Looking Inward

Jewish Light Editorial

“Anti Semitism is a disease that is beyond politics.” —Comment on the Daily Gazette (student newspaper of Swarthmore College) website, in response to William Meyer’s article, “A Response to Yesterday’s Anti-Semitic Hate Crime from a ‘Whiny Brat Jew.’ ”   

The fallout on campus at Swarthmore College on the heels of the spray-painting of swastikas in a college building was quite fascinating, and not in a particularly positive way.

The well-written article by Meyer carries with it a headline that includes a paraphrase that Donald Trump campaign chair Steven Bannon’s ex-wife attributed to him during discussions about where to send their child to private school. Apparently Bannon, formerly CEO of Breitbart News, didn’t want his kid attending a school with those “whiny brats,” also known as Jewish students.

So the inference from the header is that Meyer, in his article, was bashing those on the political right as responsible for characterizations of Jews that lead to things like swastika painting.

Hold your horses, though. Because when one reads Meyer’s story, he is very clear that those on both sides of the political aisle have contributed to the contaminating hate that leads to anti-Semitic expressions. As Meyer — who self-identifies as a liberal but is saddened by the indifference of his political peers —points out:

 “This is not the early 20th century and we are presumably not on the verge of another Holocaust, but we are clearly seeing a rising tide of anti-Semitism accompanied by an overwhelming denial of that fact from both the left and the right. As the influence of the alt-right grows in the Republican Party, Jews in this country are more fearful than they have been in decades, yet many on the left remain in denial of this reality and even help perpetuate it.”

Sagely said, and as the quote at the top of this article sadly echoes, the tragedy of prevalent anti-Semitism is hardly one-sided. 

On the right are the historically emphatic Jew haters: The Klan (resurgent with voices such as that of David Duke chiming in loudly on behalf of a presidential candidate). The so-called “alt-right” includes elements that have condemned Jews over the course of more than a century in America.

And on the left? Those who embrace the most heinous aspects of the BDS movement, such as shouting Israel backers off campus; ostracizing Jews sitting on college student boards; and singling out Israel for its supposed crimes. 

So indeed, there is no monopoly on where anti-Semitism comes from, and anyone who is willing to overlook it from any direction and any source does so at our collective peril. 

Yet most of the comments in response to Meyer’s article on the Gazette website felt more like political mudslinging than any effective effort to acknowledge the pervasive and widespread nature of hatred toward Jews. From a presumed conservative: “No conservatives belong to BDS,” as though that statement, while most likely true, absolves any conservative for failing to call out anti-Semitism. 

And this: “It is Obama whose pastor was a virulent ant[i]-Semite. It is under Obama we’ve had an explosion of Jew hate. Yet he hasn’t said a word.” Well, actually he has said thousands of them, including his very poignant speech earlier this year in which he repeated the magnificent phrase of World War II hero Roddie Edmonds, “we are all Jews,” and denounced anti-Zionism as a means to delegitimize a Jewish State.

The comments poured in from the other side as well. “Trump certainly did not invent hate and prejudice. He has, however, validated it. Trump has given prejudice a center and someone to rally around, as the presidential candidate of a major political party.”

We confess that all this mudslinging is certainly within the realm of acceptable speech, unlike the direct, hate-based nature of a spray-painted swastika. Those who commented on Meyer’s article are certainly protected in their right to make their statements about the alleged political underpinnings of anti-Semitism.

But in doing so, they’re making a mistake, in our opinion. For it’s easy to slough off hate as emanating from the other guy, and much tougher to admit that your own side includes some strange and very distasteful bedfellows. And until we’re all able to acknowledge that reality, and treat the enemy identically whether from within or without, we’ll continue to provide a space for anti-Semitism to flourish.