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Amazingly, One Can Care About Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia

It is plainly upsetting that JCCs, which are among other things nursery schools, are getting bomb threats. It’s sufficiently non-controversial to call this bad that even Ivanka Trump, even (eventually) President Trump, got on that bandwagon.

Not everyone, however, is similarly convinced.

Journalist Michael Tracey is at the ready with a contrarian take on whether anti-Semitic hate crimes are actually a cause for concern. In a tweetstorm turned Medium post, Tracey dismisses “[t]he media’s bizarre new obsession with (allegedly) rising anti-semitism,” attributing to the “long, documented history of media confabulating moral panics to further various political aims.” In the tweets, Tracey insists that anti-Semitic crime can’t be assumed on the rise, because the Jewish orgs claiming it is have agendas. He expands by insisting that “there’s just no good evidence that a wider anti-Jewish climate has been stoked,” with “good” doing a lot of work in that sentence. There is evidence; he’s just decided it doesn’t meet his specifications.

I’m writing about this not (just) because some takes are so bad that they merit takedowns, but because – see Elizabeth Picciuto’s response to a recent AP story – similarly weak, if less egregious, responses to recent anti-Semitic incidents are, alas, floating around.

Anyway. The Medium version of Tracey’s Twitter thread includes a bad-faith, rear-end-covering headline (“Anti-Semitism Is Horrible, But Not A Dominant Force In American Life”) and some similar disclaimers about anti-Semitism being bad, mmkay, sprinkled throughout. But mostly it digs still further holes. First, he refers to an honest-to-goodness anti-Semitic attack in Kansas that killed three. This, he insists, isn’t representative of anything because “neo-Nazi losers” don’t “represent a significant force in American political life.” Say what now? He writes that “there are newly-visible anti-semitic Twitter trolls who have been stupidly given a platform by journalists desperate for something to report on,” as though it would pain him to admit, even for one full sentence, that being trolled by anti-Semites might constitute actual harassment and actually get in the way of journalists’ doing their jobs.

But I haven’t even gotten to the good part, and by “good” I mean terrible.

The crux of Tracey’s point is that the JCC threats are nonsense, because — and never has such heavy reliance been made of a “[m]eanwhile” – Islamophobia is a huge problem. As though to make note of anti-Semitic incidents is to ignore or even support anti-Muslim acts or sentiment.

What comes through from Tracey’s Twitter thread (specifically but not exclusively this tweet: “We know indisputably that Muslims and Arabs have been disproportionately victimized by recent policy. And yet media dwell on this sideshow”) is that he’s at the very least hinting at a causal relationship between, on the one hand, anti-Semitic incidents getting press, and, on the other, Islamophobia. He’s not merely saying that anti-Muslim violence gets too little attention, but that there’s a) a relationship between the attention it gets and the attention anti-Semitism does, and b) that this relationship involves intent. He’s claiming that media entities and Jewish organizations that have drawn attention to recent anti-Semitic crimes have done so with an agenda, one that involves distracting from anti-Muslim acts.

What I’m wondering, then, is, this: Who is meant to be using anti-Semitism as a distraction from Islamophobia, and to what end?

Insinuations, by their very nature, defy confident interpretation. But I can, with confidence, state that the spot on the ideological spectrum where Tracey’s Jewish (or media) strawman sits is not, as the kids say, a thing.

Pardon me for maybe having my finger slightly more on the pulse of American Jewish opinion than Tracey seems to, but the stance Tracey describes – a fear of Trumpist anti-Semitism paired with an indifference to Islamophobia – isn’t a position. There are, on the one hand, anti-Trump Jews, unnerved by the president’s seeming indifference to anti-Semitism and active perpetuation of other forms of bigotry, and on the other, Trump’s handful of Jewish supporters, who, due to support for Israel or any number of other reasons, have brushed aside such matters as Trump not mentioning Jews in a Holocaust Remembrance Day statement.

Jews and Jewish groups are well represented (maybe even — cue the scary music — overrepresented) among those speaking out against the Muslim ban.

Yes, Trump’s Jewish opponents sure do mention the Holocaust a lot… but in reference to Muslim refugees being turned away. Which is – need I spell this out? – the very opposite of a parochial focus aimed at silencing conversations about Islamophobia. The Jews attributing the latest anti-Semitic incidents to Trump (and not all are) are the ones who — is this really so confusing? – oppose Trump, and not just, or even mostly, for his administration’s impact on Jews.

And guess what? American Muslims are also protesting anti-Semitism. American Muslims and Jews recognize that we face a shared threat. Yes, anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are linked, but insofar as white supremacists often engage in both. If Tracey is helping Muslims in other ways, good on him. But using Muslim safety as a pawn in an argument about why anti-Semitism isn’t actually a big deal helps precisely no one.

Phoebe Maltz Bovy edits the Sisterhood, and can be reached at [email protected] Her book, The Perils of “Privilege”, will be published by St. Martin’s Press in March 2017.

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