Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s Week in Jews: What does it mean to ‘fight antisemitism’?

Virtual bumper stickers from Hadassah, the American Jewish Committee, and the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.

A significant part of Jewish life is, and long has been, opposing antisemitism. Fighting antisemitism. Combatting antisemitism. There are initiatives. Meetings. Definitions. Counter-definitions.

As a project, though, battling antisemitism has a few hiccups.

One is the inability of Jews ourselves to agree on what antisemitism entails. Some of this is about ideological divisions. For those who see the real antisemitism as a phenomenon of the left, the version that pops up on the right never counts, and vice versa. What this amounts to is, you get one set of Jews saying that wanting to wipe Israel off the face of the earth isn’t antisemitic, and a different bunch of Jews saying that war-on-Christmas rhetoric is merely pro-faith. 

Some, too, is about fear of overstating the case. Aware of stereotypes of Jews as complainers, some will make a point of insisting how extremely not offended they are by a joke at Jews’ expense, or an appropriated matzo ball or whatever. 

And yet calling out antisemitism remains a thing, and one I participate in, even if when I stop and ask myself why I do it, as in, what I think I’m accomplishing, I can’t entirely say. 

I bookmark the tale of Helmi Charif, a political candidate in Windsor, accused of antisemitism, who musters the following defense: “‘The Jewish people have nothing to do with Zionism. They are our brothers and sisters.’” 

I half-follow the story of Pennsylvania Republican gubernatorial contender Doug Mastriano, who’s more or less running on the find ever more ways to insult Jews platform. 

And then I get to Canadian comedian Nicole Arbour’s… whatever this is:

I find myself subjecting it to a close reading it doubtless doesn’t merit but I cannot help myself.

“Y’all I just can’t with this ‘antisemite’ spree anymore.” 

Here I think she means recent news cycles about celebrity antisemitism, but who can say.

“Someone, please explain to me how those in power can simultaneously claim victim status?” 

Wait hold on what? Where is she going with this?

“I’m being genuine. Please explain it.” 

Is she though? Because I wouldn’t discount a level of curiosity about the world that prevents her from Wikipedia-ing “antisemitism.” But this also doesn’t come across as an earnest request to be educated.

“A small % of the world is Jewish and they have amazingly amassed wealth, and business control”

(Does the classic thing of glances at surroundings, at life, and wonders how, if Jewish, this wealth-amassing has not occurred.)

What is the tweet, even? Hate or ignorance? And what’s accomplished by answering that question? 

It’s unclear to me that widespread knowledge of the contours of antisemitism, disseminated throughout the general population, would be all that helpful. Does knowing that a statement like Jews control the media is antisemitic lead people who think like this to stop doing so? 

In what meaningful sense is hate the product of ignorance? Ignorance in the sense of a lack of formal education, or indeed an absence of first-hand encounters with members of a particular group. There’s antisemitism in lands without Jews and there have been big-deal antisemites with Jewish friends, Jewish spouses. There are Jew-haters with advanced degrees and others who never went beyond middle school. 

I’m torn, right? By all means, have initiatives, but I don’t think all the initiatives in the world will uproot an underlying ideology.  

Ultimately, I wonder if the more fruitful path would be to focus on the following: People are human beings, and violence is not the answer. Trite and universal. And not as compelling an intellectual exercise as parsing social media posts for microaggressions. But the end goal here is a world safe for Jews, not one where everyone has a master’s degree in Jewish Studies. 

Now you can tell Phoebe what you think: pbovy[@]

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