Friday, December 29, 2006

Anti-Semites Everywhere

Which offense resulted in Judith Regan, the trash queen of book publishing, being banished from Rupert Murdoch's empire of high culture? Was it her outburst in a heated phone conversation with a Jewish lawyer that in the aftermath of the O.J. Simpson book fiasco she is the victim of a "Jewish cabal" or was it an incident several years earlier when, to quote from the Times' story, she "boasted of removing the scrolls from her neighbor's mezuzas and replacing them with torn pieces from dollar bills."

We know the answer because it has been all over the news. Ms. Regan kept her powerful position despite multiple wrongdoings because she was a money-maker and she was fired after the Simpson affair cost one of Mr. Murdoch's companies a bundle. She became damaged goods and was vulnerable. We can now celebrate because one more enemy of our people has been defeated.

We are awash in claims of anti-Semitic words or behavior by assorted celebrities and scholars, this at a time when surveys show that Jews in America are in high regard. Like never before, popular culture features Jewish symbols and characters and in large numbers, fellow Americans who are not Jewish are eager to tie the knot with those who are. It seems that we are being embraced by an America that loves us to spiritual death and yet we are constantly confronted by incidents that we label as anti-Semitic. Could it be that there is a dualism, that the contemporary Jewish popularity masks latent feelings that are legitimate reasons for concern?

Without a doubt, we have enemies and, without a doubt, history has given us more than ample reasons to be nervous. Yet, we must separate the wheat from the chaff, what is meaningless or inconsequential from what is serious. Else, we will be in a constant tizzy, with our emotional bags packed for a quick exit. It's alright to err on the side of caution, but not to exaggerate. We are overplaying the anti-Semitism gambit.

I do not subscribe to the refrain, heard often among my fellow Orthodox, that the "goyim" all hate us and I have elsewhere sharply challenged this attitude. Nor do I believe that what is anti-Semitic should be dismissed as inconsequential. We need to distinguish among words, factoring in the key elements of frequency and context, as well as their nexus to behavior. There is a difference between what is said in anger or while intoxicated or during horseplay or even in incautious private conversation and a pattern of anti-Semitic language or the inclusion of such language in a prepared speech or article. In short, not everything that sounds anti-Semitic is anti-Semitic.

We can understand this by looking at other situations where inappropriate words are used. In angry exchanges, as occurs at times between spouses or within families or between friends, people say wounding things that they scarcely believe. Such words may touch on the target's religion or ethnicity. I imagine that most of us have been guilty of such indiscretion and let the few of us - if there are any - who are without sin cast the first stone. Anger does not beget exalted language.

It is likely that when the next minor incident crops up, we'll once more holler anti-Semitism. We are comfortable with this accusation, as if it makes us feel better about the real wrongs committed against us. The seminal event occurred a couple of decades back with Jesse Jackson's "Hymietown" remark about New York Jews. I could not figure out what the fuss was about, this despite my lack of respect for Mr. Jackson who has become a pathetic caricature of what he once was. Far more serious offenses against Jews have been committed by Al Sharpton, the phony Rev whose mouth is always revved up when there is a Black misfortune ripe for exploitation.

With his flare for sadistic entertainment, Mel Gibson is encased in layers of unsavoriness. A loyal son to his openly anti-Semitic father, he isn't a candidate for one of the humanitarian awards that our foolish organizations bestow on Hollywood unworthies. Yet, we were excessive in our reaction to his recent anti-Semitic rant. Despite the assertions by entertainment bigwigs that Gibson is now a leper, should he continue to have strong commercial value, some of the Stars of David will sing another tune.

Our tendency to locate anti-Semitism in nearly all nooks and crannies of American life, including incautious remarks by Billy Graham, reaches into the White House. We know about Richard Nixon and Lyndon Johnson. Even the venerated Harry Truman said things about Jews that he should not have. With his new book, Jimmy Carter is at the top of our most wanted - or is it most unwanted? - list. Presidents are particularly vulnerable because their private remarks are often recorded. What is usually missing in reports of presidential misuse of language is the context. A president who feels that he faces severe and undeserved pressure from Jews might be forgiven if he blurts out something like "what do these blankety-blank Jews want from me?" or uses even coarser language. Inappropriate? Yes. Anti-Semitic? No.

Whether the issue is Israel or American Jews, not everything that is critical or harsh or expressed in demeaning language is anti-Semitic. This is even true of Jimmy Carter whose use of the word "apartheid" to describe Israel's relationship with Palestinians is despicable and dishonest. We should knock the stuffings out of him for his anti-Israel polemic and this can easily be accomplished without indulging in the A-S gambit.

I do not know what term to use for the Neturei Karta scoundrels who shamed us with their embrace of the world's most dangerous anti-Semite. It is too facile to say that they are imposters. We should save our ire for them and others who are Jew-haters. Minor incidents and incautious language come with the territory called life. It's time that we recognize this.