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Moriel Rothman-Zecher @Moriel_RZ
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On 'Anti-Semites' and 'antisemitism' and Pittsburgh and the Israeli Ambassador's comments and the way in which semantics can impact our lives and our deaths. A lot to say. Here goes.
Yesterday, Israeli Ambassador Ron Dermer, in an interview with MSNBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, said: “The people who we should blame for antisemitism are the Anti-Semites.” (You can watch the full clip here: msnbc.com/msnbc/watch/is…)
He went on to say that Trump has Jews in his family, as proof that Trump cannot possibly be an Anti-Semite.
He went on further to say: Jeremy Corbyn is an Anti-Semite. (Later, he talked about radical left Anti-Semites on college campuses, and about Louis Farrakhan).
He then went on to to say that putting any blame on Trump’s actions or words is to “not understand the history of antisemitism or the reality of antisemitism.”
Ah. Hm.
Alright. Let’s approach this Talmudically, as it were: With some more questions.
To start: Is Donald Trump an Anti-Semite?
I do not know.
Do I care?
I do not.
But why not?
Because "Anti-Semite" is a vapid and largely meaningless term, and its usage offers a temping but wildly dangerous lens through which to see the world.
Anti-Semites versus “Pro-Semites” or Philo-Semites or Whateverites is just another way to break our world down into Evildoers and Good People, Bad Guys and Good Guys.
This way of seeing the world —while understandable, in that we all have this urge, this instinct to demonize and valorize, because none of us are Wholly Good— is both infantile and bellicose, and stands at the base of justifying just about any injustice one might want to justify
(Am I Nationalist or a Globalist? wonders the Jew).
((((wonders and wonders and wonders)))
Is it surprising, in this context, that the Ambassador of Israel --where the dominant politics of today are almost exclusively based off of fear-mongering, Us and Themism, frameworks of Bad Guys and Good Guys, et cetera-- used the term “Anti-Semite” again and again?
It is not.
So, what do I mean when I write that I do not care if Trump is an Anti-Semite?
I mean that I do not care what sort of feelings towards The Jews dwell in Donald’s heart.
I do not care whether or not he’s ever wondered if Jared has little horn’eles tucked under his nicely combed hair.
I do not care whether or not he thinks plenty of Jews are “very fine people.”
Why is that?
Because the question is not about Who Is an Anti-Semite. The question is about how antisemitism — one of the strongest motivating forces in the history of the West — is wielded, permitted, stoked, spoken, carried out.
—A semantic note, credit to other scholars I’ve learned from: I write “antisemitism” and not “anti-Semitism.”
This is an acknowledgement of the specificity of antisemitism as a historical and current force, and is important, for that reason, rather than, say, “Anti-Jewish hatred,” or “All Forms of Racism.”
The lack of hyphen also takes away from the weird semantic focus on “Semites,” which often derails the conversation, and is anyway a creation of a non-Jewish German scholar whose work otherized and demonized Jews—
Anyway. Trying to discern “Is Trump an Anti-Semite” is an impossible endeavor. We can never know what lies in another person’s heart. Moreover, if this is the question, then Amb. Dermer's “But he has Jewish family!" might have some shred of relevance.
But it doesn't. Because what we should try to discern is what Ayman Mohyeldin sought to discern: How have Trump's words and actions commingled with and connected to and stoked the phenomenon antisemitism?
When a Presidential Candidate says to a group of Jews, “I'm a negotiator like you folks… Is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room? This room negotiates them -- perhaps more than any other room I've ever spoken in” is there antisemitism at play?
When George Soros is portrayed as a ghoulish specter, hook-nosed and glowering as he piles his money against the interests of the Good Hardworking Folk, is there antisemitism at play?
Even another Israeli Ambassador, Yossi Amrani, would say so, when the Hungarian Government did the same--
--Oh, oh no. Wait. He tried to say so, but then was overruled by Netanyahu, self-styled latter-day King of the Jews, who told Old Orban that it was Totally Kosher to put billboards of The Jew Soros wherever he pleased.
voanews.com/a/israel-overr…
Is Netanyahu an Anti-Semite?
Wrong question. But when Netanyahu gives his seal of approval to Hungary’s leadership’s Soros-hunt, is antisemitism encouraged? Or America's leaderhip's Soros-hunt? Or when he trafficked in Holocaust revisionism?
yadvashem.org/blog/setting-t…
This is all easy, up until now. Me and my progressive internet world have an easy time with Trump, with Netanyahu, with Orban.
But let’s catch ourselves — you, too, Rothman-Zecher, you sneaky globalist negotiator you — before we let ourselves off the hook too easily.
Are we Anti-Semites?
Wrong question.
Does the fact that we don't hate Jews or are Jews or whatever mean we can never say things that are laced in antisemitism? Never traffic in antisemitic tropes?
That is a more urgent question.
“Anti-Semites” lets the Good People off the hook too easily. (Remember: There aren’t any. We’re all humans, as much as parts of Twitterdom would seek to convince us otherwise). The truth is that antisemitism is a major part of Western heritage.
This is why, in my thread two days ago, I discouraged people from focusing solely on Trump, or on voting, or on gun regulations.
Ambassador Dermer made a similar argument, on its face, by noting that anti-Semitic attacks took place before Trump was around.
But Amb. Dermer and me? We have completely opposite goals in saying this: Ambassador Dermer and the State of Israel want to move the focus away from Trump (and Orban and CUFI and so on) -and toward Corbyn and Campus Leftists and The Palestinians The Palestinians The Palestinians
They want to narrow the discourse, to chisel the world further into Good and Evil.
Because if We are Good, and They are Evil -- anything We do to Them is justified, is just, is necessary.
I want the discourse to broaden and grow wiser and more complicated and more actual. I want for us to rage against the hideousness of trumpist antisemitism, but also to take responsibility for that which is far bigger than any Trump onto all of our shoulders.
I addressed my thread two days ago to non-Jews, and I think that was a mistake. I should have included Jews, included myself, included all of us. Because if we’re not talking about Anti-Semites but rather antisemitism —
then there is absolutely reason to start by raging against Trumpism: Trumpism is in power. Trumpism, like any corrupt Western Power, has immense capacity to open the valve of antisemitism. And Trumpism is indeed opening that valve.
But we can’t leave it at that. There is no contradiction between opposing trumpist antisemitism and looking inwards and around at our allies and friends and selves, and working harder to oppose it in our communities, and everywhere, Jews and non-Jews alike.
In fact, these two things should be in concert, they should combine into deep and expansive efforts to grapple with the most violent act of antisemitism in the history of the United States.
And efforts to grapple cannot stop there. Because a true efforts to grapple with antisemitism also must have echoes and resonances and reverberations with efforts to grapple with all bigoted narrowness, with all dehumanization.
There is a lot of goodness and pain outpouring after this horrific instance of antisemitism. I hope and think that some of this mourning can and will be molded into compassion and brave action and deep grappling and expansive decency, in our politics and in our lives
That’s all for now, I think. Thanks, friends, for listening and pushing back and adding and expanding, for feelings of unaloneness as I scribble into the void.
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