I’ve spent years arguing with anti-Semites online. I’ve argued with them since before it was called “online” — back in the days of BBS services, dial up modems, and green and black monitors. Their tactics haven’t changed much (just like Jews haven’t changed much). They may cloak themselves in any number of guises, but their anti-Jewish identity is always primary. Countless times, I’ve seen self-described White Nationalists and Muslim Extremists speak with ease about “the Jews,” all differences forgotten. Jewish words and ideas are extremely powerful to anti-Semites of all stripes. They believe one Jewish woman can influence the thoughts of an entire nation. If an organization contains thousands of people, and five of them are Jewish, an anti-Semite will believe the Jews are in control, regardless of their positions. Any Jewish person saying anything at all drives them nuts, no matter the topic. Anti-Semites will leave nasty comments under an online recipe: “That’s not REALLY a Cherry Pie, JEW!” Always, we are the focus, and always, we are the problem. So why, after so long dealing with this, do we not respond more effectively? Why does it always seem that antisemitism, once rooted, continues to spread?
There are a lot of reasons for this, but some are under our control. As a community, we simply don’t do well when confronted with this issue.
One great example is the saga of Mel Gibson. It’s a simple story. Mel Gibson makes a movie about Jesus. Jews complain. The complaining accomplishes nothing. Jews double down. Some of the behavior was beyond cringeworthy, such as wearing concentration camp outfits (Jesus was a Nazi?) to protest the premiere. Gibson, drunk one night, delivered a hell of a response. Jews were overjoyed — we’re right! He’s a real Jew hater!!!
It seems to me one might make the argument that “the Jews” struck first, and an inebriated Mel finally responded. Not to condone his words… but is there not something to this? Would Mel Gibson ever have become an anti-Semitic icon had Jews not protested his work, calling him an anti-Semite before he had spoken on the subject? Is it hateful towards Jews to simply make a film about Jesus? I saw “The Passion of the Christ” with a Christian girlfriend, and I can’t fathom what the issue was. Jews, quite frankly, jumped the gun.
Fast forward to the Donald Trump campaign. Against a field of mostly establishment Neo-Conservatives, Trump didn’t get the support of established Jewish journalists and commentators. This was quickly noted by the American neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer.
Trump, as I have said before, has lived in NYC for decades, surrounded by Jewish people. To my knowledge, there have never been any accusations of anti-Semitism against him. This fact didn’t seem to matter, though, as the same Jewish journalists and commentators who criticized him before began using his anti-Semitic supporters as an excuse for more criticism of him personally. A man who has lived and worked around and with Jews his whole life, accused of both outright anti-Semitism and covert support of it, based on no evidence. I have questions: Why should Trump condemn people he has no connection to? Why should Trump give those people any attention by mentioning them? Many in the Jewish community were shrill in their condemnation of Trump, but few seemed to think this through. What is accomplished when someone who doesn’t hate Jews is accused of anti-Semitism? The Jewish community vilifies Republican voters who have shown strong support for Israel and the Jewish community. The anti-Semities laugh, watching us lose genuine support. And for what? Trump won anyway, and the Jewish community finds itself with a President we openly opposed, and a DNC that’s moving away from us. What a situation!
It’s true that those on the political right who hate Jewish people have more of a voice than they did before. It’s true that they are emboldened. But before we blame Trump for this, we need to look in the mirror: stop overreacting to internet trolls, and absolutely stop using the term “anti-Semitism” when what you really mean is “I don’t agree with you.” It’s that simple. The days of crying wolf must end.