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The Schmooze

No, Rosanna Arquette Isn’t Anti-Semitic — But You Might Be

A tempest in the tiniest, Trump-steeped teapot has broken out on Twitter — actress Rosanna Arquette has been accused of anti-Semitism. The 59-year-old actress came under digital fire for suggesting that Jewish people should consider themselves particularly responsible for giving aid to children trapped in inhumane detention centers.

In a tweet that was deleted shortly after being published, Arquette wrote, “Children are sick and dying inside the cruel concentration camps. This will be the Trump administrations [sic] legacy. Any Jewish person who can turn their backs on this evil and does nothing to stop it should be ashamed of themselves.”

Loathe though we are to stir up the soupy scum created by a minor Twitter spat, the Arquette vs. Anti-Semitism Police case provides a fascinating snapshot of American Jewish life in this moment.

To many, Arquette’s comment seemed to expose her as an anti-Semite-in-organic-fair-trade-sheep’s-clothing. She sounds like a lefty who manipulates the history of Jewish trauma to vilify Jewish people, bizarrely recalling times Jews were scapegoated…in order to once again scapegoat Jews. “Take out word Jew & insert any other minority word. You’d never post that,” one Twitter user commented, calling Arquette “racist.”

Here’s the thing — Arquette is Jewish.

Arquette has a Jewish parent and identifies as Jewish. She lost family in the Holocaust, and has visited death camps in Poland. She and her husband have worked extensively with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to raise and distribute millions of dollars to support Holocaust survivors.

In that light, her tweet reads differently. Sure, a Jewish person can invoke anti-Semitic tropes, but that doesn’t seem to be the case here. A Jew calling on other Jews to remember our history, to see ourselves in another people’s struggle, and to treat others how we would like to be treated, all topped with a dollop of guilt — those ideas are as old as the Torah. Arquette sounds less like an anti-Semite, and more like a real stickler of a Hebrew school teacher.

Inadvertently, Arquette’s detractors demonstrated phenomena that Jews of color have been begging white Jews to notice for years.

Blonde, beautiful, and boasting a surname that sounds like a French dessert, Arquette doesn’t match the stereotypes that most people — Jews included — hold of what a Jewish person should look like. The speed at which Jewish and non-Jewish people decided Arquette couldn’t be Jewish based on a flawed heuristic hardly hurt the wealthy, influential actress, but Jews of color who experience the same baseless call-outs don’t have the clout to shut down strangers who dismiss their identities.

“You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”

Who said it? “Desperately Seeking Susan” actor Rosanna Arquette, or God? That commandment, which Arquette indirectly invokes, is repeated 36 times in the Torah — more times than any of the 613 other mitzvot, ReformJudaism.org points out. Her clumsier iteration boils down to the same thing — “Jews shouldn’t ignore the suffering of immigrants and refugees, because we know what it’s like to suffer in the same ways.”

But, as Arquette’s detractors point out, that context is missing from Arquette’s tweet. “You’re not addressing your congregation, you’re talking to the wide world in the language of antisemitic tropes,” writer Sara Gibbs pointed out on Twitter. “Given the glee from antisemites in your mentions, I’m not the only one who read it that way.”

Gibbs makes a good point, too. When Jewish conversations about holding our own community accountable reverberate among non-Jews, especially among white supremacists, what responsibilities do we have to edit our words?

As long as Jews mix in the world, especially in high profile places, their behavior and the public’s reaction will effect all of us. As Talmudic rabbis might say: This, too, is Torah. And we must study it.

Jenny Singer is the deputy life/features editor for the Forward. You can reach her at [email protected] or on Twitter @jeanvaljenny

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