Jewish Heritage Doesn’t Mean You Can Be Anti-Semitic

March 20, 2020
LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 18: Actress Rosanna Arquette speaks at the 4th annual Women’s March LA: Women Rising at Pershing Square on January 18, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Chelsea Guglielmino/Getty Images)

On March 17, actress Rosanna Arquette published an anti-Semitic tweet about the coronavirus and Israel. She then tried to dodge the backlash by announcing that her deceased mother was Jewish. 

The tweet, which has since been deleted, broadcast an absurd conspiracy theory that Israel knew about the virus a year in advance and hid that information to profit off developing a vaccine. She also claimed that President Donald Trump’s Jewish son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is somehow part of this conspiracy against public health.

“So Israel has been working on a coronavirus vaccine for a year already? (so they knew it) Vaccines take a long time to know if they are safe and KUSHNER OSCAR is the major investor in the new vaccine that is supposedly coming here. Lives at risk for profit,” Arquette tweeted.

This assertion was quickly debunked; Israeli scientists had been working on treatments for different viruses that could help the fight against COVID-19. Josh Kushner, Jared’s brother, is a major investor in Oscar Health, a healthcare company whose website helps users find coronavirus tests. Although a March 2020 Mother Jones report claimed that Jared Kushner was involved in the company back in 2013, this project is not for profit nor does it risk lives. The website itself is free.

After Arquette was fact-checked by Tablet, Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper asserted that Arquette’s tweet was a blood libel — which has been used to incite mass violence against the community for epochs.

Rather than apologize for her misstep, Arquette first claimed she couldn’t have incited against Jews because she herself has Jewish heritage.

“First of all I’m Not anti Semitic  I was born to a Jewish mother,” (sic) she tweeted. 


This is not the first time Arquette has been accused of disseminating an anti-Semitic trope, or of hiding behind her mother’s heritage to avoid taking responsibility. In June 2019, the actress faced criticism for singling out Jewish people for “turning their backs” on immigrant detention centers at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Having Jewish heritage doesn’t mean you can’t be anti-Semitic. Furthermore, touting that someone in your family tree is Jewish doesn’t vindicate you. 

One person who recently took this “but I have Jewish relatives” defense was the self-avowed white supremacist James Alex Fields Jr. During the 2017 white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., Fields plowed his car into a crowd of counter protesters murdering 32-year-old Heather Heyer. While he was on trial, Field’s lawyers exploited the fact that his grandfather was Jewish, even going so far to claim that his grandfather’s misdeeds were responsible for the bloodshed.

But it didn’t matter if Fields’ grandfather kept Shabbat. Fields kept a picture of Adolf Hilter on his nightstand. 

Anyone is free to engage with his or her Jewish heritage. However, it’s exploitive to suddenly take it up when it’s a convenient shield against people calling out your bigotry against Jews. Even if you fully identify as a Jew, you are capable of working against the safety of your own people, just like LGBTQ people who oppose gay marriage, or women who continue to campaign against gender equality. Every marginalized community has been plagued by people who (as Arquette astutely noted), risk lives for profit.

Just as having a mother who is female doesn’t excuse a misogynist from victimizing women, having a Jewish parent or grandparent doesn’t minimize the behavior of an anti-Semite. By blaming their familial strife on a relative’s Jewishness, some — as Field’s lawyers asserted — take pleasure in using Jews everywhere as a punching bag for their anguish. 

But unlike inanimate objects, Jews punch back. We know that a bigot cannot tear down a limb of their family tree and be shielded from consequences. We also can tell that tokenizing a relative to avoid anti-Semitic accusations involves cutting a Jewish person down. That’s why Jews did not let up until Rosanna Arquette issued an apology for what she admitted were “negative careless words.”

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