Yes, Antisemitism is Real, Wrong, and Dangerous

Yes, Antisemitism is Real, Wrong, and Dangerous December 30, 2019


I shouldn’t have to tell you that antisemitism is real, it’s wrong, and it’s dangerous.

There are some things that, at this point in history, are so elementary that a blogger who writes for an adult audience shouldn’t have to say them. I, personally, feel ridiculous for having to point them out. Don’t stick a knife in a toaster. Don’t take that toaster into the bathtub with you if it’s plugged in. Don’t eat yellow snow. Don’t lick brightly colored frogs from the Amazon rain forest. Don’t be an anti-Semite. Some things ought to go without saying by the time you’re an adult. You ought to know better.

However, “you ought to know better” doesn’t seem to be a thing anymore, so I’m going to have to explain myself.

You’re not supposed to be antisemitic because it’s wrong to be bigoted against people who are a different ethnicity, culture or religion than you (Jews could be one of those or all three, depending on who you ask). Bigotry is foolish and wrong. In addition, Christians are not supposed to be antisemitic because Christ and His Apostles were Jews, so it’s doubly foolish. We Catholics have an additional understanding that the soul is the Bride of Christ, meaning that if you are a Catholic, the Jewish people are your in-laws.

My friend and Patheos colleague, Father Stephanos Pedrano, has beautifully stated: For our salvation, the Son of God came down from heaven, and by the Holy Spirit was incarnate of the Virgin Mary, and became man, a Jewish man, a Semite. I cannot fathom antisemitic Christians. That sums it up better than I ever could.

My friend  Gregory Eran Gronbacher, writing a guest post at my friend Rebecca Bratten Weiss’s blog yesterday, gave a haunting testimony on the reality of antisemitism in our culture and what it feels like to be a Jew right now, and I do strongly encourage you to stop reading this post and read that one. That’s all anybody should have to say.

But for anyone who’s still here: I think, at this point, I’m probably going to get some questions about what kinds of behavior really, truly constitute antisemitism and why these behaviors are so dangerous. I doubt I have a very large neo-Nazi audience, after all. Gronbacher quoted a holocaust survivor in his piece, and I don’t think many of my readers feel that they’d ever commit full-blown genocide. They’re not advocating putting people in camps. They’re not going to kill anybody. Surely, antisemitism isn’t all that common. Surely the occasional generalization or off-color joke can’t be what I’m talking about. Aren’t I being awfully dramatic?

To which I answer: actually, every time you’re even a little bit bigoted against a vulnerable group, even in seemingly harmless ways, you really are contributing to a potential genocide. Genocide doesn’t just happen all at once. Genocide is the avalanche that begins with a couple of snowballs and then a couple more, and then the whole mountainside comes down on top of you and your neighbors are being loaded into cattle cars. That’s how genocide works. We begin by looking at a group of people in our midst who are different from us, and deciding that they’re worth less than we are or somehow a threat to us. Then we’re spreading conspiracy theories and making nasty jokes– and every time you make a bigoted joke or spread a conspiracy theory, even if you don’t fully realize what you’re doing, you’re contributing to making that marginalized group seem dangerous or ridiculous instead of worthy of respect. In your own mind and in the minds of people who listen to you, you’re making a human into a caricature. And it becomes easier and easier to hurt someone, when they’re only a caricature and not a human being.

No, just one person can’t be single-handedly responsible for a genocide. Cultures commit genocides. Not even a monster like Hitler or Stalin works alone; they work by playing on the fears and prejudices that already exist in a culture. And a culture can stop or greatly mitigate a genocide that’s being committed by powerful people in their midst– think of the huge success of the Danish Resistance in protecting Denmark’s Jews from the Nazis, for example, compared to the rest of Europe. Individual people can’t do it on their own, but great numbers of individual people make the difference.

Cultures are made of people. You and I are people, and when we act bigoted toward a marginalized group– even if it’s just a joke, even if it’s just laughing at somebody else’s joke, even if it’s just giving credence to a conspiracy theory that ought to be ignored– we are doing our part to tip the balance toward a genocide. And no one is completely innocent of this. We lie to ourselves if we don’t admit that we’re all at least a little bigoted and we need to work at seeing our neighbor as a human being equal in dignity to us. I am a bigot and so are you, and we have to constantly be converted of that.

That said, here are a few pointers as to whether you’re being an antisemitic.

–If you believe or spread paranoid conspiracy theories about George Soros, the Rothschilds, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or “the history of banking,” you’re being antisemitic.

–If you claim you neither believe nor disbelieve such conspiracy theories but are “keeping an open mind” because you “don’t like to be told what to think,” you’re being antisemitic and also a gullible nincompoop. Giving credence to nonsense doesn’t make you intelligent or independent. It’s just evidence that you’re not good at critical thinking.

–If you laugh at another person’s antisemitic jokes or don’t call them out when they profess a conspiracy theory, you’re being antisemitic. It’s your responsibility and all of ours to break that chain of antisemitism before it becomes a genocide.

–If you refer to Jews as “you people” or “those people” and then make nasty generalizations about them, you’re being an antisemtiic. Yes, even if you know a few real-life examples who act like your stereotype. Yes, even if you’re actually nice to the Jewish people you know in real life. And yes, we have to make a distinction between identifying a certain person or group of people that have done something wrong and painting their entire religion or culture with a gigantic brush. You can say that certain of the country of Israel’s actions toward Palestinians are genocidal without saying that this is proof of what all Jews want to do to their neighbors, for example– and indeed, some Jews themselves have said that. This Jewish woman is talking about and denouncing the forced marriage she endured in an ultra-Orthodox Jewish community, and of course that’s not anti-Semitic– but it would be extremely anti-Semitic and dishonest as well to take it from there and make a generalization like “Jews are all misogynists, I heard about it in a TED talk.”

–If you say “I’m not anti-Semitic, I’m anti-Talmudic,” I hate to break it to you, but you’re actually being an antisemitic. You just are.

–If you defend or downplay someone’s public antisemitism, such as by saying “Mel Gibson was only under spiritual attack,” you’re being antisemitic.

–If you tacitly tolerate someone’s public antisemitism, such as by still subscribing to their publication and inviting them for interviews on your podcast because “Yes, he’s an overt anti-semite, but he also makes so many good points about XYZ,” you’re being antisemitic. Someone whose judgement is that bad in one area shouldn’t be listened to in others until they have publicly distanced themselves from their antisemitism.

None of these things are harmless. They are the raw materials out of which genocide is made. Doing them is not innocent; it’s dangerous and wrong.

To me, this all goes without saying. But since other people don’t seem to know it– well, here it is.

(image via Pixabay) 





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