Thoughtful Revolution

…Thanks, but No Thanks

Even putting aside the fallacious arguments of the article itself — and I’m not even going to go there — you can’t help but be shocked by this now-infamous editorial in the South Carolina paper Times and Democrat. On Sunday, a pair of South Carolina Republican county chairmen wrote in to the T&D to defend Sen. Jim DeMint (R-SC)’s disdain for earmarks; they began with this statement:

“There is a saying that the Jews who are wealthy got that way not by watching dollars, but instead by taking care of the pennies and the dollars taking care of themselves. By not using earmarks to fund projects for South Carolina and instead using actual bills, DeMint is watching our nation’s pennies and trying to preserve our country’s wealth and our economy’s viability to give all an opportunity to succeed.”

To this I can only say: Are you serious?

The potential danger in the use of this stereotype (even — or especially — when labeled a “compliment,” as the writers did when questioned) needs not be enumerated here; I trust that readers are aware of the possible corollaries and consequences of such a view, and aware that it is, no matter how veiled in “complimentary” rhetoric, anti-Semitic.  What I find disheartening is the pervasiveness, even now, of such anti-Semitic views in American society.

I’m not talking about the logically dubious but oft-circulated idea of a “New Antisemitism,” generally defined as an exponentially growing trend of widespread anti-Semitism hidden behind criticism of Israel; likewise, I’m not talking about “the self-hating Jew,” a concept that I believe mostly operates as a popular, casually misdirected rhetorical device.  No, I’m talking about hatred that is not new but persistent, that may be better-veiled but bases itself around the same bigoted, irrational, rancid myths and attitudes that have fueled anti-Semitism since time immemorial.  I’m talking about assertions that “the Jews” (or their stand-ins in mainstream publications, the “New York/San Francisco/Hollywood elite,” inevitably represented by Harvey Weinstein or Woody Allen) control the media, or entertainment, or politics, or the financial sphere.  I’m talking about absurd but not terribly rare conspiracy theories blaming everything from 9/11 to the war in Iraq to the recession on Jews, expressed in a less obvious form by a certain undue fascination with relatively minor — but Jewish — politicians.  I’m talking about the exclusive focus on the Madoff scandal amidst a culture chock-full of corporate embezzlement and greed; I’m talking about the reaction to that scandal, including a sadistic, frankly flabbergasting feature in the Post that invited readers to submit suggestions on how best to punish Madoff.  And I don’t think any of this is new — on the contrary, it’s a 21st-century carbon copy of attitudes that have never been absent from American society — but it shocks me that, even now, it can be so ever-present.

As for solutions, I have no easy ones.  Thought patterns as deeply ingrained into the fabric of a society as anti-Semitism (or racism, or sexism, or any other form of bigotry) are difficult to alter, and certainly can’t be altered by a rallying cry at the end of a blog post.  But I do think it’s important to be conscious of anti-Semitism, to — as with any other prejudice — examine which thoughts, words and actions of ours might reflect it, and try, in whatever ways possible, to counteract it.  That’s abstract and self-explanatory, but it’s all I can give.  And it applies not only to individuals (though individuals cannot be exonerated) but to news sources, publishers, etc.

Thankfully, the gentlemen from South Carolina have just gotten a quick, simple, and very harsh bit of consciousness-raising.  Perhaps, in the future, they will understand that blanket statements are nearly always ill-advised and indicative of broader prejudice.  Perhaps, too, they will have learned not to be freaking idiots — though I wouldn’t place any bets.


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