Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Busman's workout

Now that I've turned in grades, I had time for a longer run than the 40-minute Savage Love podcast could contain, and had to resort to an NPR "Talk of the Nation" story on anti-Semitism for the last mile or so. The moment I saw that term and the question mark following it, I knew the answer would be 'no, of course not, who could think such a thing?' This, even before I considered whether the 'it' would be Mearsheimer, Ahmadinejad, the new New Yorker piece on a sleazy pro-Israel businessman, or who knows. Anyway, without suspense, the run felt longer that it ought to have. The story - 'it' turned out to be 'criticism of Goldman Sachs' - did, however, quite remarkably hit all the key points such stories must. Such as:

-Lots of people apparently claim that X is anti-Semitic. Yet the only person actually named turns out to be (drumroll please) Abe Foxman. Does anyone who's not Abe Foxman think criticism of Goldman Sachs is inherently offensive? Jury's out. Having not once encountered one of those allegedly ubiquitous Jews who believe every criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic, here too I have my doubts.*

-All this crying wolf (which, again, has been attributed only to Abe Foxman, but which we are to believe is definitive of 'the political atmosphere') is said to detract from the fight against 'actual instances of anti-Semitism.' But! Not once is this true form of anti-Semitism defined. We get, as always, a long list of what's not anti-Semitism (calling Jewish bankers blood-sucking vampires, apparently).

-Jews simultaneously do and do not get to decide what counts as anti-Semitic. As in, if someone Jewish calls X anti-Semitic, this person's a hysteric at best and a wolf-crier by default. Whereas if some Jew somewhere can't emphasize enough that X is anything but anti-Semitic, then not only is that particular Jew one of the good ones, but the fact that there exists a Jew who does not find X anti-Semitic means that we can officially state with confidence that X gets the all-clear.

*Michael Kinsley's article that the NPR story was a follow-up to offers little more in the way of information. We get some examples of who's been accused of anti-Semitism, a blog post referring to one particularly poorly-worded criticism of this bank as evocative of anti-Semitic tropes, and a reference to Rush Limbaugh's gaffe, essentially, in which by accusing Obama of anti-Semitism he basically insulted Jews himself, but no supporting evidence for the idea that there's some widespread belief - among Jews or others - that every criticism of Goldman Sachs is anti-Semitic, or even that Jews are or should be on high alert when this bank is insulted.

6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Abe Foxman speaks for a large, mainstream organization in the body politic, does he not? Reducing him to a lone voice in the wilderness doesn't strike me as accurate.

Phoebe said...

He does, but he's famous for announcing that X is anti-Semitic when there's little evidence anyone besides him would have that reaction to whatever X is. Also, it's a mainstream organization largely if not entirely dedicated to pointing out that which is anti-Semitic, as opposed to some kind of headquarters for Jewish opinion generally. Jews generally may on some level appreciate that such a voice exists without actually agreeing with a whole lot of what it pronounces. In other words, Foxman alone is not evidence that 'the Jews' think X is anti-Semitic.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the corollary that the ADL is kind of bad at its job? Jews are in the best position to judge what marginalizes them, so it wouldn't seem to speak well of the purpose for which ADL is dedicated if it takes an outlier view.

I'm new here so I just want to add I'm not trying to be inflammatory. I wouldn't second guess you if that was your opinion. It is your prerogative -- and I don't know enough about opinions of the ADL or a majority of the Jewish community to argue or agree.

Phoebe said...

Anonymous,

This isn't a perfect analogy, but think of the relationship between blacks and Al Sharpton. Leaders like this are about calling out anything that might possibly be conceived of as discriminatory, and then some. They're not offering an accurate representation of what the community at large actually finds bothersome. Does that clarify things for you?

Anonymous said...

I think I'm with you so far, but I guess if it were me (and I know it's not me; and I know there are factors of which I am unaware) I would tend not to be very appreciative of that kind of service because it would risk conflating trivial/non-issues with bona fide problems to those outside of my community. It may make it easier for these NPR guests to paint the "crying wolf" label with a broad brush.

That's like a mix of two-and-a-half to three metaphors.

Phoebe said...

Anonymous,

Since you're Anonymous, I'm especially clueless about where you're coming from, even by blog-commenter standards, but remember that this type of "service" exists among every minority group you can think of, along with, these days especially, the much-oppressed Real-American community.