Tuesday, October 4, 2022 -
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What is ‘anti-Semitic’?

Is all bigotry against Jews anti-Semitism? 
Last week, Deborah Lipstadt, the newly appointed Special Envoy for Anti-Semitism, tweeted that an attack by haredi Jews on Bar and Bat Mitzvah ceremonies in the egalitarian section of the Kotel were anti-Semitic.

Former US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman replied that while the attack was hateful and disturbing, Lipstadt should focus on external threats, not internal problems.

If Jews are attacked, is it by definition anti-Semitic?

In the case of the Kotel, if one looks at it objectively, it appears so. The worshippers are targeted because of their Jewish identity, their religious objects physically assaulted and anti-Semitic slurs yelled at them.

Today, the topic of Jewish anti-Semitism most frequently centers around anti-Zionist Jews who advocate for the elimination of Israel. Enough anti-Zionist activity overlaps with outright anti-Semitism that many, including the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, see anti-Zionism as anti-Jewish.

Would that mean Jewish anti-Zionist activists are anti-Semitic?

To some, the suggestion seems absurd — and offensive. Others might call them self-loathing Jews, a concept that is neither new nor unique to Jews. Every minority group has members who ingest the bigotry against them to the point where they despise their own people. There’s usually a social nuance to this, a desire for acceptance into the dominant social group.

What came to my mind was the infighting addressed in Der jüdische Selbsthass, a treatise by Theodor Lessing that explored tensions between German Jews and so-called Ostjuden, religious Eastern European Jews.

Their outward religious identity grated for German Jews who prided themselves on assimilating into mainstream society.

This wasn’t just European. The pages of the IJN’s predecessor, The Jewish Outlook, are filled with screeds against Ostjuden. The Jewish Consumptives Relief Society was founded to serve Orthodox Jewish patients who couldn’t access National Jewish Hospital. The tension between the communities was deep.

But it feels very wrong to suggest that Rabbi William Friedman, author of many of these screeds, was anti-Semitic. He counseled, shepherded and inspired large numbers of Denver Jews, my grandmother and great-grandparents among them, and was instrumental in establishing Jewish life in this city.

Jews who lash out at co-religionists may hate elements of the other’s Judaism — and such violence, physical or verbal, must be condemned — but they don’t hate Jews as an entity. For me, that’s essential to labeling someone “anti-Semitic.”

Shana Goldberg must be reached at shana@ijn.com

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IJN Assistant Publisher | shana@ijn.com


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