Not antisemitism but ‘Jew-haterism’ & facelessness

Bigotry, like many thought-germs, grows in the shadows. It festers as haters perfume their evil, saying they’re “just” anti-Israel or anti-capitalist or actually pro-Israel.

A MAN with a sign accuses others of being anti-Jewish at a rally in New York City. (photo credit: REUTERS)
A MAN with a sign accuses others of being anti-Jewish at a rally in New York City.
(photo credit: REUTERS)
In 1963, Commentary’s editor-in-chief, Norman Podhoretz, bravely broached a subject that remains terrifying over 56 years later. Podhoretz analyzed black antisemitism, a spiral of incitement, jealousy, fear, intimidation, beatings and turf wars, with occasionally bursts into major violence.
Using the preferred language back then, Podhoretz’s essay “My Negro Problem and Ours” brilliantly addressed the accelerant all hatreds require: facelessness. Responding to the legendary writer James Baldwin’s insight that prejudiced whites don’t look at blacks, Podhoretz wrote: “the principle of facelessness is a two-way street.” Growing up, “I was as faceless to the Negroes as they were to me... my white skin was enough to define me as the enemy, and in a war it is only the uniform that counts and not the person.”
Rereading Podhoretz amid 2019’s burst of violence targeting Orthodox Jews is chilling. To the Jew-haters, those Jews dressed in black are faceless, and wearing enemy garb, the uniform of the white devil on steroids, the Jew shopkeeper, the Jew landlord, the Jew who prospers on blacks’ backs.
Beware fighting bigotry with bigotry. The phrase “black antisemitism” is too sweeping, suggesting it’s more widespread than it is. Nevertheless, denying the particular strains of Jew-hatred among some African-Americans suggests it’s less dangerous than it’s proving to be.
It’s uncomfortable but true: the violence mostly imposed by people of color against mostly Orthodox Jews in the New York area is not random. It’s green-lighted by certain ideological trends. Some fester globally, such as the jealousy of have-nots and the demonization of Israel. Some masquerade as “progressive,” such as this absurd, trendy, categorical attack on Jews as having “white privilege” when so many Jews are not white, not rich, and still hounded by Jew-haters. Some reflect particular African-American tropes, including the obsession with Jewish shopkeepers and landlords. It’s all worsened by demagogues like Louis Farrakhan, who calls Jews “termites.” The result is a Jew-hatred less ubiquitous than feared but more prevalent than should be.
Bigotry must be fought with clear redlines and red lights from the leaders and from the masses. Shun anyone, from Bill Clinton and Bernie Sanders on down, who comports with Farrakhan, Ilhan “all-about-the-Benjamins” Omar and other Jew-baiters.
By contrast, the upcoming Martin Luther King holiday provides a wonderful opportunity to unite blacks and Jews against all hatred. Dr. King condemned antisemitism and anti-Zionism vehemently, as did his closest friends such as Bayard Rustin.
This year’s King commemorations should feature our African-American brothers and sisters repudiating African-American antisemitism. Internally, more broadly, we need a Jewish rebellion against silly, irresponsible Jewish leaders who have abdicated their moral responsibility to fight antisemitism globally, consistently. Conservatives who tolerate white supremacist anti-Judaism must go, as should leaders who tweet idiocies like this recent humdinger: “the horrible attacks on Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn & elsewhere likely relate to long-term tensions & don’t fall easily into left/right category. Not parallel to white nationalists whose beliefs are based on antisemitism.”
This insane American Jewish addiction to “left/right categories” and squabbles about which antisemitism is “worse,” because “our” ideological allies are okay, must end. It’s time to start firing leaders, cutting off donations, and otherwise rejecting these hyper-partisan demagogues who cannot understand that Jew-haters whom we might like still hate us as Jews; they just pick on easier Jewish targets as starters.
Note, these partisan fights over antisemitism online and on campus initially obscured the anti-Jewish violence on the streets.
Bigotry, like many thought-germs, grows in the shadows. It festers as haters perfume their evil, saying they’re “just” anti-Israel or anti-capitalist or actually pro-Israel. You’re not pro-Israel if you’re occasionally anti-Jewish, and you’re rarely pro-Jewish when you’re obsessively anti-Israel.
TO FIGHT Jew-hatred clearly, let’s retire that ambiguous, pseudoscientific term German Jew-haters coined – “antisemitism.” Start calling anti-Jewish bigotry by a less sterile name.
If racism is race-based hatred, and sexism sex-based hatred, call Jew-hatred “Jew-haterism.” Jewism sounds too close to Judaism – and isn’t ugly enough. Jew-hatred sounds episodic. Making it an “ism” captures the systemic way Jew-hatred operates, as the world’s most plastic hatred: endurable, adaptable, but artificial and often toxic.
In 1881, the Jew-hater Wilhelm Marr popularized the term “antisemitism.” Marr sought a scientific resonance to justify his Germanic obsession with the Jewish race. We know how that ended.
The most lethal strain of Jew-hatred since Nazism, Arab anti-Zionism hides its animus behind the term “antisemitism,” too. Claiming that Jews and Arabs are “Semites” – itself an artificial term – some vicious Jew-haters claim their violence is rooted in Israeli wrongs, not their repudiation of Jewish rights. After all, how can Arabs as fellow “Semites” be antisemites?
Hatred is hatred. Hating Jews is Jew-hatred. Jew-hateism includes the Left’s Zionophobia, oozing with obsessive disdain for Israel. It includes the right-wing Jew-baiting, even when it hides behind some nice words about Israel. And it certainly includes assaulting Jews verbally and physically in synagogues, on streets, at Hanukkah parties.
Calling out this evil in all its perversions as “Jew-haterism” offers an added, verbal bonus. The “w” of “Jew” and the “hat” of “hater” form “what.” When confronting prejudice, wherever it is, whomever it targets, we should ask indignantly “What are these people thinking?” – never rationalizing any hatred – while asking strategically “What can we do about it?” We must fight hate – and facelessness – everywhere, be it among convenient targets like our enemies or inconvenient targets like those pretending to be our friends.
The writer is the author of The Zionist Ideas, an update and expansion of Arthur Hertzberg’s classic anthology, The Zionist Idea. A distinguished scholar of North American history at McGill University, he is the author of 10 books on American history, including The Age of Clinton: America in the 1990s.