Thursday, March 22, 2012

Anti-Semitism as natural disaster

Like some of the paper's other readers, I was struck by the choice of the NYT to conduct man-on-the-street interviews reacting to the Toulouse shootings with Muslims, but not Jews. To report on Islamophobic retaliation that might happen, rather than the response to a murderous anti-Jewish attack that, well, did happen. (One that was itself only 'retaliatory' if you consider French-Jewish children with joint Israeli citizenship representatives of Netanyahu's government.) This choice was not enough to prevent one commenter from asking, "[H]ad this murder been at a Muslim school would it be making front page on the NYTimes and other media?" When it's like, these were multiple murders at a Jewish school, and it's being reported as an anti-Muslim attack.

I know there is a temptation to look at this in terms of the 'new anti-Semitism' that comes out of radical Islam and its supporters/overly tepid critics on the Western left. But as I see it, this is less about a popular belief that Jews fundamentally represent the Israeli government's worst actions and thus deserve to be victims of violent attacks, and more about a much more longstanding sense that anti-Semitism is... natural. Not "natural" as in it's only natural that Jews would elicit hatred, but as in part of the natural world. This is especially true, I think, when it comes to discussions of certain Jews surviving the Holocaust, either as individuals or communities. We so often discuss the Jews who lived through those years hidden away, in an attic or forest, as having almost been hiding out from a storm. A storm, that is, and not a political movement that hardly killed at random.

And this outlook continues to be the way anti-Semitic acts are treated. If it's generally thought that Jews overreact to anti-Semitism (and I ask you to locate the marginalized group that doesn't complain vocally when attacked), it's not so much because we don't think Jews are still hated. (This, longtime readers, is what I used to think it was.) It's more that we see Jew-hatred as just a part of life, and find it baffling and irritating that Jews make a fuss about what is, after all, beyond human control.

1 comment:

Daniel Goldberg said...

Fascinating idea. It's so common as to have become completely invisible.