Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Antisemitism is Invisible

The Economist has a column on the spate of celebrities who have recently been caught making antisemitic comments. The columnist makes no pretense the comments weren't antisemitic, and of course has no patience for their content, nor any empathy for the people who made them. However, he (she? You never know with the Economist) then goes looking for explanations, mostly economic explanations, for the stupid utterances of some cultural celebrities, and for the swift responses of their employers who fire them. It's an interesting column, and there's no particular reason to argue with any of what it says.

I do have a problem with what it doesn't say. Or rather, with the question it doesn't pose, and then the answer it doesn't give.The un-posed question is of course, why are there so many people with the need to make antisemitic statements? And the answer which is not investigated has to do with the possibility that they're not only spoiled brats, these celebrities, they also truly don't like Jews.

I'm not seeing antisemites under every rock. On the contrary, the swiftness with which these ranters get punished is admirable, sometimes even too swift - after all, in a democracy one should be allowed to say ugly things. Yet I can't help but notice that the Economist can't entertain the concept that hatred of Jews can be a very real thing, an extremely deep-seated urge.

In the long run, this inability to imagine authentic hatred of Jews is a problem.


Lee Ratner said...

Yes, this. When many non-Jews write about anti-Semitism, there is often an impression that they do not view hatred of the Jews as a real, widespread phenomenon. Unless, the writer him or herself hates Jews. Its treated as a less serious problem than other forms of hatred usually.

My theory is that demographics play a key part in this. Since there are only thirteen million or so Jews in the world but tens or hundreds of millions of Jew haters, fighting anti-Semitism is a herculean task. This leads a lot of people not to deal with it.

Silke said...

My experience is that the hate-the-Jews-because-they-are-Jews-Elder-of-Zion-style types are rather rare (also in an int'l office) but wherever a group at work meets for coffees or chats one of them is enough to tilt the conversation into anti-semitism or something very much like it.

That almost never somebody intervenes but that a general nodding along is going on is due to IMHO something else which I call the "they-don't-bleed-like-us" belief.

Whenever I have broken up such a conversation with a snappy remark I never heard such talk from the same group again i.e. they would switch the subject when I joined i.e. the non-anti-semites know in all "innocence" perfectly well what they are doing.

It is weird beyond belief and there is nothing that Israel can do to change that and even if the US is heaven on earth right now for Jews I find it hard to believe that the same stuff isn't going on over there.

BTW when the discussions about the changed behaviour of Turks started I could contradict whatever I felt like the subject would continue to be discussed when I joined.

B said...

Didn't it turn out that Chuck Lorre changed his name from Chaim Levine because he himself had a problem with Judaism?

Sérgio said...

Yeah, could be. But have you conceived of the possibility that the real problem was that he´s noticed from his direct life´s experience that there was a negative reaction to his jewish name?

After all, Carlos Irwin Estevez, aka, Charlie Sheen, seemed to have felt the same kind of problem, like many other people in the entertainment business.

B said...

Of course it's a possibility, but this is what Chuck Lorre once wrote:
"why have I spent a lifetime moving away from that group [Jews]? How did Chaim become Chuck? How did Levine become Lorre? The only answer I come up with is this: When I was a little boy in Hebrew school the rabbis regularly told us that we were the chosen people. That we were God's favorites. Which is all well and good except that I went home, observed my family and, despite my tender age, thought to myself, "bull$#*!.""


I'm not denying that anti-Semitism is still alive and growing, but I just don't think this is an example of it. Chuck disagreeing with the notion of a "chosen people" is perfectly easy to understand.

Sérgio said...

Well, who cares? So what if Chuck has a problem with his name, or if he´s ashamed of it, or whether he´s got no clue about the "chosen people" thing? The question is what this has got to do with Carlos Irwin Estevez bringing precisely Chuck´s jewish name to the fore? And precisely at a time when, as you just recognized, that antisemitism is growing? Surely I wouldn´t expect any kind of "ethnic sensitivity" from someone like Carlos Irwin Estevez, but just imagine if Chuck, while firing a notorious unprofessional unbalance drug-addict, decided to bring up Sheen´s real name, suggesting he´s ashamed of his irish-spanish heritage? Would that be racist of his part? What do you think?

Your turn.

B said...

Racist no, in bad taste yes.

Sérgio said...

Humm, I see. The curious thing is that one rarely, if ever, hears that kind of bad-taste innuendoes about non-jewish names. In fact, the bad-taste habit of raising suspicions or accusations on the basis of jewish-sounding names have a long historical pedigree: the nazis loved doing that, as did the communists (and anti-communists).

But we couldn´t expect such bad-taste people like Carlos Irwin Estevez to know about that, do we?

I wonder if John Galliano knew that telling jewish-looking people that Hitler should have gassed them is also of pretty bad-taste.

Silke said...

whenever we talked about Feldenkrais my two Ph-D-ed colleagues got the giggles out of remembering that his first name was Moshe and the guy was a physicist thus of an in their view highly respectable profession. But Moshe - hihihi-hahaha

In case you do not know him http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moshé_Feldenkrais
and never mind what they tell you at Wikipedia. to put into words what he teaches is as elusive as describing what Zen is all about.

I adore him so much not least because he is the only of all the movement teachers I have looked at who truly doesn't know a difference between beginner and expert, between healthy and disabled, between body and mind. He is the only one where everybody is fine the way he/she is and if he/she wants he/she can have fun learning something new but not the way he designed it but by figuring it out by moving from clue to clue. Which is another inept description of what it is all about.

Sérgio said...

Thanks for the info, Silke. Learning new things everyday. :)