Can Jews Be Antisemites?

A few months ago, I asked Natan Sharansky if he thought Jews could be antisemites.

He looked at me like I had just claimed to be Elvis, emerging from a few decades of quiet study in Bnei Brak. “Of course! What does being Jewish have to do with it?”

Actually, I knew that. I just wanted to be able to quote an expert in both bearing the brunt of institutionalized hatred of Jews and in thinking through the issue of what constitutes anti-Semitism. I knew that it would come in useful some day.

Some day was Friday. An op-ed writer in the Los Angeles Times tried to blow away critics of Human Rights Watch. HRW had accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians, and found no evidence of Hezbollah having placed its rocket launchers in civilian population centers. A succession of writers, including our own Jonathan Rosenblum and Alan Dershowitz, wrote that if Human Rights Watch was watching, they couldn’t have been watching what everyone else had seen: the photos of the rocket crews positioned between apartment blocks, and the interviews with Lebanese civilians who begrudgingly conceded that the new people in the neighborhood were not movie extras.

Not wanting to deal with the issues, Rosa Brooks tried defending the organization she used to work for (yep!) by crying foul. You just can’t question Israel without being called an antisemite! Shame on all of them, trying to suppress debate and criticism by accusing the muckrakers of being in cahoots with Hitler.

No matter that none of the writers she sought to impale on her clumsily sharpened spear had called anyone an antisemite at all. It is a common tactic of the left to defend their embrace of the Arab narrative on Israel by stating that they would love to hear the other side, but there are just no Jews around who will discuss it without calling them Jew-haters and asking for Holocaust reparations.

Furthermore, she charged, how could HRW possibly be anti-Semitic, since it is headed by a Jew, the son of survivors?

Now that is an interesting proposition, especially this weekend. She might have missed her own paper’s coverage of the new Al-Queda video in which Adam Yehiye Gadahn urges American servicemen to switch sides and convert to to Islam. The Times doesn’t mention that the 28 year old former hippie farmer home-schooled on his musician-father’s electricity-free ranch, with whom the FBI for quite some time has been desirous of sitting down and sharing a few words over an organic goat-milk smoothie, was originally named Adam Pearlman. While his father converted to Christianity, his grandfather is rumored to have been an Orange County urologist and board member of the ADL. (OK, halachically he isn’t Jewish, but Rosa Brooks doesn’t know that. And what about Karl Marx, who suggested that the solution to the Jewish problem would come with the end of Judaism?)

Jews can’t be antisemites? It is the very success of anti-Semitism that creates Jewish antisemites. The easiest way to cope with the fears and insecurities bred by antisemites is for a Jew of marginal connection to his people to simply say, “I’m outta here!” To make it convincing, the refugee from his peoplehood has to make it quite clear that he distances himself from all of the vile things Jews are known to do. Show people how much you hate Jews, and they won’t accuse you of being one any longer. It is a time-worn script, with many, many people having played the part.

Not to understand how easy it is for a Jew to turn anti-Semitic requires a woeful ignorance about the Jewish history and the Jewish experience. It is such a distortion of the realities of being Jewish, that it is, well, almost anti-Semitic.

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4 Responses

  1. Ahron says:

    In the Leftist catechism there is no more virtuous act than opposition to one’s own people and the subversion of their values and interests (particularly if those people are Jewish or Christian). According to that standard both Brooks and HRW’s director Ken Roth are saints.

    What’s notable is that Brooks & Co. hope to simultaneously evade the natural consequences that result from attacking the Jewish state–namely being criticized by Jews! And so, after opening fire, Roth’s Jewish blood lineage is rapidly invoked as a shield and as a kind of “explanation” as to why he couldn’t possibly be an antisemite (oh heavens no…); in reality that is nothing but a flashy non sequitur–why does Roth’s blood lineage impact on the moral worth of his opinions and actions?

    In fact Brooks’s entire logic is a non sequitur. HRW criticizes Jews. Jews (and other moral thinkers) return criticism against HRW. Brooks then cries the intellectual equivalent of “rape!” because the targets of HRW’s attacks dared to respond to their attackers. It is beyond non sequitur–it is intellectual travesty. (And it should be noted that if HRW attacked Cambodia in the same manner in which it attacks Israel, HRW would also be justly accused of anti-Cambodianism.)

    If I understand it correctly the Sages realized almost 2,000 years ago that the problem of “moserim“–Jews who intentionally pursue an anti-Jewish agenda–would be a serious and defining problem of diaspora. Hence the interpolated bracha of “ve’l’malshinim…” into our prayers. As that bracha notes, the existence of such an agenda is not unrelated to the wider problem of human evil.

    In this case I think Roth’s and Brooks’s willful (or should we call it simply ‘functional’) antisemitism is irreducibly combined with profound moral blindness–that is at least one pestilence whose heavy affliction of Brooks & Co. seems beyond dispute.

  2. Menachem Petrushka says:

    Daer Rabbi Menken

    I think this is a good an article to append this comment about your web site as any.

    At the end of every post, there is an option to email the post
    to others. That option is titles

    I do not think a Jewish Blog devoted to Torah issues should
    use a word so steeped in Christianity even it has a second slightly less
    religious meaning.(see the 2 entries in Merriam Webster Online Dictionary) that have pasted to this post


    Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary
    One entry found for evangelism.
    Main Entry: evan·ge·lism
    Pronunciation: i-‘van-j&-“li-z&m
    Function: noun
    1 : the winning or revival of personal commitments to Christ
    2 : militant or crusading zeal

  3. eliXelx says:

    Isn’t September 2006 a little late in the day to be asking such an ingenuous question?
    Isn’t it demonstrative of a monstrous ignorance of history on the part of a jew to ask such an obvious question?
    Personally I think we should stop calling people anti-semites and call them what they really are—JEW-HATERS!
    And let’s not forget those who call themselves anti-Zionist who are also are JEW-HATERS!
    I refer you to the Jewish Encyclopaedia and the word “MALSIN”

  1. September 5, 2006

    […] Yesterday, I posted on Jewish anti-Semitism This week’s parshah happens to be an important locus to consider regarding a different question about anti-Semitism, namely, how widespread must we assume it to be? I can easily point to people who believe that it is somehow universal. They divide the non-Jewish world into two categories – those who are openly anti-Semitic, and those who don’t realize they are. […]

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