Recently, I participated in a Herculean battle unlike any other, filled with tears and copious amounts of coffee. It was a momentous occasion in history — it was a Facebook fight. The subject: white and Jewish men fetishizing Asian women. The opponent: a Jewish man claiming that such an accusation is anti-Semitic in order to absolve himself of any criticism tangentially relating to Judaism.
This Facebook fight prompted me to think about all the times I’ve witnessed careless accusations of “anti-Semitism.” When people throw that term around loosely, they trivialize the historical context and odiousness of the word. Just because the person being criticized is Jewish doesn’t automatically mean that the criticism is itself anti-Semitic. The underlying assumption of such a claim is that the behavior being criticized is “Jewish” behavior.
With fallacious accusations of anti-Semitism, the individuals claim to be oppressed, hiding behind a veil of victimhood to avoid acknowledging their own problematic behavior. If you’re a Jewish person being insulted, ask yourself — is this an anti-Semitic insult or genuine criticism? If you victimize yourself behind the guise of anti-Jewish rhetoric, you make the erroneous claim that your action being criticized is a fundamental Jewish trait. One may imply by this faulty self-defensive mechanism that their action is fundamentally representative of Judaism if they defend themselves by saying criticism of said action is anti-Jewish.
The Jews are no strangers to oppression. After terrible atrocities such as pogroms, the Holocaust and an endless amount of anti-Semitic-fueled rhetoric, it’s understandable to be wary about perceived attacks to your identity. But mentioning the Holocaust whenever you get offended by a person’s judgment of you only serves to undermine the actual horror of the Holocaust. It also demonstrates that you’re willing to wield one of the worst events in history to further your own agenda and excuse personal flaws. Yes, the Holocaust was one of the worst manifestations of brutality and inhumanity in history. Nobody denies that (except actual Holocaust deniers, of which there are many). But you can acknowledge the horror of anti-Semitism without using it to excuse your actions. You don’t get a free pass to act like an awful human being because your people have historically faced oppression and discrimination.
These accusations demonstrate a lack of critical thinking and self-reflection — two pivotal, intrinsic characteristics valued by Judaism. As a woman who has had family perish in the Holocaust, it is deeply, deeply offensive when you use this trauma of violent anti-Semitism as a get-out-of-jail-free card without having personally been impacted, or when it’s irrelevant. The Holocaust’s impacts are still felt today with modern anti-Semitism. This type of reasoning is a classic case of the logic fallacy. You’re not refuting the charge being put against you, but it’s a charge of anti-Semitism so that you don’t have to acknowledge the true topic at hand.
Exploiting the true obscenities that have befallen the Jewish people is one of the most offensive things a person can do. To do so goes against Jewish values and character. Too often, people play among past wrongdoings in a misguided attempt to absolve themselves of any current guilt or blame. It’s all the more problematic when a Jewish person does it to themselves, and thus, other Jews. When you’re part of a small population (less than 0.2 percent of the world), your sole actions can, unfortunately, reflect badly on all members of the group.
We must own up to our own individual faults; that’s how we grow. The past horrors committed against the Jewish people aren’t your accessories or your excuses. Exploiting these atrocities to excuse negative behavior disrespects Jewish principles and dishonors those whose lives were lost during the Holocaust. This behavior must stop, or we may give rise to a future where the true horror of anti-Semitism goes ignored.
Melody Niv writes the Monday blog on her experience as a Jewish and Israeli-American. Contact her at [email protected] .