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Antisemitism Isn’t Just About Jews

The last few weeks have brought with them several teachable moments, not just about Jews and antisemitism, but also ones relevant to our society as a whole.
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October 18, 2021
Photo by tzahiV/Getty Images

The last few weeks have brought with them several teachable moments, not just about Jews and antisemitism, but also ones relevant to our society as a whole. In her book, “How to Fight Antisemitism,” journalist and author Bari Weiss claims that the rise of antisemitism is a clear indicator of societal rot. “When a society begins to become unhealthy and tearing itself apart, as we see here and throughout Europe, antisemitism begins to show its face,” Weiss argued, appearing on “Real Time with Bill Maher” in 2019.

Signs of the rot have been all too visible recently, and they carry with them a great warning. U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris addressed students at George Mason University to mark National Voter Registration Day at the end of September. Following her talk, the Vice President called on students for questions. One of those students accused Israel, and America, of committing “ethnic genocide.” Instead of using this as a teachable moment and focusing on the importance of truth in dealing with crucial issues within our society, Harris chose to avoid the mendacious claim and stated, “Your truth should not be suppressed.” Truth became a matter of perception. A few days later, in the pages of this esteemed publication, Gil Troy responded: “Genocide is the mass murder of a people, yet the Palestinian population has quintupled since 1967 … Millennia of Jew-hatred have provided the road map for such perversions. Decades of anti-Zionism paved the way.” When we don’t defend the truth and instead allow moral relativism on what is a clear-cut matter of fact, we open the door for antisemitism and ignorance to creep in, eat away at the foundations of our society and pave the way for nefarious outcomes to come.

Signs of the rot have been all too visible recently, and they carry with them a great warning.

At the beginning of 2021, Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene’s 2018 Facebook post came to light. In it, she claimed the California wildfires were started by PG&E, with the help of a “space laser” belonging to the Jewish Rothschild family, the focal point of many antisemitic tropes. This abominable accusation became the subject of much ridicule, exposing Greene’s antisemitism and ignorance, both of which are all too common, but not limited to, the far right. 

Just last week, Jews and Space made a comeback, this time by prolific comedian Dave Chappelle on his latest Netflix standup comedy special. There, he shared a “movie idea” about “aliens, originally from earth, who left thousands of years ago.” When things go terribly for those aliens, they come back to earth and claim it for their own. He labeled his plotline “Space Jews.” To make matters worse, the same plotline included also the story of an African American slave who gained his freedom, became a successful slave-owner himself, and ended up treating his slaves worse than the way he’d been treated. Whether Chappelle’s not-funny joke was related to the ancient accusation of Jewish world dominion or to Jews’ returning home to Israel, it reeks of antisemitism. So, too, does his insinuation that Jews have been treating Palestinians worse than the Nazis treated Jews.

Humor is an essential key to societal communication and human interaction. Comedy is a tool often used to say the things we all know to be true but refrain from saying out loud. It is a universal language, which is why we must be careful in how we use its power to send a message. Jewish communities in the U.S. and across the world are under verbal and physical threats of classic antisemitism and anti-Zionism. In New York’s Times Square, for example, a Jew was beaten senselessly a few months ago, just for wearing a skullcap. Netflix was quick to defend Chappelle’s “creative freedom,” ignoring the fact that the special allows antisemitic tropes to be moved from Greene’s fringes to the mainstream consciousness through its mass distribution channel of hundreds of millions of viewers. 

A few months ago, in an interview on CNN, Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, said knowingly that Israel is losing the media war despite “their connections and deep pockets.” “They are very influential people,” he said, while laughing. “I mean, they control the media.”

When we don’t defend the truth and instead allow moral relativism on what is a clear-cut matter of fact, we open the door for antisemitism and ignorance to creep in, eat away at the foundations of our society and pave the way for nefarious outcomes to come.

Another great example of willful ignorance was on full display in an Axios interview with the founders of Ben and Jerry’s. The two are no longer actively managing the company but were pulled out of retirement to defend the company’s decision to divest from parts of Israel due to supposed discomfort with some Israeli policies. “You guys are big proponents of voting rights. Why do you still sell ice cream in Georgia? Texas abortion bans. Why are you still selling there?” asked the astute reporter. A few moments of puzzled looks on the screen are followed by a shrug and a poignantly telling “I don’t know,” accompanied by nervous laughter. They know it’s OK to act against Israel just because, but they can’t explain why the same supposed moral principle doesn’t apply in other cases, where Jews and the Jewish state are not involved. Assumption is the mother of all mistakes, and ignorant assumptions are the worst of all. 

One line passes between Ben and Jerry’s and Kamala Harris, Marjory Taylor Greene and Dave Chappelle. It’s a red one, indicating that something has gone wrong with our societal discourse. Acts of hatred and antisemitism are born out of ignorance, all “just because it’s true.” Words have meaning and consequences. When we let ignorance rule the dome, when we accept it willingly instead of standing up for the truth, when we do not demand accountability, we allow dangerous notions into our public square. 

When we “know” Jews to be malevolent, we “understand” acts of violence against “them” and may even perpetrate them. We are on a slippery slope; those red bulbs are flickering all around us. We should all be warned and take action before it’s too late. 


Shahar Azani is a former Israeli diplomat and Senior Vice President at JBS.

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