April 7, 2005

Anti-Semitism deserves focus

I appreciate Mr. Wagner's concerns; let me take this opportunity to clarify some points.

One could not get away with overt racism or sexism in the same circles detailed in my article (the Larry Summers debacle serving as a cautionary tale to anyone tempted to say, well, anything). Why, then, is anti-Semitism still OK? Why is this particular form of bigotry socially acceptable—indeed, downright trendy—in those very circles, certainly populated by neither the "the loudest" nor "the dumbest"? What, in short, makes anti-Semitism so special?

If anything, anti-Semitism is the species of hatred we should guard most strenuously against, given the horrifying ways in which it has born fruit again and again in our history. Of course, the partygoers and undergraduates I described are not the ones setting fire to synagogues or beating up yarmulke-wearing youths on the bus. But the general atmosphere of anti-Semitism in which Europe's educated and influential exist might provide a clue as to why they are slow to do something about it.

Mr. Wagner also hints that my "passion" is dangerous insofar as it makes rational discourse on the subject more difficult if not impossible, creating distinctions where there are none, etc. However, my passion results directly from the unwillingness of the people I quoted to "dialogue" with me. Mentioning Europe's checkered past (that, of course, being an understatement) with its Jewish populations is strictly verboten. And, surprisingly, trying to have a discussion in which actual facts are summarily excluded is harder than you might think.

Should people be "allowed" (if that means anything) to speak their anti-Semitic minds? Sure. What I'm objecting to, and I'm sure Mr. Wagner will agree with me, is the absolute impossibility of productive dialogue. The people expressing these opinions—as I said before, the Best and the Brightest—can't seem to comprehend that someone might disagree with them or take offense. For them, there is no debate; their assumptions are granted. Thus discussion is wholly unnecessary and therefore impossible.

The sentiments I heard expressed were not well reasoned, controversial statements designed to "jump-start the discourse," nor were they simply anti-Israel. They were anti-Jew; in fact, they were simply recycling the same lies printed over a century ago in a little pamphlet entitled "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion"—except this time around the conspiracy theories are intoned with posh British accents as opposed to Russian or German.

Let me be clear: I am not accusing the British of being terrible, hateful people. On the contrary, I feel very strongly that, in this case, they obviously know not what they do. Which is exactly why I feel the anti-Semitic label is entirely appropriate. Why not call a spade a spade? Until people can view their assumptions as, at the very least, questionable, progress is hopeless.

I must also emphasize that the attitudes described are not strictly British, but European. When I described anti-Semitic attitudes traveling from Middle East to West, I was not strictly correct. The Middle Eastern beef with the Jews is, at bottom, territorial, although now it expresses itself in the most reprehensible vulgar anti-Semitism, like the pogroms of the past. This should be contrasted with the sophisticated, philosophical—supremely subtle—hatred purveyed by the elite.

I'm certainly not denying that other forms of hatred exist, nor am I arranging all hatreds in a sort of hierarchy with anti-Semitism at the pinnacle. I never intended to address the sum total of hatreds that plague our world—I'm flattered that Mr. Wagner attributed to my 700-word article such scope. But I wonder sincerely how any progress can be made unless we allow ourselves to address one hatred at a time.