Nothing Jewish about a powerful man abusing his power


Anti-Semitism can come from unlikely corners. The latest manifestation is in Tablet. In analyzing allegations of Harvey Weinstein having engaged in multiple counts of sexual harassment and sexual assault, Mark Oppenheimer traces Weinstein’s terrible behaviour to an archetypal “pervy” male Jewish psyche.

In the piece, Oppenheimer, Tablet’s editor at large, calls Weinstein “a deeply Jewish kind of pervert.” Oppenheimer writes, “ if you want to understand this bizarre behaviour, don’t look to Roger Ailes, or David Vitter, or Paul Crouch [who Oppenheimer associates with — wait for it — “grabby goyim” —look to Philip Roth.”

Oppenheimer argues that Roth, in Portnoy’s Complaint, depicted “the particular anxiety of the Jewish American man in the 20th century, finally coming into power but, having not grown up with it, unsure of what he’s supposed to do now.” And Weinstein, Oppenheimer writes, “is cut from the same cloth.” Most chilling is his conclusion: Weinstein “can run from who he is, but he can’t hide.”

Just because Weinstein strangely invoked his bar mitzvah as the allegations spread, there is nothing particularly Jewish about the all-too common phenomenon of a powerful man abusing his power through sexual violence.

Predictably, the backlash on social media to Oppenheimer’s piece has been swift. And in an utterly creepy turn, noted White supremacists Richard Spencer and former Grand Wizard of the KKK David Duke tweeted out the Tablet article approvingly. Duke has even dedicated his home page to the piece.

It’s puzzling and particularly unfortunate that this kind of screed comes from the pen of Mark Oppenheimer, who only last month injected some clarifying ethics into the coverage of the right-wing smear campaign against noted historian David N. Myers, the recently-hired CEO of the Centre for Jewish History.

Together, we have decades of experience working in the area of Jewish politics, human rights and anti-Semitism. In our last op-ed (penned for The Forward), we cautioned against abusing the anti-Semitism charge –  according to what we saw as misplaced outrage for a plaque on the National Holocaust Monument omitting the mention of the word Jews. And both of us appreciate the work of Roth who has managed to plumb the depths of Jewish masculinity in ways that helped move the conversation forward at particular points in contemporary Jewish history.

But this Tablet article is a case of attempted literary analysis gone bigoted. Oppenheimer’s commentary invokes some of the worst tropes in anti-Semitic propaganda – of the Jew raping Gentile women. (One needs only Google the latter phrase to find many anti-Semitic propaganda posters from the past.)

Anti-Semitism remains a stain on our society, and it doesn’t take much to light the spark of Jew hatred. And while it may be harder to call it out when the weapon is a Jewish literary analysis rather than a spray-painted swastika on a synagogue wall, we must. A Jewish author writing in a so-called Jewish publication provides no cover, nor should it. The editorial leadership also deserves censure in its use of an especially hate-baiting headline “The Specifically Jewy Perviness of Harvey Weinstein.”

We call on Jewish agencies to speak out. We hope and expect the anti Defamation League to rise to the occasion. We hope the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs now does the same. In a day where social media reigns, there are effectively no longer any borders.

Oppenheimer has since apologized for his piece in a short post on Tablet’s website. But Oppenheimer’s apology, citing his “hasty and ill-considered” analysis, did not admit either the casual anti-Gentile bigotry (through the “grabbing goyim” slur) or the squarely placed anti-Semitic tropes.

Ugly generalizations about any ethnic, gender, sexual, racial or religious community simply have no place. That we even have to state this publicly is a sad statement on the state of analytical commentary in some publications today. We hope that Tablet does some soul-searching of its own.

Bernie M. Farber is now retired as executive director of Mosaic Institute. A former CEO of Canadian Jewish Congress he writes for The CJN and other publications on human and civil rights issues.

Mira Sucharov is associate professor of Political Science at Carleton University in Ottawa.