By Harry Onickel
I attended an April 14th symposium by Wayne State University’s Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies and the Center for Peace and Conflict Studies at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township. titled “Beyond Fear and Hate: Recent Ramifications of Anti-Semitism.” Its organizers publicized it would offer a “look at the nuanced history, contemporary trends and future outcomes related to anti-Semitism and other forms of group-based hate.” I was there for the first two hours of the program.
The idea of studying anti-Semitism is good. We can’t fight it if we don’t understand it. One way to not battle anti-Semitism is to treat it as just another hatred.
Anti-Semitism is the oldest hatred. It is a virus that mutates from generation to generation. It isn’t just a stereotype or a resentment of Jews. Other groups are stereotyped, resented and hated, but for Jews there are no limits. Jews have been attacked for being both white and non-white, as capitalists and communists, of being too successful and too wretched, for being stateless and for having a state, for being too passive and for fighting too effectively. We’re attacked for being whatever the anti-Semite hates. Anti-Semites project their own pathologies on the Jews.
Anti-Semitism is the one form of bigotry that is regularly excused or whitewashed. Some writers have objected to the “weaponization” of anti-Semitism, which as far as I can tell means “shut up” if it’s coming from your side of the political aisle.
One of the program’s panelists suggested that the audience suspend judgment on Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and her anti-Semitic tweets until after we read her Washington Post op-ed. But it’s clear that Omar was untruthful in writing, “When I criticize certain Israel government actions …” She was not criticizing Israel government actions when she accused AIPAC and Israel of buying American support and accused Jews of dual loyalty.
Only about half of the program was devoted to discussing anti-Semitism. The rest was on Islamophobia, racism and the current plight of illegal immigrants trying to enter the United States. Lumping all these issues together allowed the panel to trivialize anti-Semitism as just another generic hatred. Despite panelists’ claims to the contrary, Islamophobia and the current treatment of migrants at our border are not equivalent to 3,000 years of persecution, expulsions, forced conversions, ghettoization, blood libels, pogroms, massacres and genocide.
One audience member pointed out during a short, mid-program Q&A, no good is done by equating Holocaust refugees with today’s Central American refugees in order to score easy anti-Trump points. Jews refused entry into the United States were fleeing genocide and sent back to die in Nazi concentration camps. This kind of comparison belittles the Holocaust and insults the memories of the 6 million.
European anti-migrant sentiment was also brought up. Yes, there is prejudice and anger among Europeans against migrants. There is also a tremendous increase in anti-Semitism being fueled by some of these migrants, and it is combining with native European anti-Semitism. Jews are once again escaping Europe, but none of the presenters mentioned that.
One panelist gave excellent information on 20th-century anti-Semitism describing Henry Ford’s Dearborn Independent, the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, Father Coughlin and the blaming of Jewish immigrants for crime, a cholera outbreak and communism. Rather than expand on this important thread, he minimized it by insisting that there is a parallel between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. He went on to describe differences between left and right anti-Semitism, but without mentioning campus anti-Semitism or the clear link between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.
If the aim was to dissect anti-Semitism, this symposium was a missed opportunity. As an attempt to examine a wide range of hatred, it came off as a mostly superficial recitation of some bigotries based on the political leanings of the panelists.
With worldwide anti-Semitism rising, it is more important than ever to have a forum to examine anti-Semitism in all its forms and include suggestions for battling it. Who’s going to rise to that occasion?
Harry Onickel is a Ferndale freelance writer and literacy consultant. He is currently working on a history of anti-Semitism for high school students.