On ‘anti-Semitism’

See update for July 16, 2021, at end of post.


Defenders of Israel’s genocide against Palestinians, including the government itself, frequently label even their mildest critics, including U.S. presidents, as “anti-Semitic.”[1] And it has become clear to me that there are so many phrases and archetypes that some Jews view as anti-Semitic that the term itself is losing any coherent meaning as it becomes increasingly difficult to discuss Jews without somehow transgressing into a vocabulary some of them find offensive.

I had thought this was reaching a point where legitimate claims of anti-Semitism, such as about the Tree of Life massacre,[2] the Holocaust, or any of a number of pogroms against Jews in history,[3] are undermined. Apparently, I was wrong: We are already there:

Despite the British officers having come to like the Pimple, you [Margalit Fox] made sure to add a key footnote in your book. It is a quote from [Elias Henry] Jones in which he uses antisemitic buzz words in reference to the Pimple, such as “cosmopolitan,” “ambitious,” and “having a high opinion of himself.”[4]

Never mind about “The Pimple;” this was a nickname for a translator, apparently fluent in several languages, at an Ottoman Turkish prisoner of war camp in World War I where the British officers were held captive, and the choice of that rather obvious epithet goes unchallenged. Instead, interviewer and interviewee agree that terms “such as ‘cosmopolitan,’ ‘ambitious,’ and ‘having a high opinion of himself’” are anti-Semitic “buzzwords.”[5]

To note the obvious, there is absolutely unique about these terms as applied to Jews; they apply for both better and worse to many people, both Jews and gentiles, in society. So the construction here is that when applied to Jews, they become anti-Semitic, which, in combination with other wild charges of anti-Semitism,[6] is to say not that the terms themselves are anti-Semitic, but rather that any criticism whatsoever of any Jew, for whatever reason, is anti-Semitic.

Imagine if, in this discourse, we were to substitute Blacks for Jews. Would we accuse Cornel West of being anti-Black for his criticism of Barack Obama?[7] Perhaps we should label the Chinese, Koreans, and other Asians anti-Japanese for their criticisms of Imperial Japan’s actions—including ‘comfort women’—leading up to and during World War II.

Of course this would be ludicrous and no one would take such charges seriously. Except with anti-Semitism.


Update, July 16, 2021: Look, I despise Mark Zuckerberg as much as anybody. He’s a filthier-than-filthy rich, arrogant, entitled asshole, but here is yet another example[8] of anti-Semitism claims gone wild.[9] When everything is anti-Semitism, then nothing is, and these idiots really need to be thinking about that.

Anti-Defamation League Chief Executive Officer Jonathan Greenblatt told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency that the term Zuckerbucks perpetuates an age-old antisemitic stereotype claiming that rich Jews use their money to exercise inordinate control over governments. Zuckerberg is the fifth-richest person in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth of approximately $97 billion.[10]

Who knew that Jews were the only ones to do this? That we should blame Jews exclusively for the constitutional oligarchy?[11] I sure didn’t.

Again, while lots of corporations spend lots of money on lobbying—in this case, it was to aid local election offices, which is pretty fucking innocent unless you’re trying to stop a nonexistent “steal”[12]—the slur becomes anti-Semitic because we’re talking about one particular corporate leader who happens to be Jewish.[13]

  1. [1]Michael Hirsh, “Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and the Jews,” Politico, April 14, 2015, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/jimmy-carter-barack-obama-and-the-jews-121367/
  2. [2]Campbell Robertson, Christopher Mele, and Sabrina Tavernise, “11 Killed in Synagogue Massacre; Suspect Charged With 29 Counts,” New York Times, October 27, 2019, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/27/us/active-shooter-pittsburgh-synagogue-shooting.html
  3. [3]Albert Memmi, Portrait of a Jew (New York: Viking, 1971).
  4. [4]Renee Ghert-Zand, “How a Ouija board sprung two British officers from a WWI Ottoman prison camp,” Times of Israel, June 22, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-a-ouija-board-sprung-two-british-officers-from-a-wwi-ottoman-prison-camp/
  5. [5]Renee Ghert-Zand, “How a Ouija board sprung two British officers from a WWI Ottoman prison camp,” Times of Israel, June 22, 2021, https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-a-ouija-board-sprung-two-british-officers-from-a-wwi-ottoman-prison-camp/
  6. [6]Michael Hirsh, “Jimmy Carter, Barack Obama and the Jews,” Politico, April 14, 2015, https://www.politico.com/magazine/story/2015/08/jimmy-carter-barack-obama-and-the-jews-121367/
  7. [7]Cornel West, “Pity the sad legacy of Barack Obama,” Guardian, January 9, 2017, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/jan/09/barack-obama-legacy-presidency
  8. [8]Ron Kampeas, “Republicans are trying to brand Mark Zuckerberg as ‘Zuckerbucks.’ Antisemitism watchdogs aren’t happy,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 14, 2021, https://www.jta.org/2021/07/14/politics/republicans-are-trying-to-brand-mark-zuckerberg-as-zuckerbucks-antisemitism-watchdogs-arent-happy
  9. [9]David Benfell, “On ‘anti-Semitism,’” Not Housebroken, June 27, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2021/06/27/on-anti-semitism/
  10. [10]Ron Kampeas, “Republicans are trying to brand Mark Zuckerberg as ‘Zuckerbucks.’ Antisemitism watchdogs aren’t happy,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 14, 2021, https://www.jta.org/2021/07/14/politics/republicans-are-trying-to-brand-mark-zuckerberg-as-zuckerbucks-antisemitism-watchdogs-arent-happy
  11. [11]David Benfell, “A constitutional oligarchy: Deconstructing Federalist No. 10,” Not Housebroken, July 3, 2021, https://disunitedstates.org/2020/04/22/a-constitutional-oligarchy-deconstructing-federalist-no-10/
  12. [12]Ron Kampeas, “Republicans are trying to brand Mark Zuckerberg as ‘Zuckerbucks.’ Antisemitism watchdogs aren’t happy,” Jewish Telegraphic Agency, July 14, 2021, https://www.jta.org/2021/07/14/politics/republicans-are-trying-to-brand-mark-zuckerberg-as-zuckerbucks-antisemitism-watchdogs-arent-happy
  13. [13]Ben Sales, “How Mark Zuckerberg embraced his Judaism,” Times of Israel, October 3, 2017, https://www.timesofisrael.com/how-mark-zuckerberg-embraced-his-judaism/

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