By Harrison Heller
“How to Fight Anti-Semitism” is a must read. Whether you are Jewish or not, this recounting of anti-Semitism and how to fight back is essential. In today’s America, where we thought anti-Semitism was an afterthought until Charlottesville and Pittsburgh, author Bari Weiss gives a chilling and thought-provoking look at this thought virus.
Before diving in to the book, it’s important to understand the meaning of anti-Semitism. According to Merriam-Webster, anti-Semitism is “hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious, ethnic, or racial group.” This is the correct definition, but in her book, Weiss describes anti-Semitism as “not even a solid idea or singular theory. It is a shape-shifting worldview that slithers away just as you think you have it pinned down and, in so doing, stays several steps ahead of anyone trying to clobber it.” We should also define Judaism. Is Judaism a religion? An ethnicity? A way of life? Weiss says, “Judaism is not merely a religion, and it is not merely an ethnicity. Judaism is a people. More specifically, it is a people with a language, a culture, a literature, and a particular set of ideas, beliefs, texts, and legal practices.”
Many Americans put anti-Semitism and racism in the same basket. Is anti-Semitism the same as racism or is it a subset of racism? In American society, Jews are considered white. However Weiss asks, “Were there laws in Maryland saying that Jews couldn’t hold public office? Yes. Was that the same as human beings in the Old Line State being bought and sold as property? Absolutely not.” She continues, “Are Jews barred from country clubs? Yes. But are Jews singled out and discriminated against, not least by law enforcement, because of an immutable physical characteristic? Most definitely not.” According Weiss, if anti-Semitism is a subset of racism, it whitewashes the Jewish people. The majority of Israel’s Jewish population is of Mizrahi decent (Middle Eastern and North African heritage) and 12-15 percent of America’s Jewish population is comprised of people of color. She explains the difference between anti-Semitism and anti-Jewish prejudice. One example she gives is that of a gentile father who prefers his daughter not marry a Jew. This is anti-Jewish prejudice. However, this man does not hold the belief that the Jews hold a secret control over the government. That belief would be anti-Semitic. Weiss closes her definition of anti-Semitism by stating, “In the eyes of the racist, the person of color is inferior. In the eyes of the misogynist, the woman is something less than human. In the eyes of the anti-Semite, the Jew is… everything. He is whatever the anti-Semite needs him to be.”
One area frequently discussed is whether anti-Semitism is unique to the left or to the right. The answer is simple – it has found a home on both extreme ends of the political spectrum.
Weiss notes that on the extreme left, anti-Semitism exploits the moral fear within people. They place sole blame for the continued conflict between Israelis and Palestinians on the Jewish State. This moral fear causes some Jews to downplay their sympathies, or entirely abandon their support for Israel. The Boycott, Divest, and Sanction (BDS) Movement, focuses on getting governments around the world pull their support of Israel. The group does not protest Israeli policies, but they wish to isolate and pressure Israel until the Jewish State collapses. Omar Barghouti, co-founder of BDS said, “We oppose a Jewish state in any part of Palestine… [only] a sellout Palestinian would accept a Jewish state in Palestine.” Some far-left groups also use the extreme end of victimhood to shame Jewish business owners and academic leaders of their Jewishness and their support for Israel.
Those on the far-right use tactics such as fear, neo-fascism, and Nazi ideology to instill fear in the community. George Lincoln Rockwell, a U.S. Navy veteran who served during World War II and the Korean War, founded the American Nazi Party in 1959. Inspired by Black Muslims, those on the far-right started to merge religion with white supremacy, and thus gave rise to such Christian Identity groups as The Order and America’s Promise Ministries. Today, these groups have merged and found a home in what is now called “The Alt-Right.” These groups instill fear by promoting the conspiracy theory that the Jews control the government and Hollywood. Far-right white nationalist groups are starting to find homes on college campuses across the country.
On both extreme ends of the political spectrum, it is the lack of knowledge and compassion that led people down these various paths. While these sound like different paths, they are one in the same.
As far as how to fight back against anti-Semitism, I don’t wish to include any spoilers in this review, but simply encourage you to read Weiss’ book.
Volume 74. Number 1. 2020