Racism is dead.
It took us until the year 2021 C.E., but humanity has finally been able to successfully wipe out racism. To be clear, we are not talking about “racism” as a concept. No, racism is alive and well, and unfortunately, I doubt anyone reading this will ever live to see that completely wiped out. What is dead is the word “racism.” Calling someone a racist has lost its meaning. Referring to an act as having been spurred by racism has been rendered hollow. Over the past four years, “racism” has become a catch-all meaning for “bad.”
We used to live in a world where even if you disagreed with the argument, you were able to understand the link between racism and a given issue - police brutality, predatory lending or redlining, voter suppression. Even if you believed that these issues can be explained away, or are no longer relevant, the argument linking these issues to racism were clear-cut. In each case, the victims were and are black and other minorities.
However, we live in a world where being labeled a racist has more dire effects than any other label, including murderer, rapist, or any other irredeemable attribute. It therefore follows that whenever anyone is trying to highlight just how bad an idea is, they must link it to racism. In the last year alone, there have been various articles written by America’s most trusted news and opinion outlets linking climate change, student loans, and gun control to racism. Anyone who opposes the changes proposed by a certain party will be accused of racism, even if the proposal has nothing to do with racial disparities, because nothing says “you’re evil” as much as calling someone a racist. In fact, you can google just about any topic and add in the words “and racism,” and you’re bound to find an opinion article or scholarly work on the subject.
This isn’t to say that some of the incidents or concepts being called racist aren’t bad. The January 6 Capitol riot is one of the worst incidents in American history. There isn’t a single sane person who could look at what happened that day with anything but scorn. And yet for some reason, the one constant refrain we heard from a variety of politicians and pundits was that the riot was racist - even though as of writing there has yet to be any link between the riots and racism. But many people in the public eye have a hard time discussing pure evil if it doesn’t include racism. For them, there is no evil without racism. Thus, as “racism” has become a synonym for “evil,” they have effectively killed its definition.
And the same thing could happen to anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism is on the verge of total emptiness. If we are not careful, the impact of the anti-Semitism allegation will begin to decline much the same way as the impact of the racism allegation. However, unlike racism, the meaning is not being changed to a synonym for evil. It is being changed to “Jew-hatred by someone with whom I disagree.” You see, anti-Semitism comes with an asterisk. If someone is to be credibly accused of anti-Semitism, the identity of the perpetrator matters.
The first example of this is the New York Times, which in 2018 published an article that expressed bewilderment at the fact that anti-Semitic attacks in New York City are not normally perpetuated by white supremacists. “[Anti-Semitism in New York] refuses to conform to an easy narrative with a single ideological enemy. During the past 22 months, not one person caught or identified as the aggressor in an anti-Semitic hate crime has been associated with a far right-wing group.” That’s funny, NYT. You can’t pin the attacks on the far right, so there isn’t a logical other group of people that fit into a group? How about “members of groups often deemed to be victims by those on the far left?” That seems to tie all the transgressors together.
The more recent clear examples of this is the way two United States Congress members were treated by their own parties when displaying clear statements of anti-Semitism. Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) tweeted about Jews controlling Congress with their Jew money, while Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) posted about a space laser funded by noted Jew money grabbers, the Rothschild family, that started the California wildfires. Both of these social media posts played on historic Jewish false stereotypes, and both were given a free pass by their respective parties while being lambasted by the opposition. Truthfully, due the inaction by either against their own side, both have lost the moral high ground, and neither have the ability to condemn their opposition anymore, though I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of the attempts.
The use of anti-Semitism as a club reached a new level with the recent firing of actress Gina Carano. To be clear, Carano did have a history of social media posts that her employer, Disney, had reportedly warned her about. But it was her post comparing the treatment of Jews by their neighbors in Nazi Germany to the treatment of Conservatives by their neighbors today.
“Jews were beaten in the streets, not by Nazi soldiers but by their neighbors…even by children. Because history is edited, most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views.”
While Nazi comparisons are not the best way to make a point, nothing says “your comparison to Nazism is wrong” quite like immediately firing someone for having an opposing opinion. What is absolutely clear is that Carano’s point is certainly not anti-Semitic. Misguided? Yes. A stretch? Certainly. Anti-Semitic? Not really.
And in case you’re thinking this didn’t play a role in her firing, Lucasfilm (a subsidiary of Disney) issued a statement that said, “[Carano’s] social media posts denigrating people based on their cultural and religious identities are abhorrent and unacceptable.” This is the only instance of Carano posting about a religious group. Again, she did have other controversial social media posts, but none of them about religion. The fact that Lucasfilm felt the need to include “religious identity” in their statement clearly shows that they think that this statement is somehow anti-Semitic. The reason they claim it to be anti-Semitic is because it was written by someone they disagree with politically. There are many people who make misguided Nazi comparisons, including someone else in the same cast as Carano. But it’s not anti-Semitic if it came from someone on your side. Perhaps she did deserve to be fired, but not for this.
If we are not careful, anti-Semitism will lose its foothold as a serious allegation. As we see it wielded as a club with which to beat political opponents, those on the side of the transgressor will dismiss it since it was committed by their own side, while the opposition tries to bring it to light. But even those on the side of club wielders will not care about the anti-Semitism itself; they only care to bring down their opponents. As soon as the shoe is on the other foot, they will either staunchly defend the offender, or pretend like it never happened.
Jews are victimized from every direction, from all sides of the political, cultural, and geographical spectrums. But the constant watering-down of the victimhood and the term itself will produce dire results for our community.
Izzo Zwiren is the host of The Jewish Living Podcast, where he and his guests delve into any and all areas of Orthodox Judaism.