When 'Anti-Semitism' Is Abused

Disagreeing With Israel Doesn't Make One a Bigot

Real Anti-Semitism: We should all fight anti-Semitism. But some apparently need a reminder about the difference between real anti-Semitism and honest debate about Israel.
getty images
Real Anti-Semitism: We should all fight anti-Semitism. But some apparently need a reminder about the difference between real anti-Semitism and honest debate about Israel.

By Sarah Wildman

Published January 05, 2012, issue of January 13, 2012.
  • Print
  • Share Share

We were raised to be vigilant. We were taught to fight oppression, admonished to be New Jews — strong, muscular, defiant.

We were told to look for the signs, the slogans and the double-speak. We learned at the knee of those with tattooed forearms; knelt at the feet of those who lost brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents, grandparents, lovers, spouses, children.

We have cried, we have wailed, we have lit thousands upon thousands of memorial candles. And we have sworn, again and again, that we would never forget.

That is why when anti-Semitism is falsely applied, we must also stand up and decry it as defamation, as character assault, as unjust. That is why when we debase the term by using it as a rhetorical conceit against those with whom we disagree on policy matters, we have sullied our own promises to our grandparents. For if we dilute the term, if we render the label meaningless, defanged, we have failed ourselves, our legacy, our ancestors, our children.

Read the Forward’s news story about Josh Block’s campaign against liberal critics of Israel

I am speaking of the recent rise of the bogeyman of anti-Semitism wielded to criticize everyone, from the American ambassador to Belgium (himself the Jewish son of a Holocaust survivor), who was trying to negotiate the uncomfortable lines of Muslim-Jewish conflict in modern Europe, to foreign policy bloggers at Media Matters for America and ThinkProgress, the online magazine housed at the left-leaning Center for American Progress. Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, responding to a story about divisions on Israel policy in the Democratic Party, freely called these blogs anti-Semitic. Commentary took up her lead, and The Jerusalem Post than found a historian to ruminate over word choices on the blogs, likening their use to classic anti-Semitism. In the meantime, Elliott Abrams of The Weekly Standard took on Thomas Friedman, beginning his piece, “If you were an anti-Semite dedicated to spreading your hatred of Jews….”

We should know by now that supporting the State of Israel does not mean uncritical support by all, that Jewish identity is not always under attack when a government of Israel faces criticism. Love for the Jewish state does not, by definition, mean a love for all things the state undertakes. For some that may mean fighting the segregation of women in Beit Shemesh; for others that means pushing for Israel to get out of the territories.

We can — we must — write about these things. We can argue over borders and refugees, democracy and lack of democracy, worry over the increasingly uncomfortable tension between the ultra-Orthodox and the secular in the state to which so many of us in the Diaspora feel connected.

We can do so because such criticism is not, by definition, anti-Zionism. We can do so because such criticism is not, by definition, anti-Semitism.

There comes a time when we must insist on common sense. We must reject the absurd. There comes a time when we must say, “Enough.” Real anti-Semitism exists. Real, ugly, hatred of the Jewish people is all too easy to find.

But when we are forced to sift through the thousands of posts of an organization affiliated with the Democratic Party in order to come up with six or seven sentences that may, taken out of context, feel uncomfortable to the community with regard to Israel, that should not lead to pointing fingers, libeling writers and screaming about hate speech. We cannot jump up and shout that these think tanks are harboring anti-Semites or brewing hatred because we disagree with something they have written. We cannot call that anti-Semitism. We can call it policy disagreement.

When we take apart a speech about anti-Semitism by one of our ambassadors who has, through observation and analysis, come to the reasoned conclusion that the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, and the failure of the peace process, has an impact on Jewish communities abroad, we should not call for his resignation. Instead, we must acknowledge that when Israel takes an action against the Palestinians — whether we agree with that action or not — the action may, and often does, reverberate elsewhere. But we cannot call those who acknowledge these things anti-Semitic. We can call that an uncomfortable truth.

And when Haredi men and women put their children in striped pajamas and place a yellow star emblazoned with the word “Jude” on their chests and parade in the streets of Jerusalem to protest the secular world, we can call that spitting on the graves of our ancestors.

And we can weep that we have lost all perspective.

Enough.

Sarah Wildman is a columnist for the International Herald Tribune and the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) and is a contributing editor to the Forward.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. http://jd.fo/q3Iaj Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • A grumpy Jewish grandfather is wary of his granddaughter's celebrating Easter with the in-laws. But the Seesaw says it might just make her appreciate Judaism more. What do you think?
  • “Twist and Shout.” “Under the Boardwalk.” “Brown-Eyed Girl.” What do these great songs have in common? A forgotten Jewish songwriter. We tracked him down.
  • What can we learn from tragedies like the rampage in suburban Kansas City? For one thing, we must keep our eyes on the real threats that we as Jews face.
  • When is a legume not necessarily a legume? Philologos has the answer.
  • "Sometime in my childhood, I realized that the Exodus wasn’t as remote or as faceless as I thought it was, because I knew a former slave. His name was Hersh Nemes, and he was my grandfather." Share this moving Passover essay!
  • Getting ready for Seder? Chag Sameach! http://jd.fo/q3LO2
  • "We are not so far removed from the tragedies of the past, and as Jews sit down to the Seder meal, this event is a teachable moment of how the hatred of Jews-as-Other is still alive and well. It is not realistic to be complacent."
  • Aperitif Cocktail, Tequila Shot, Tom Collins or Vodka Soda — Which son do you relate to?
  • Elvis craved bacon on tour. Michael Jackson craved matzo ball soup. We've got the recipe.
  • This is the face of hatred.
  • What could be wrong with a bunch of guys kicking back with a steak and a couple of beers and talking about the Seder? Try everything. #ManSeder
  • BREAKING: Smirking killer singled out Jews for death in suburban Kansas City rampage. 3 die in bloody rampage at JCC and retirement home.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.