Where to Draw a Line
Yesterday, I was shocked and deeply upset by one of the most blatant displays of virulent antisemitism that I have seen in twenty years. It is hard to explain how upset I was without edging towards melodrama. After all, they were only words. No one was injured.
I brooded on this for much of yesterday evening. Finally, I had to ask myself, “Why are you surprised? After all, you’ve been tolerating low-level antisemitism for sometime now. Suddenly, someone declares that she doesn’t care about ‘rich y**s’ and you’re shocked. If people had been making comments about the laziness of African Americans and such comments were left unchallenged would you be shocked to find that the thread had degenerated to someone writing about ‘dumb n*****s’?”
So, why did I, and other people as well, allow things to slide for so long?
A few months ago, someone suggested that Jews are “inbred.” At the time I, and no one else, addressed the writer. I tried to be diplomatic, suggesting that he did not intend to be antisemitic but that his statement could be interpreted that way. He defended himself by saying that it was simply a fact as demonstrated by certain diseases that are more prevalent among Jews. “Inbreeding” was most certainly used to justify persecution of Jews. In 1919, Hitler wrote, “Through thousands of years of the closest kind of inbreeding, Jews in general have maintained their race and their peculiarities far more distinctly than many of the peoples among whom they have lived. And thus comes the fact that there lives amongst us a non German, alien race which neither wishes nor is able to sacrifice its racial character or to deny its feeling, thinking, and striving. Nevertheless, it possesses all the political rights we do.”
The original commenter insisted that just because a fact had been used to justify the extermination of the Jews didn’t mean that we could ignore that it was true. I tried to look at the question another way: How can we define “inbred” and, once it was clearly defined, did we apply it consistently? It seemed to me that many small nations might be equally “inbred.” Perhaps it was my familiarity with the Ramapough, but I had an inkling such notions were not applied impartially. After a some searching on the internet, I could not find a satisfactory answer. Although Wikipedia does mention a couple of different measures of inbreeding, I couldn’t find these more objective measures for different populations and how other distinct groups might compare to Jews. The information may very well be out there. After searching for long enough that I had to recognize I would not find an answer that night, I let the subject drop. Perhaps I was wrong to let it go. Perhaps I should have asked why the original commenter was so interested in Jews in the first place.
A few weeks later, in a different comment thread on the same blog, a different commenter said Jews were to be blamed for Christianity. Now, the topic of the blog is often atheism and most of the commenters are former Christians so a bit of bellyaching about Christianity is par for the course. However a sudden declaration to the effect of, “I know it’s not PC, but let’s blame the Jews,” struck me as being antisemitic.
Europe has blamed the Jews for an encyclopedia of sins. The Church blamed the Jews for killing Jesus; Voltaire blamed the Jews for inventing Christianity. In the febrile minds of anti-Semites, Jews were usurers and well-poisoners and spreaders of disease. Jews were the creators of both communism and capitalism; they were clannish but also cosmopolitan; cowardly and warmongering; self-righteous moralists and defilers of culture. Ideologues and demagogues of many permutations have understood the Jews to be a singularly malevolent force standing between the world and its perfection.
That comes from an article which appeared in the Atlantic last year, “Is It Time for the Jews to Leave Europe.” This is a time of increasing antisemitism in Europe and what some people worry is a nascent exodus. Some people have complained about the tone of articles such as that one calling it the “would the last Jew in Europe please shut out the lights” attitude. However, such bravado should not cause us to entirely dismiss the fact that such a conversation is taking place.
One of the strange ironies of the Holocaust is that it deflects attention from the antisemitism which existed in Europe in the centuries before it. The first half of the paragraph I quoted above is:
The resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe is not—or should not be—a surprise. One of the least surprising phenomena in the history of civilization, in fact, is the persistence of anti-Semitism in Europe, which has been the wellspring of Judeophobia for 1,000 years. The Church itself functioned as the centrifuge of anti-Semitism from the time it rebelled against its mother religion until the middle of the 20th century. As Jonathan Sacks, the former chief rabbi of Great Britain, has observed, Europe has added to the global lexicon of bigotry such terms as Inquisition, blood libel, auto‑da‑fé, ghetto, pogrom, and Holocaust.
Although today we tend to associate the Inquisition with individuals such as Galileo, the “Inquisition was originally intended primarily to ensure the orthodoxy of those who converted from Judaism and Islam.” If large numbers of Jews were not killed in England during the middle ages and the Rennaisance, perhaps that is because the were expelled in 1290. The word “pogrom” comes from Russian. “As a descriptive term, “pogrom” came into common usage with extensive anti-Jewish riots that swept Ukraine and southern Russia in 1881-1884, following the assassination of Tsar Alexander II.”
The perpetrators of pogroms organized locally, sometimes with government and police encouragement. They raped and murdered their Jewish victims and looted their property. During the civil war that followed the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution, Ukrainian nationalists, Polish officials, and Red Army soldiers all engaged in pogrom-like violence in western Belorussia (Belarus) and Poland’s Galicia province (now West Ukraine), killing tens of thousands of Jews between 1918 and 1920. (Source)
It is important to note that antisemitism predates the rise of racial theories that resulted in modern notions of racism. Hitler, for instance, insisted that he was not “antisemetic” in the traditional sense and called his ideas “scientific racism.”
Although it is beyond the scope of a blog post to prove, antisemitism has a different times been religious bigotry, racism and suspicion of a potentially disloyal group that might be a fifth column within a country, or some combination of those three.
So, when the commenter said that the Jews were at fault, I responded angrily and told him he was an anti-Semite, to which he replied, in effect, “so what.” (I’m recounting this from memory, so those are not likely to be his exact words.) I felt annoyed, not only at him, but at the silence of everyone else. Eventually, my opinion of the blog owner softened because, it occurred to me that he was African and perhaps not fully aware of the history of European antisemitism. It occurred to me that I should discuss this with him at length, but I never quite got around to it.
So, yesterday, I looked at the same blog again. You might be thinking, “What, were you looking to get upset,” but understand that these were two isolated comments among many on many threads on many posts. Therefore, they were easy to rationalize away as odd aberrations. Then, suddenly, “I don’t care about rich y**s.” Again, I’m quoting from memory, but I am certain of “rich y**s.”
It suddenly struck me that if I had ignored comments the genetic endowment of people of African descent, and ignored comments about how blacks caused all the problems, I would hardly be surprised one day I saw somebody writing about “dumb n*****s.”
I was furious and I was upset. I began to respond, but what would I say? “You’re an anti-Semite!” I think she knows that. Perhaps I would get another “so what.”
I thought to myself, “You have to draw a line somewhere.” This is where I’m currently having a problem, where to draw a line. I feel confident that the blog owner is not, himself, an antisemite. Yet it does bother me that antisemitic comments keep popping up and he lets them go unchallenged. “Y**” is, to me, as shocking as “the n-word.” My mother would certainly have punished me if she had heard me utter either, which she never did. In fact, I don’t think I ever heard anyone use either word in person except to talk about them.
Then I thought of something else I’ve been feeling uncomfortable about for about as long: Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy Corbyn insists that he is not a racist, however, as I mentioned earlier, racism and antisemitism are not perfectly congruent.
As Labour and the media debate whether or not there is an anti-Semitism “crisis” within the party, nearly everybody seems to agree on at least one thing: Jeremy Corbyn himself is no anti-Semite. This generousness extends even to Corbyn’s harshest critics.
The article continues:
On the contrary, there is every reason to believe Corbyn is exactly that.
Another article on the same website presented the evidence as bullet points:
• Donated to the organization of Paul Eisen, a Holocaust denier, and appeared at his events. He later claimed he was unaware of Eisen’s unsavory views, despite 15 years of association.
• Defended vicar Stephen Sizer, who disseminated materials arguing the Mossad did 9/11, after he was banned from social media by the Church of England for posting anti-Semitic material.
• Praised preacher Raed Salah and invited him to parliament. Salah claims that Jews make their Passover matzoh with gentile blood, that Jews had foreknowledge of 9/11, and that homosexuality is “a great crime.” He has been banned from the U.K. for anti-Semitic incitement.
• Invited activist Dyab Abou Jahjah to parliament and spoke alongside him. Abou Jahjah had called the 9/11 attacks “sweet revenge,” said Europe made “the cult of the Holocaust and Jew-worshiping its alternative religion,” and called gays “Aids-spreading faggots.” He is now banned in the U.K.
• Described himself as a “very good friend” of Ibrahim Hewitt, a preacher who likened homosexuality to pedophilia and incest, and labeled it an “abominable practice.”
• Campaigned for the release of Jawad Botmeh and Samar Alami, who were convicted in Britain in 1996 for bombing the Israeli Embassy in London and one of the country’s largest Jewish charities.
Stephen Daisley says that the situation is worse than simply Corbyn being an antisemite.
Contrary to left-wing mythology, anti-Jewish prejudice has never been the exclusive preserve of aristocratic snobs or skinhead fantasists. “The Jew is the enemy of the human race,” declared Proudhon. “One must send this race back to Asia or exterminate it.” Bakunin labelled Jews “bloodsucking people” while Orwell, self-consciously anti-Semitic, even obsessed over the excessive number of Jews sheltering in London’s Underground during World War II. (No matter what the Jews do to protect themselves, it’s always disproportionate.) Marx, the grandson of a rabbi, essayed: “Once society has succeeded in abolishing the empirical essence of Judaism – huckstering and its preconditions – the Jew will have become impossible”.”
For too many on the Left, Jewish suffering does not touch them the way Muslim suffering or gay suffering or black suffering touches them. Scrutiny of Corbyn’s associations elicits cries of “smear” or just a collective shrug of the shoulders. It was always going to. We lack a language to talk about anti-Semitism because too many on the Left don’t consider it a serious problem and couldn’t recognise it as readily as racism, misogyny or homophobia anyway.
Jeremy Corbyn is not an anti-Semite and nor are most people on the Left. He is a petition-signer who never reads the small-print, a sincere man blinded as so many radicals are by hatred of the United States and Western power. But his ascendancy comes at a time of great upheaval and populist torrents battering the centre-left and centre-right. It is a storm in which the organisation of politics against the Jews could once again prove an anchoring force in Europe.
There are enough articles weighing whether or not Jeremy Corbyn is an anti-Semite that most people should be aware that his sentiments on that subject have certainly been questioned. While trying to quickly read at least a dozen articles on that subject this morning it struck me that Americans are far less likely than Brits to give him a pass. At minimum, he shields antisemites and I would certainly not support him myself if I were a member of the British Labour Party, which I am not anyway.
Which leads to the uncomfortable question that I’ve been asking myself since last night, exactly where do I draw the line?
We all view the past with a moral clarity that we lack in the present. We know who the good guys were and who were the bad guys. We project ourselves into history in a heroic mode. We always seem to believe we would have been Sophie Scholl or the Grimke sisters, never Neville Chamberlin. I do not myself always possess moral clarity and I ask myself how much I can expect in others.
As it happens, it was a video that prompted the “rich y**s” comment that upset me so much. At the time, I hadn’t watch the video because it didn’t work for me. I finally was able to watch it a few minutes ago. Watching the video I am even more struck by the bizarre psychosis antisemitism seems to have induced in the commenter. As I’ve mentioned before, I grew up in a community with a large Jewish population and, consequently, I’ve known plenty of Jews who were not “rich,” although I am aware that statistically they earn more than most other religious groups. There is nothing about the woman in the video, however, that indicates she is what most people would call rich. It’s hard to be certain, but her environment looks fairly ordinary. When, at the end of the film, she goes out to eat, her neighborhood looks unremarkable and she eats at a coffee shop that appears commonplace. She does not look poor either. We simply can’t tell from the film. “Rich” was obviously something that had been projected onto her.
This is pure insinuation. I have acquaintances who I’ve known for years without knowing their views on a vast number of topics. I counted someone as a very good friend for over a decade, who turned out to be a child-molester. Should I be accused of being pro-child-molestation because I knew a person but didn’t know anything of that part of his life.
(Eison himself is… odd to say the least. A Jewish self-described holocaust denier who doesn’t exactly deny the holocaust; just parts of it. He’s wrong, of course.)
He defended Sizer before the events described, on a separate matter. Sizer had been accused of antisemetism for criticizing Christian Zionism: the belief that the Jews must gather in Israel in order that the end-times should be made possible. Among those defending him was Rabbi Professor Dan Cohn-Sherbok, who wrote, “I have been disturbed to read about the allegations made against Stephen Sizer. These are, I believe, completely without foundation: there is simply no evidence that he is an antisemite. It would be a mistake… to construe Stephen Sizer’s political criticisms as evidence of antipathy against Jews.” Okay, both he and Corbyn turned out to be wrong—Sizer does hold antisemitic views—but should we now accuse Rabbi Cohn-Sherbok of antisemitism, for speaking to the evidence he had in front of him at the time? If not, then why hold Corbyn to a different standard?
I do not, personally, like Raed Salah. But the “praise” in question was nothing more than diplomat-speak regarding people taking part in hoped-for peace negotiations. And nor did Corbyn “invite” him into the UK parliament, so far as I can tell. Both he and Corbyn, along with many others, were due to attend a meeting regarding the situation in Palestine, but I can find no evidence that Corbyn was either the prime instigator of that meeting, or the person responsible for inviting Salah. Salah himself has claimed that his statement regarding mixing gentile blood with dough was allegorical. I dunno—it seems a thin excuse to me—but a Jersusalem court overturned his conviction for inciting violence and racism regarding that statement. Add to which Corby has himself stated that in the course of diplomacy one must of necessity treat with people whose views one finds wrong, or even distasteful.
As to his banning from the UK, a tribunal had ruled that there was no reason to deny him either entry or the right to speak. His banning was due to a high-handed personal decision on the part of Home Secretary Theresa May—who was many times criticised for ignoring such decisions by courts and tribunals, and who in one case—regarding her refusal to free an Algerian being held in an immigration detention centre, who a court had expressly deemed should be freed—barely avoided imprisonment for contempt of court for doing so.
And this person I find truly disgusting. (Though I’ve read reports that he’s softened his views somewhat since, I would have to see much more than “somewhat” before changing my opinion of him.) But again; diplomacy and the search for peace requires that we treat with those with whom we disagree. And I see no evidence presented to the effect that Corbyn agrees with the quoted statements.
And this controversy is, in fact, the source of Corbyn’s discussion of diplomacy, which I mentioned:
Or, “If you’re gonna fix the cesspit, you’re gonna have to wade in the crap.”
And this is the most bizarre point of all. That conviction has always been controversial. Many people, including a former Conservative Defence Minister, have expressed doubt concerning it. Wanting to see people one believes innocent of a crime to be freed is not antisemitic, even if the crime you believe them to be innocent of is itself antisemitic.
Frankly, I find these allegations rather silly. Flung out during a right-wing media smear campaign (which also painted him, at times, under a thin veneer of jocularity, as some kind of unholy love child of Stalin and Mao, merely for holding to socialist (not communist) ideals), and mostly relying on guilt-by-association—using associations of a kind which anyone, of whatever political stripe, would have made, were they to have been involved in Middle East diplomacy.