| Second Thoughts |

Anti Anti-semitism

I tried to point out — probably without success — the basic irrationality of anti-Jewish prejudice


“With all due respect, I have often wondered why it is that so many Jewish people have been communists.”

This was asked of me in a Q and A session following my speech, some years ago, at the monthly Civitan luncheon in Atlanta. The Civitans are an international group of business and professional leaders who deal with important issues in their local communities. The question — really an old canard — was quite familiar, and I tried to reply as best I could.

Half an hour later, at the close of the session, another questioner asked — again with the ubiquitous and flinch-inducing prologue of all due respect: “I’m not sure if it’s true, but we keep hearing that Jews control the media and the banking system around the world. Is that true?”

The questions were asked deferentially and apologetically, but the echoes of classic anti-Semitic tropes were loud and clear. After trying to respond, I suggested that these two questioners should get together and decide whether Jew are communists or capitalists, for we cannot be both. And I tried to point out — probably without success — the basic irrationality of anti-Jewish prejudice.

This incident underscores the inner contradictions of historic anti- Semitism. Just as some dread diseases have no traceable logic to them, so also anti-Semitism is not a rational phenomenon. It is not merely racial, not merely religious, not merely political. It is all of these in a toxic mixture that is rooted in prehistory, almost as if it were built into the very genes of mankind. This is why the Sages declared that Halachah he, Eisav sonei es Yaakov — It is immutable: Eisav hates Jacob”(c.f. Rashi at Bereishis 33:4).

Jews around the world are these days  experiencing a recrudescence of old-fashioned anti-Semitism — and not just the verbal kind. In New York City, for example, violent anti-Jewish attacks were up 92 percent this year. The American Jewish Committee estimates that one out of every four American Jews has experienced some form of anti- Semitism. Europe is even more troubling. Austria, for example had 965 such incidents in 2021, an increase of 65 percent over 2020, with France and England close behind.

Recognizing the problem, the Biden administration has appointed a highly qualified special “envoy” to address this scourge. She is Professor Deborah Lipstadt of Atlanta’s Emory University, a recognized scholar with a solid background in Judaism and  Shoah studies. She certainly has the credentials to help combat the rising tide of hatred in the US. Whether she can help, no one knows, but the Biden administration made an intelligent appointment .

But in keeping  with the contradictory nature of the disease, this same administration, in an egregiously tone-deaf move, has just appointed an outspoken anti-Semite to be its new press spokesperson — thus  fighting anti-Semitism with one hand, while encouraging it with the other.

The Israeli government, not to be outdone, also appointed a special envoy to fight Jew-hatred. The Israeli choice, Noa Tishby, has an aroma of frivolousness about it. Ms. Tishby is a popular actress and singer, with no background in dealing with profound and complex issues. The Israelis evidently hope that her engaging personality alone will do the job. Foreign Minister Lapid naively declares that she will use a “different approach” since she “uses social media correctly, and speaks today’s language to a younger audience” (Jerusalem Post, April 7, 2022). For Lapid, apparently, the problem is merely a matter of public relations. Good PR can fight the scourge; poor PR will only abet it. It is doubtful that the hatemongers in Hamas will be impressed by Tishby’s social media skills.

Clearly, the hardened Israelis know better than anyone that the sickness of Jew-hatred is far beyond the reach of any envoy. One almost suspects that the appointment of a popular singer to fight it is perhaps an admission — in a wink of macabre humor — that since nothing lasting can be done to fight Jew-hatred , we might as well have some fun while addressing it.

In truth, perhaps the Israelis — even the so-called secular ones — feel in their bones the truth of that comment about Eisav and Jacob. And perhaps deep within they realize that it is because the Jew represents G-dliness, morality, and thou-shalt-nots — which are anathema to the instincts of the world — that the Eisavs of the world wish to eliminate us.

We will fight the poison in our own way, through the antidote of closer connection to G-d and Torah in our personal lives while wishing good fortune to those who strive to fight this deranged, delusional, and dangerous hatred in the public square. Even if they merely help mitigate and reduce Eisav’s violence against Jacob, that too will be dayeinu.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 912)

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