When I was kid, antisemitism meant something.
It was a deadly serious charge, reserved only for those that demonstrably and provably hated Jews and promoted such hatred though words and deeds. People like Jim Keegstra
, Ernst Zundel
and Wolfgang Droege
. Groups like the Klan, the Heritage Front
and the Church of the Creator
Accusing someone of such a serious charge was not something taken lightly as it often resulted in social marginalization, and could destroy a person's life. It was therefore not done without serious considerations and only with plenty of evidence. A charge of antisemitism was a powerful weapon and a label reserved only for those that truly were dangerous and deserved it.
But something happened. At some point in the mid-80's it became fashionable to label opponents of Israeli policy as antisemitic. Questioning Israeli treatment of Palestinians became antisemitic. Questioning the expense of US financial and military support for Israel became antisemitic. This was done for political reasons, because it was realized that such a powerful accusation would immediately stop debate, as no one but true antisemites would want such a label. So these stances were not about human rights or fiscal prudence anymore (even though that is exactly
what most of them were), they were about hating Jews and being lumped in with neo-Nazis and skinheads.
And this tactic was successful. No one in the US, let alone in government questions whether the billions sent to Israel is money well spent, or whether kidnapping, bulldozing of houses and extra-judicial killings are things that democracies and free societies engage in. To do so makes you a Nazi. Proper, rational and sensible debate was, and still is, stifled and forbidden.
This new political weapon has been used with more frequency and with candor, as recent events in the blogsphere show. A new, McCathyist political correctness has sprung up such that even single sentences, taken out of context and which run counter to thousands of other statements are enough to condemn someone as an antisemite. An accusation of antisemitism is now used to smear political opponents, to gain political advantage for oneself and one's political party and to remove from the debate people or arguments one dislikes.
And that practice is nearly as dangerous as antisemitism itself. When the charge of antisemitism is used so cavalierly and against people who are not antisemitic, the true power and meaning become watered down and lose their meaning. If everyone is antisemetic then who really is? When it becomes so easy to be antisemitic, then the phrase has lost all meaning. And when it loses meaning because of this, it will loose its much vaunted power and it will be ignored. That means that true antisemites will go unnoticed and their views, rather than being properly marginalized, will be associated with the smeared moderates, not the other way around. It will give the antisemite's views power and legitimacy and attract people. Antisemitism will be so misused that it will not matter any longer and perhaps even become acceptable and 'cachet'-politically-incorrect, a point of pride.
That will be the worst tragedy of all because it will empower those that anyone who truly cares about antisemitism are trying to fight, the real antisemites.
Of course, by merely stating this, I will likely be labeled as antisemitic myself.
Never mind 8 years in good standing as a member of the Bloor JCC during the 90's.
Never mind years of fighting the neo-Nazi and far-right resurgence while at Carleton and in while living in Toronto.
Never mind a clear record of standing up for human rights - all human rights - in this very blog and elsewhere.
No, I'll be called an antisemite because of this post.
I'll be called an antisemite because I think that Israel's misadventure in Lebanon last summer was wrong, despite sharing that view with a sizable number of Israeli citizens.
I'll be called an antisemite because I think that if Iran can't have the bomb, then neither should Israel (who has about 400, apparently).
I'll be called an antisemite because I think "the wall" is a gross violation of human rights and international law and is nothing more than a land grab, despite the fact that, again, many Israelis agree, as well as most of the world and the International Court of Justice in the Hague.
Frankly, if I am an antisemite for any of these things, its already too late. If that is the case, we have already disarmed ourselves and the true antisemites have won.
Labels: antisemitism, McCarthyism, witch hunts