FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

Stop Weaponizing “Anti-Semitism” and “Racism”

Drawing by Nathaniel St. Clair

What’s in a word?  Plenty, if those words are “racism” or “anti-Semitism.” Just ask Virginia Governor Ralph Northam or freshman Congresswoman Ilham Omar.  Last week both found themselves engulfed in political firestorms.  All because of those two barbed words.

Governor Northam faced charges of racism when someone discovered a racist photo on his medical school yearbook page That an 80’s yearbook photo could push a governor’s political career to the brink raises questions about how the word “racism” is being defined and how it is being weaponized in political debates.

Northam’s admitted blackface stunt three decades ago was clearly a racist act. But is the Governor a “racist” today, when as far as we know, he has never in his professional life expressed racist views?  It’s for Virginia voters to decide his fitness for public service.

Congresswoman Omar learned the hard way that the mere mention of money gifts to Members of Congress (the so-called “Benjamins”) facilitated by the American Israel Political Action Committee (AIPAC) would bring down upon her angry charges of anti-Semitism. She said nothing against Jews. She simply repeated a known fact: that money fuels pro-Israel lobbying on Capitol Hill. She later apologized for offending anyone who inferred from her remarks a derogatory reference to historical stereotypes.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines “racism” as “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior” and “anti-Semitism” as “hostility to or prejudice against Jews.”

The tendency of political opponents to call someone “anti-Semitic” for criticizing Israel’s policies or AIPAC is a regrettable misuse of the words.  The unintended  personal slights that people of color receive every day from those under the influence of white privilege do not by themselves make someone a “racist.” Slights hurt, but should not condemn someone who always tries to express non-discrimination in his or her conduct and speech.

The recent split in the Women’s March leadership over allegations of “anti-Semitism” is an example of guilt by association. Another is the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute’s rescinding of a civil rights award to Professor Angela Davis (later reinstated) apparently due to her solidarity with Palestinian rights organizations. Do those cases justify the charge of “anti-Semitism?”  Reasonable minds may differ.

Recall that when the “Me Too” movement began exposing wayward executives, sports figures and others, it often failed to distinguish between minor sexual harassment (inappropriate speech, for example) and physical abuse. Perpetrators at all points on the continuum were subjected to punishments that ranged from public humiliation to job loss to criminal prosecution.

A similar lack of discernment can be seen now in the undifferentiated charges of “racism” and “anti-Semitism.”

Over time “Me Too” moderated its condemnations of sexual wrongdoing to reflect the varying degrees of offense.  Those who are quick to shout “racism” and “anti-Semitism” might wish to follow the “Me Too” example.

In the social media, one still finds accusations by liberals that the President’s supporters are racist.  Over time we’ve learned that many of those who voted for Trump are neither “racist” nor “anti-Semitic,” but instead regular Americans who felt ignored by party politicians and urban elites.

Most of the proponents of BDS (Boycott, Divest, Sanction) are not anti-Semitic.  They simply believe that Americans should have the First Amendment right to criticize or protest (even by economic boycott) Israel policies that oppress Palestinians.

Many AIPAC critics would like to see Citizens United overturned (by the Supreme Court itself or by constitutional amendment).  That and related reforms would achieve the more ambitious goal of stamping money out of politics.  Israel and other interest group lobbying could continue, but without the money sweetener.

Political opponents in both parties need to stop pushing “racism” and “anti-Semitism” beyond their dictionary limits. The McCarthy era showed us how good citizens can be toppled, careers up-ended and livelihoods destroyed when barbed words such as “Communist” are spoken irresponsibly.

Dictionary-defined racism and anti-Semitism are demeaning and dangerous.  They deserve zero tolerance.  Hate speech, vandalism and physical violence in all their forms must be condemned and strictly punished in the courts. That’s when the barbed words racism and anti-Semitism are most apt.

 

More articles by:

L. Michael Hager is cofounder and former Director General, International Development Law Organization, Rome.

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
December 10, 2019
Tony McKenna
The Demonization of Jeremy Corbyn
John Grant
American Culture Loves a Good Killer
Jacob Hornberger
Afghanistan: a Pentagon Paradise Built on Lies
Nick Licata
Was Trump Looking for Corruption or a Personal Favor?
Thomas M. Magstadt
What’s the Matter With America?
Brian Tokar
Climate Talks in Madrid: What Will It Take to Prevent Climate Collapse?
Ron Jacobs
Where Justice is a Game: Impeachment Hearings Redux
Jack Rasmus
Trump vs. Democracy
Walden Bello
Capitalism with Chinese Characteristics
Binoy Kampmark
A Troubled Family: NATO Turns 70
Brian Horejsi
Citizens Are Never Trusted
Michael Barker
Self-Defense in the Civil Rights Movement: the Lessons of Birmingham, 1963
John Feffer
Soldiers Who Fight War
Howie Wolke
Willingness to Compromise Puts Wilderness at Risk
December 09, 2019
Jefferson Morley
Trump’s Hand-Picked Prosecutor John Durham Cleared the CIA Once, Will He Again?
Kirkpatrick Sale
Political Collapse: The Center Cannot Hold
Ishmael Reed
Bloomberg Condoned Sexual Assault by NYPD 
W. T. Whitney
Hitting at Cuban Doctors and at Human Solidarity
Louisa Willcox
The Grizzly Cost of Coexistence
Thomas Knapp
Meet Virgil Griffith: America’s Newest Political Prisoner
John Feffer
How the New Right Went Global — and How to Stop It
Ralph Nader
Why Not Also Go With “The Kitchen Table” Impeachable Offenses for Removal?
Robert Fisk
Meet the Controversial Actor and Businessman Standing Up Against Egypt’s el-Sisi
M. K. Bhadrakumar
Sri Lanka Continues Its Delicate Dance With India
Dahr Jamail
Savoring What Remains: Dealing With Climate PTSD
George Wuerthner
Bison Slaughter in Yellowstone…Again
Scott Tucker
Premature Democratic Socialists: Reasons for Hope and Change
Julian Rose
Polish Minister of Health Proposes Carcinogenic 5G Emission Levels as National Norm
Dean Baker
Coal and the Regions Left Behind
Robert Koehler
Envisioning a United World
Weekend Edition
December 06, 2019
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Eat an Impeachment
Matthew Hoh
Authorizations for Madness; The Effects and Consequences of Congress’ Endless Permissions for War
Jefferson Morley
Why the Douma Chemical Attack Wasn’t a ‘Managed Massacre’
Andrew Levine
Whatever Happened to the Obama Coalition?
Paul Street
The Dismal Dollar Dems and the Subversion of Democracy
Dave Lindorff
Conviction and Removal Aren’t the Issue; It’s Impeachment of Trump That is Essential
Ron Jacobs
Law Seminar in the Hearing Room: Impeachment Day Six
Linda Pentz Gunter
Why Do We Punish the Peacemakers?
Louis Proyect
Michael Bloomberg and Me
Robert Hunziker
Permafrost Hits a Grim Threshold
Joseph Natoli
What We Must Do
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Global Poison Spring
Robert Fantina
Is Kashmir India’s Palestine?
Charles McKelvey
A Theory of Truth From the South
Walden Bello
How the Battle of Seattle Made the Truth About Globalization True
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail