John Galliano, the just-fired designer for the House of Dior who is famous for his outlandish behavior, was accused of making anti-Semitic remarks in a Paris bar. This type of speech is a crime in France. A few days later, a British paper posted a video of similar remarks made at the same bar months ago. According to the NY Times, he has been fired from his job. Natalie Portman, perhaps the most Jewishly involved A-list star and the spokesperson for Miss Dior Cherie perfume denounced him immediately, which the NY Times thinks sealed his fate.
This morning, I saw an article in the NY Times about anti-Semitic comments supposedly made by Wikileaks founder Julian Assange in an interview. The account, which is disputed and is less disturbing even if true, is based on the well-known anti-Semitic staple of a Jewish media conspiracy. Assange has longed blamed his prosecution on rape charges and other legal issues to international conspiracies (some of which may be true as his organization has upset many governments). The move from general conspiracies to anti-Semitism is common. The most notorious example in my mind is the prominent role Israel plays in 9-11 conspiracy theories.
This semester, I am teaching a class about Diaspora Jewish cultures throughout history atWestern New England College. Many of the students commented that they were unaware of the history of anti-Semitism and the historic connections between Christianity and anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is known as the "Scourge that won't go away."
It is far beyond my time or abilities to explain why anti-Semitism won't go away. It is just important to note that exists. In many parts of the world (especially Europe and countries withArab and/or Muslim majorities, it is rampant. Even in the US, it increased with the economic downturn (which is a typical pattern as it is easier to blame others for problems than to face up to our own responsibility) although it is lower than it once was and is currently much lower than anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry (which is not anti-Semitism even though Arabs are Semites).
On college campuses, most anti-Semitism is connected with anti-Israel sentiment and activism. See my previous blog post about it to learn more of my opinion about it.
I will restate a few things which may not have been clear when I said them before: not all anti-Israel sentiment or activism is anti-Semitic. Even when anti-Israel sentiment is anti-Semitic, it may not be intentional. Anti-Israel rhetoric regularly published in Arab media uses recognized anti-Semitic stereotypes, images, Holocaust denial and more. In a few cases, I have heard students and faculty who grew up in the Middle East use similar stereotypes and images without understanding their meaning or how they are viewed in the US. When I have confronted them about it, they are usually surprised and have always sincerely apologized. I am willing to attribute some of the anti-Semitic stereotypes and imagery in anti-Israel activism to similar lack of understanding (it is possibly more common in non-Arab students involved in activism who follow others' lead).
I do want to reiterate that picking on Israel alone (or disproportionately) for its evils while ignoring similar issues elsewhere in the world is anti-Semitism. Those who do it (including many of the people involved in BDS) don't like it when I say that but that doesn't make it any less true.
The only cure (and I hesitate to use the world since history suggests it can not and will not be cured) is education and open communication. Let this post be part of your education.
As always, I welcome your thoughtful and respectful comments and responses (either publicly or privately).
Personal Content Update: I was asked by a college friends what the incidents were in college. One Shabbat morning we arrived to services at the Conservative synagogue to find a large swastika painted on the door (it was the second time that happened). One night while joining Lancaster Theological Seminary Students at a bar-b-q (during the two years I lived there), a white van with no license plates drove the wrong way through the complex. Both the driver and passenger were wearing full Klan Regalia. In retrospect, it was more bigotry than Anti-Semitism. Two incidents happened after I started wearing my Kippah all of the time. In the first, a group of teens yelled at me out of a car while I was crossing the street. Another time, I drove with James to a farmer's market some ways outside of town. While we were shopping at a stall, the proprietor started sharpening a very long knife and saying: "I know about you people." We quickly walked to our car and drove away!
General Content Update:
This arrive in today's email to members of the New York Board of Rabbis: