A few months ago, I asked Natan Sharansky if he thought Jews could be antisemites.
He looked at me like I had just claimed to be Elvis, emerging from a few decades of quiet study in Bnei Brak. “Of course! What does being Jewish have to do with it?”
Actually, I knew that. I just wanted to be able to quote an expert in both bearing the brunt of institutionalized hatred of Jews and in thinking through the issue of what constitutes anti-Semitism. I knew that it would come in useful some day.
Some day was Friday. An op-ed writer in the Los Angeles Times tried to blow away critics of Human Rights Watch. HRW had accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians, and found no evidence of Hezbollah having placed its rocket launchers in civilian population centers. A succession of writers, including our own Jonathan Rosenblum and Alan Dershowitz, wrote that if Human Rights Watch was watching, they couldn’t have been watching what everyone else had seen: the photos of the rocket crews positioned between apartment blocks, and the interviews with Lebanese civilians who begrudgingly conceded that the new people in the neighborhood were not movie extras.
Not wanting to deal with the issues, Rosa Brooks tried defending the organization she used to work for (yep!) by crying foul. You just can’t question Israel without being called an antisemite! Shame on all of them, trying to suppress debate and criticism by accusing the muckrakers of being in cahoots with Hitler.
No matter that none of the writers she sought to impale on her clumsily sharpened spear had called anyone an antisemite at all. It is a common tactic of the left to defend their embrace of the Arab narrative on Israel by stating that they would love to hear the other side, but there are just no Jews around who will discuss it without calling them Jew-haters and asking for Holocaust reparations.
Furthermore, she charged, how could HRW possibly be anti-Semitic, since it is headed by a Jew, the son of survivors?
Now that is an interesting proposition, especially this weekend. She might have missed her own paper’s coverage of the new Al-Queda video in which Adam Yehiye Gadahn urges American servicemen to switch sides and convert to to Islam. The Times doesn’t mention that the 28 year old former hippie farmer home-schooled on his musician-father’s electricity-free ranch, with whom the FBI for quite some time has been desirous of sitting down and sharing a few words over an organic goat-milk smoothie, was originally named Adam Pearlman. While his father converted to Christianity, his grandfather is rumored to have been an Orange County urologist and board member of the ADL. (OK, halachically he isn’t Jewish, but Rosa Brooks doesn’t know that. And what about Karl Marx, who suggested that the solution to the Jewish problem would come with the end of Judaism?)
Jews can’t be antisemites? It is the very success of anti-Semitism that creates Jewish antisemites. The easiest way to cope with the fears and insecurities bred by antisemites is for a Jew of marginal connection to his people to simply say, “I’m outta here!” To make it convincing, the refugee from his peoplehood has to make it quite clear that he distances himself from all of the vile things Jews are known to do. Show people how much you hate Jews, and they won’t accuse you of being one any longer. It is a time-worn script, with many, many people having played the part.
Not to understand how easy it is for a Jew to turn anti-Semitic requires a woeful ignorance about the Jewish history and the Jewish experience. It is such a distortion of the realities of being Jewish, that it is, well, almost anti-Semitic.