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Monday, January 24, 2022

Which Jews? (Updated)

This Wall Street Journal essay by Mark Oppenheimer on rising antisemitism has generated some heat. The basic argument is that modern antisemitism in America targets the "shrinking minority of Jews who regularly do Jewish things in Jewish spaces"--attend synagogue or Jewish schools, shop at kosher markets, wear Jewish clothing, etc. But "for people who are Jewish but don’t do Jewish things, the U.S. is less oppressive than ever," as "gentlemen's agreement" antisemitism excluding Jews from neighborhoods, schools, clubs, etc., are "artifacts pf the past."

1) Some accuse Oppenheimer of victim-blaming, of telling that minority to stop doing Jewish things in Jewish spaces so as to avoid being targeted. That is not a fair reading. He is not telling anyone to stop attending these spaces. Quite the opposite--he  ends the piece by praising those who regard Jewish education or praying with fellow Jews as worth the risk. He was not blaming the "Jews who Jew it" or telling them to stop. He was making the point that the new American antisemitism is complicated--rather than an across-the-board societal phenomenon affecting all Jews equally, it is isolated and individualized.

2) Oppenheimer's premise is questionable on its terms. Charlottesville targeted all Jews, not only those who wear kippot and shop in kosher markets. Reports of recent antisemitic incidents seem to target Jews because they are Jewish while operating in secular spaces (although many of these overlap with Israel). Over the weekend, fliers were thrown in front of houses in Miami Beach and Surfside linking Jews to COVID and evil vaccinations (listing the Jews in the CDC, HHS, etc.); similar fliers have been distributed other places. No word on how they picked the houses. Was it random homes in two heavily Jewish towns? Did they look for mezzuzot? And is a mezzuzah "Jewing it," akin to wearing a yarmulke or is it akin to walking through life as Josh Goldberg? He may be right that violence seems to target the obviously Jewish. But a lot of antisemitism is non-violent.

3) The argument conflates institutional (or systemic) and individual antisemitism, so I think the base of his argument is flawed. He compares individual antisemitism, a lot of which is directed at Jewish spaces, with institutional or systemic antisemitism in secular spaces, which he argues no longer exists. But those are unique situations in which regular" Jews and "Jews who Jew it" may not be so different. Gentlemen's-agreement antisemitism in schools, clubs, law firms, and businesses appears to be an artifact of the past for all Jews--universities do not have quotas on Jewish students, regardless of level of observance. Meanwhile, if we focus on individual antisemitism, many Jews of all stripes have been targets  in many spaces. His argument might work if we compare violent antisemitism. High-profile violence appears to have been limited to "obvious" Jews. But that is a narrower and distinct argument.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on January 24, 2022 at 10:41 AM in Howard Wasserman, Religion | Permalink

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