July 19, 2019

A Jewish Reaction to the Epstein Case

“When I heard that Jeffrey Epstein had been arrested on sex-trafficking charges, I cringed. I’m sure I was not the only Jewish person who did, or whose first thought was,Why does this sorry excuse for a human have to be Jewish? And I probably also wasn’t the only Jewish person whose second thought was, Given that he is Jewish, why does he have to have such a Jewish-sounding name?

It’s a natural response to a people who have been hounded by anti-Semites, to cringe when one of our own behaves in such a horrifying manner. And of course, it didn’t take long for the anti-Semites to crawl out of their holes with the reactions that prompted mine.

It may be natural to fear the wrongdoing of our own not just for its moral ugliness but for the attacks against the rest of us that such wrongdoing will surely engender. But it’s also a fallacy.

As Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt once told me when I interviewed her about her book, Antisemitism: Here and Now, it doesn’t matter how Jews behave. Anti-Semitism is not based on anything rational. Rooted in a mythology of secret Jewish power, money, control, and dual loyalties, anti-Semitism and Jewish wrongdoing have little to do with each other.

We all cringe as Jews when one of our own, with such a Jewish-sounding name, turns out to be a horrible person (and it doesn’t get much more horrible than being a child rapist). But cringing over Jewish deplorables is at the end of the day something of a category error. It’s the wrongdoing, not the Jewishness, that should horrify us.”

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