it's easy to draw an equation between anti-Semitism and Nazism, or to assume that any anti-Semitic statement means direct support for Hitler.
Sometimes, this is actually true. Whenever a neo-Nazi crawls up from the sewers and appears on the political scene, anti-Semitism is typically one of his staples. The more savvy among them, even insert it into a pro-Palestinian or even pro-peace statement, like "Israel is what's wrong with the Middle East [or the world]!" And many Arabs and most Islamists are big fans of Hitler, these days, while typically blaming him for "not finishing the job."
But, by and large, just like in pre-Hitler times, it's still possible to be a "soft" anti-Semite, just a little bit discriminating, a little bit disparaging, somewhat unfriendly--"I wouldn't want my daughter to marry a Jew"--without it implying any inclination to support the Holocaust!
For instance, if while watching Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice," you feel it in your heart that, "yes, that's how Jews really are!", well, that's what it means to be an anti-Semite: and no gas chambers are involved.
Or else rehashing anti-Israel stuff without so much as a "by your leave," like saying that so-and-so is a tool of "hasbara propaganda," for instance. No need to go any deeper than that, and yet, that goes under the rubric of anti-Semitism, because it's a form of prejudice against Jews--as it implies that "we all know that only Jews could be so wicked as to implement their propaganda ('hasbara') and we all also know that Jews have the money for it."
Nothing can be said against the Jews which has not been said before, one only needs to adapt the old tropes to make them fit contemporary reality.
Do Jews practice blood sacrifices? "Well, maybe not, but surely they kill Palestinian children." However, the Arab and Islamic press is replete with references to "Jews sucking the blood of Palestinian children," and from time to time those find their way even in the "free press."
Are Jews involved in an Elder of Zion plot to take over the world? "Well, maybe not, but don't they have have a disproportionate influence in Washington and London and Paris?" and so on and so forth.
Of course, various kinds of crazed people around the world actually claim that the Jews and/or Israel are responsible for a long list of crimes: including 9/11 or the recent Paris, Brussels or Ankara bombs. Not to mention that "the Jews have invented the Holocaust for their own benefit."
This unsavory stuff is actually peddled regularly by various TV, radio and other media in Muslim-dominated countries and in certain Muslim enclaves in the West.
Less-crazed people turn and twist these arguments into an apparently more palatable version, namely that "GW Bush and the neo-cons were acting on behalf of Israel," and/or that Israel is "an apartheid State," the "new Nazis," perpetrating "genocide" or even an "Holocaust against the Palestinians."
This is all pure and simple anti-Semitism, and it doesn't really matter whether those who say such things are consciously anti-Semitic or not, nor if they are themselves Jews--these actually happen to be the only "good Jews" that their enemies are prepared to tolerate.
It is anti-Semitism because it starts from the assumption that "The Jewish State" is, by definition, "A Bad Thing"--it can only exists by virtue of its past and present wrongdoings against the Arabs, both those in Israel proper and in the post-1967 areas (Samaria and Judea, or "The West Bank"). And it is anti-Semitism because it never checks its assertions against reality, but only against its own assumptions.
Do anti-Semites have a right to defend their views? On principle, I'm afraid I have to answer in the positive. Censorship is a European way of dealing with matters of ideas, and is something which I find dangerous and counterproductive. I much prefer to American way, which by and large, thanks to the First Amendment, tends to provide for a freer discussion, granting even horrible ideas a chance to be heard.
To which an important corollary should be attached: "Would you like to argue in favor of Hitler and gas chambers? Fine, if nothing happens; however, next time a Jew is attacked in your area of influence, maybe you will fall under suspicion of incitement to violence and murder..."
The freedom of discussing ideas, even the most revolting and unintelligent ones, is crucial--but surely it does not make anti-Semitism any more correct or sound than if you forbid such utterances. And in fact censorship is always problematic, as it was dramatically shown when a majority of countries managed to "vote" in some international forum in favor of labeling Jewish nationalism, i.e. Zionism, "racism," like the UN did in 1975 (it was only reversed in 1991).
Here again there was nothing new: didn't the Nazis already say that the Jews had called the violence upon themselves? Isn't Mein Kampf a discussion of the ways in which the Jews created all the evils that befell Germany?
So, yes, anti-Semitism is wrong, even the kind pushed forward by those who say "I'm no anti-Semite."
JE comments: A thoughtful essay from Luciano Dondero. I would add that modern anti-Semitism often arises precisely as a reaction to those who prohibit any condemnation of Israeli policies.
What would Luciano say to those who ask why Israel seems to be the only country in the world you cannot criticize?
Thoughts on Anti-Semitism, Racism; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
03/30/16 2:04 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
Luciano Dondero's March 29 discussion of anti-Semitism
is a valiant thrust at a difficult subject, where, as he points out,
the definition itself leads into subjective constructions (which
are the problem in the first place).
In 1984, Joel Williamson looked at race relations and provided
the following definition of another elusive "ism," racism:
“Racism is, in its essence [is] a psychological--even a psychiatric—phenomenon. Racists need devils, or they need gods, and often they need both. They need these manifested in tangible human forms that can be maneuvered so as to make their own lives seem legitimate….Racists use other people as tools, and thus racism is tied directly to power and the lack thereof. Racists have power, and they use that power to enforce onto other persons an appearance that is not real….Racism is essentially a mental condition, a disorder of the mind in which internal problems are projected upon external persons.”
Williamson's formulation magnificently summarizes some of the dynamics, and yet still
can't get around the basic difficulty: If it is "a mental condition, a disorder of the mind,"
why is it not in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of the American Psychiatric Association?
Where does it lie on a grid or spectrum with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or borderline
personality disorder? The obvious, nuts-and-bolts negativity of ethnic psychological projection
is outflanked by our much larger flaccidity in definitions (as we wait for present psychological
definitions--perhaps next week?--to go the way of cupping-and-bleeding and the four humours).
JE comments: I would also question Williamson's assumption that racists have power. It's often exactly the opposite, especially in the case of racist "acting out." The disempowered seek devils for scapegoating. Think of the KKK, which arose in the defeated American South, or Nazi anti-Semitism in the wake Germany's humiliation at Versailles. Even Trump supporters have been characterized as disenfranchised Whites for whom the American Dream of yore has disappeared.
- Anti-Semitism (Robert Whealey, USA 03/31/16 3:38 AM)
In response to Luciano Dondero (29 March), I never heard of the term anti-Semitism until I was 18. My mother was a "fundamentalist" Methodist, who told me that the Bible says that the Jews are "the chosen people" of God. My best friend in grammar and high school disliked Jews, but he could not explain to me a rational reason why. I kept up with him after he went to college and retired as an orthodontist in Florida. In our occasional meetings since 1948, he dropped all negative comments about Jews and sold his dental practice in Pompano Beach.
During my Freshman year at Bates College in Maine, I became involved in monthly bull sessions, with three Jews, an Episcopalian, an Anglo-Saxon (either atheist or agnostic), one Greek-American, a Unitarian, and a liberal Protestant pre-Ministry student (who later became a campus minister). Perhaps 20% of the Bates student body was Roman Catholic, but two of them were silent in the bull sessions and mostly just listened.
Over the summer, I read a history of religion and announced in September 1949 to my roommate, "I am no longer a fundamentalist."
From the beginning, I could never understand a "so-called" Christian who said he was an anti-Semite.
How could he be an anti-Semite, when the founders of the Christian religion were both Jews, Jesus and Apostle Paul?
In the 1960s, the West German Catholic Church and Lutheran-Evangelical Church both repudiated anti-Semitism as a false Social Darwinist ideology.
Zionism is nationalist ideology. In 1948 European Zionists created the nation-state of Israel in the British Mandate of Palestine. That has become a problem for the State Department. The mass media have intensified this problem because they and most Democrats and Republicans are confused about the concepts of "race," "nation," "state," "religion" and social-economic class. The 2016 election is becoming more intense. I plea to my fellow WAISers to read more law and history and turn off TV as much as possible.
JE comments: And read more WAIS! Unless, of course, we launch WAISworld Television (WTV).
Who can pinpoint the moment when US Fundamentalist Christians abandoned the crude anti-Semitism of yore, to become almost universally pro-Israel? Sometime in the 1960s? Incidentally, this was also the time the Catholic Church retracted the "Christ-Killer" label (Vatican II).
Anti-Semitism; from Ric Mauricio
(John Eipper, USA
03/31/16 6:10 PM)
Ric Mauricio responds to Robert Whealey (31 March):
WAISers, please correct me if I am wrong, but according to some reports, around 85% of Jews are not even Semites, rather they are descendants of Ashkenazi, Sephardic, or Mizrahi ethnicities. So the word "anti-Semitic" is an obsolete concept. In fact, one could be called anti-Semitic if one is anti-Arab, since some Arabs are Semitic.
Robert Whealey's wrote, "I could never understand a 'so-called' Christian who said he was an anti-Semite. How could he be an anti-Semite, when the founders of the Christian religion were both Jews, Jesus and Apostle Paul?" Robert points out how illogically many people think. And I have discovered that arguing against the illogical often results in frustration. People will believe in the illogical even when faced with logic or contradiction.
You see, it is much easier to not think than to think. It is easier to make sweeping generalizations than to give some thought as to what that generalization really means. This is why Trump said he loves the undereducated, because he can appeal to them through generalizations. An illegal immigrant kills an innocent bystander, therefore all illegal immigrants are bad and must be deported. The rioters in Baltimore and Ferguson are doing bad things, so they must be illegal (according to Trump). We have terrorists who are Muslim, so all Muslims must be terrorists.
The same generalizations are made with regards to Jews. As Donald Trump put it, "we are all hagglers," stating the stereotype of Jews being hard-nosed negotiators worshiping the same golden calf that he worships. Oh, speaking to a Jewish group, this really ticked them off.
While it is true that many Jews are financially astute, a trait that many of us should attempt to emulate, that trait is not an exclusive one exhibited by Jews. The overseas Chinese are often called the Jews of Asia for that same trait. There are anti-overseas Chinese feelings in many Asian countries (the Philippines, Malaysia). There are many people of many different ethnicities and nationalities who also are financially astute.
But the problem is two-sided. Many of the above become arrogant and thus the anti-whatever begins. And there is a jealousy factor on the other side. The solution often calls for wealth equalization, which, of course, does not work.
We just have to embrace our differences. After all, if all of us were blonde, blue-eyed, six footers, with above average IQs, what an absolute boring world this would be.
JE comments: I've seen the epithet "Jews of X" applied to the Catalans in Spain, the Regiomontanos (residents of Monterrey) in Mexico, and the Paisas (Medellín) in Colombia. All of these are legendary for their business acumen. We've touched on this topic in prior WAIS posts. Are there other examples?
Also, what real meaning does the term "Semite" have other than claiming some vague ancestry in Shem, the Biblical second son of Noah?
Cubans as "Jews"; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
04/01/16 11:44 AM)
Gary Moore writes:
To Ric Mauricio's "Jews of X" post add Cubans, a characterization not entirely buried by
two generations of communism (X in this case being "the Caribbean"),
with an opposite stereotype said to mantle Puerto Ricans among Cubans.
JE comments: Perhaps Francisco Wong-Díaz can add to this. One could counter that unlike Cubans, Jewish folks as a rule have not stood out in baseball, with the exceptions of Sandy Koufax, Hank Greenberg, and Rod Carew. Detroit Tigers manager Brad Ausmus is also Jewish--as well as a fellow Dartmouth grad.
I've long observed that Cubans and Puerto Ricans have surprisingly little affection for each other.
(Please note: this one is not an April Fool's joke.)
Next up: A post from FYI López.
Puerto Ricans and Cubans; Cubans as "Jews"
(Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA
04/01/16 6:47 PM)
John E is correct about animosity between Puerto Ricans and Cubans, despite the fact that a Puerto Rican was a leader of Cuba's war of independence. I have encountered this negative attitude through my life in the USA. I do not know its cause, but will guess at a few socio-historical reasons:
Despite the fact that they are US citizens, PRs feel that Cubans have been treated as special migrants while the latter look down at PRs for being underperformers.
PRs by being US citizens have been viewed in Latin America as losers who who sold out after failing to free themselves with or without help from other Latin American countries.
Many middle and upper-class Cubans left their island after the Castro takeover and settled in PR where they soon dominated some discrete parts of the local economy and hired low-paid PRs. Best example is the Bacardi family which moved its operations to PR.
Some other reasons might exist, but the issue is real.
Regarding Gary Moore's observation of April 1st, I remember being surprised decades ago at a social event by someone referring to Cubans as the "Jews of the Caribbean." He meant it as a compliment!
JE comments: Yes, a compliment. Paisas (citizens of Medellín or Antioquia in Colombia) boast of alleged Jewish roots, to which they attribute their entrepreneurship. Paisas pride themselves as doers; they see Bogotanos as non-productive, elitist bureaucrats.
Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Stereotypes; from Gary Moore
(John Eipper, USA
04/03/16 6:42 PM)
Gary Moore responds to Francisco Wong-Díaz (2 April), concerning Cubans and Puerto Ricans as stereotypes:
The Miami Herald once flew me into Cuba when it was
generally off-limits, but a rare opening had been made.
On the tarmac, the pilot of the small plane (I never asked
his ethnicity--though clearly it wasn't Puerto Rican) launched
into an instructive this-is-how-things-are-here monologue,
faintly redolent of good ol' boy raps in the Old South.
Studding his riff with helpful examples, he said that once
he had worked for a utility company stringing wire in the
back country of either Cuba or Puerto Rico, where the linemen
were from both places. One day they were lined up military-style,
he said, to hear a new proposal: a zesty job opening had come up,
and would mean possibility for attractive promotion--but also a lot
more work. Anyone who wanted to volunteer for this challenging new
track should step forward, the troops were told.
As if with one mind (said the good-old-boy of the palms) all the
Cubans in the line then stepped forward. And (he added with a cocked
eyebrow that might have been at home in Selma or Bastrop of Jim Crow)
all the Puerto Ricans stood right where they were.
These are very interesting stereotypes to explore, though often one has
to wait for the right sage on the tarmac.
JE comments: I wonder if these same stereotypes existed in 1898, before Cuba and Puerto Rico embarked on very different political paths.
- Semites, Khazars, and Jewishness (Cameron Sawyer, USA 04/02/16 6:27 AM)
I will accept Ric Mauricio's gracious invitation to correct him (31 March), on the question of the Semitic ethnicity of Jews.
The debate about this started with Arthur Koestler's book, Darkness at Noon, where this writer asserted or hypothesized that European Jews are not related at all to Biblical Jews, but rather, to the Khazars, a Turkic nomadic nation of the Middle Ages which was briefly a regional superpower, dominating the Northern part of the Black Sea littorals, and which converted to Judaism.
Koestler hoped that this entirely fanciful idea might reduce the tendency to anti-Semitism, but the effect of it was the opposite, as it was seized upon by neo-Nazis and other wackos.
The Khazar theory has been thoroughly debunked by genetic research, which shows that the great majority of Jews in the world are in fact descended from the Biblical Israelites. Ashkenazis (by far the largest part of modern Jewry, representing 70% to 80%) are not really a separate ethnic group from the Sephardim, who are the very same people, but who developed certain differentiating cultural and linguistic characteristics from centuries of living in Iberia.
So indeed the concept of "anti-Semitism" is not obsolete at all. It is a somewhat incorrect use of terminology, however, since no one is referring to hatred of the entire Semitic family of peoples, which of course includes Arabs, and other ancient and modern peoples.
An interesting fact about the ethnicity of Jews is that modern Jews and Palestinians are very close to each other genetically, far closer than to other peoples of the region. "Arab" is, much less than "Jew," not an exact ethnic description, since the Arabs conquered and assimilated huge groups of peoples during their conquests.
There is an excellent article in Wiki:
JE comments: WAIS conducted a particularly detailed discussion on the Khazars back in 2005. Do a search at the WAISworld.org website. I also came across this 2004 post from RH and Martin Lewis, which hypothesizes a linguistic and genetic connection between the Khazars and the Magyars (Hungarians). It's worth a click:
- Semites, Khazars, and Jewishness (Cameron Sawyer, USA 04/02/16 6:27 AM)
- Puerto Ricans, Cubans, and Stereotypes; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/03/16 6:42 PM)
- Puerto Ricans and Cubans; Cubans as "Jews" (Francisco Wong-Diaz, USA 04/01/16 6:47 PM)
- Cubans as "Jews"; from Gary Moore (John Eipper, USA 04/01/16 11:44 AM)
- Anti-Semitism (Robert Whealey, USA 03/31/16 3:38 AM)