Get ready for fun times: Rachel Shukert of Jewcy is starting a biweekly column called The Protocols, which will examine internalized anti-Semitism among young Jews. “All of our mothers were right,” she explains.
My generation, we American Jews in our 20’s and 30’s, may have missed having taunts and dirt clods thrown at our heads as we waited for the school bus, but you don’t have to look very far to find our people held in general contempt. In fact, don’t look hard at all—just look in the comments section of any major internet blog that so much as mentions the State of Israel, the Holocaust, Steven Spielberg, or boiled chicken.
So welcome to The Protocols, named of course for the famous (and forged) Protocols of the Elders of Zion, or as I like to think of it, the book that started the international craze, the Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone of twentieth century anti-Semitism. Here, I’ll strive to answer the important questions—not so much “Why do they hate us?” but “So what if they hate us?” I’ll look at how Jews have, for better and for worse, internalized the tenets of anti-Semitism and turned them inside out, how Jews judge other Jews, and what it means to be a self-hating Jew (as opposed to a Jewish self-hater.) I’ll examine anti-Semites through history, anti-Semites in the news, and once every few weeks or so, anti-Semites we love. (And yes, I’m taking recommendations.)
Funny that she mentions anti-Semitic comments on blogs, because – and this is so perfect that I almost can’t believe it’s authentic – the second comment in the thread is by a real live anti-Semite, claiming that the Zionists orchestrated World War II in order to facilitate the creation of Israel. IT’S ALL SO CLEAR TO ME NOW! The Jews were behind it all! And to think – we accomplished it with no collateral damage!
Quite honestly, do you know who I think was behind WWII? The Shriners. That’s right – I said it. You know you were thinking it. Those little cars? That constant insistence that “they’re” “helping” “children?” Isn’t it obvious? Next they’ll come after YOU.
Ahem. Anyway, the column should be interesting; the line between reclaiming anti-Semitic rhetoric and succumbing to it is often so blurry as to be nonexistent, and I think that’s a topic well worth exploring.
The truth is I think the overt kind of anti-Semitism is quite rare across the board in the U.S. There are a few factors that come into play to create this situation. Partly it is the more tolerant and multicultural times we live in; partly the largely urban geography of Jewish life – the historic and sizeable presence of Jewish communities in so many of the major U.S. cities; and partly because, frankly, in the age of Larry David, Adam Sandler and even Amy Winehouse, it’s cool to be a Jew.
It was a very different reality for the Russians in my IDF unit who were beaten up in the Red Army for no reason other than being born a Jew, or the Iranians and Ethiopians who walked hundreds of miles from oppression to freedom. Furthermore, if you’re looking for truly dangerous anti-Semites simply go look on the Web, and type in the search term ‘Jew’ or explore what the radical Islamic world is saying.
In America, the worse it usually gets is occasional and subtle ‘code’. In the case of this small town in Western Massachusetts, when people speak of ‘New Yorkers’, the meaning is usually clear: Jews. In other areas, it might be adjectives like ‘aggressive’ or ‘loud’. Is the implicit code for other minorities, e.g. African Americans as ‘urban’, or Hispanic Americans as ‘immigrants’, any less offensive?
…Are people claiming it is? And are there really American Jews who think we’ve got it as bad as Ethiopians? Okay, well, I’m sure you can find a few – but the rest of us don’t take them very seriously. My point is this: why take such pains to draw a line between overt and implicit prejudice? On one level, it seems to be stating the obvious – listening to rhetoric about “the Zionists” is never going to be as harmful as getting beaten to death. On another level, it denies the fact that both forms come from the same source, and seemingly innocuous situations have the potential to escalate quite rapidly. My great-grandparents were among the most successful residents of their village before their synagogue was shot at. A sizable Jewish presence in a multicultural city presents as much potential for danger as for solidarity.
And, you know, he’s dead on about the New Yorker thing. If I have to read one more blog talking about the “east coast liberals” and “New York liberals” and “coastal liberals” responsible for that awful New Yorker cover, I’m going to scream. Do I think most people in the blogosphere are actually blaming Jews for the cover? No. But why have those specific terms become such ubiquitous buzzwords when New Yorker readers and contributors can be found all over the country? Are, say, Iowan liberals excused? How about moderates? I’ve decided to (charitably) read most of the references as sloppy shorthand, but don’t these people know about the term’s anti-Semitic connotations? If they do, and are using it anyway – isn’t that worth worrying about?
All in all, I’m with Shukert on this one – I don’t think our culture considers it “cool to be a Jew.” Amy Winehouse isn’t cool because she’s Jewish, and while I know Sandler’s Hanukkah song was played like a billion times and all, it didn’t certainly never made me feel any cooler (although it did earn me the nickname “Jewy J___” in high school). I’m not advocating that American Jews sit around and bite our nails, of course. It’s just worrisome when I see people telling strawmen to calm the hell down.
In any case, I’m looking forward to reading Shukert’s column. She wrote a better ending than I can manage on a weeknight, so I’m going to steal it:
So, my fellow filthy Christ-killers, if you can stop counting your golden ingots and draining your neighbor’s kids of their blood long enough to actually read something, I hope you’ll join me. We may not win any hearts and minds, but in the words of the immortal G.I. Joe, knowing is half the battle.
And after all, we’re supposed to be so smart.
Cheers to that.