I want to talk about anti-semitism. That’s because I don’t understand it, and I like talking about things I don’t understand, as evidenced by my lecture series “How to Program A Universal Remote Control.”
If you have trouble keeping your bigotries straight, anti-semitic is the one where you hate the Jews. The one where you hate the branch of linguistics concerned with meaning is anti-semantics, and the one where you hate sending messages with flags is anti-semaphore, and both of those are not real things. The term “anti-semitism” was coined in (SURPRISE!) Germany and refers to prejudice against Jewish people, even though the word “Semitic” refers to all the descendants of Shem (son of Noah), not just the Hebrews but Arabs, Babylonians, Assyrians, and so forth.
So there is one thing already that I don’t understand about anti-semitism. You really shouldn’t call yourself anti-semitic unless you hate Phoenicians as much as Jews. The term has been around for a while, though, so I guess it’s too late to revise the definition.
But the main thing about anti-semitism that I don’t understand is how people decide to dislike Jews. With regular old racism, I get it, because there’s a physical component. You can see that someone is different from you, and if you’ve been taught that “different” means inferior, well, there you go. You make your judgment as soon as you see the person. It’s not right, but at least it’s a gut-level reaction. And it’s binary: they’re either OK or they’re not. Granted, some of the more persnickety racists will measure out their contempt for mixed-race people based on what fraction of black they are — thus proving that everything, including racism, can be made worse with math. But never mind them. For the most part, it’s not a case-by-case thing, it’s one or the other, and you know immediately. You’re not going to be friends with a black guy and then, after a year, find out that he’s black.
It’s different with anti-semitism. You don’t necessarily know that a person is Jewish when you meet them, unless they’re doing something obvious like wearing a yarmulke or optioning your screenplay. You could be friends with someone for a long time before discovering he or she is Jewish. I’m always finding out that some acquaintance of mine who I didn’t know was Jewish is Jewish. “Huh!” I say to myself. “How about that!” And the only note I have to add to my mental file for that person is the Hanukkah thing. Everything else stays the same.
But what if finding out that my friend was Jewish meant I had to HATE him from now on?? Yikes! How do you just switch over like that? It seems like it would be a lot of work, mentally, to go through and erase the positive feelings and replace them with “JEW!JEW JEW!” It would be exhausting!
That’s the difficulty of anti-semitism: it requires commitment. There must be times when an anti-semite learns that a friend or acquaintance is Jewish and then has an internal struggle over it, a real crisis of faith.
“Ted? Ted is a Jew? Aw, man. I like that guy! A bunch of us play poker at his house sometimes. Are we sure he’s Jewish? Was his mother Jewish? That’s how it’s transmitted, you know. Through the mother. She is? Both parents? So he’s full-blown Jew. Shoot. Well, maybe he’s an exception. They can’t ALL be bad, one hundred percent of them, realistically. I mean, the white Christian race is superior, but I’m honest enough to admit that some white Christians aren’t that great. Like Kevin Smith. That guy’s a load. Kevin Smith is definitely a worse person than my Jewish friend Ted. As an anti-semite, do I have to loathe and despise Ted just because he’s a filthy Jew, regardless of everything else? I do? Oh, right. That’s sort of the basic principle of being an anti-semite. Well, I don’t like it, but I guess that’s what I signed up for…”
I’m not even sure what it is that we’re not supposed to like about Jewish people. Like I said, at least racism has a visual element, and once you see that someone is black or Asian or whatever, there are plenty of negative stereotypes to look for in them. But all there is for the Jews is that they’re supposedly greedy. They like money. You know who else likes money? Everybody. Literally every person. Oh, Jews will try to get a good deal on something? Try to save money? Try to get more value for their dollar? WHAT MONSTERS.
So I guess my point is, people who hate the Jews probably don’t have a good reason for it, so I hope they stop doing it. The end.
(For the record, I am not Jewish. People have told me that they thought I was Jewish, but I think the word they were looking for was “sarcastic.”)