Yes, it’s anti-Semitism: Jeff Jacoby’s column of 1/7/08.

Background.  Jeff Jacoby recognizes that criticizing Israel does not make you anti-Semitic.  But he argues that those who do not believe in Israel’s right to exist are anti-Semitic.  (link to his column)

Dear Jeff,

There is little doubt that the anti-Israel people quoted in your column are anti-Semitic. In principle, I could argue that there are some people who are anti-Zionist but not anti-Semitic. (Actually, the only such person who comes to mind is Noam Chomsky.)  But instead, I will raise a different question.  Why does it matter?  I raise this question knowing full well that it matters deeply.

I think it has to do in large part with our casual acceptance of many kinds of prejudices, whereas some prejudices are considered unacceptable.  As an example of a casual acceptance of prejudice, many otherwise civilized Bostonians think it acceptable to say “Yankees suck” and refer to the Yankees as “the evil empire.”  In fact, Bostonians view it as a type of civic pride.

But other prejudices are not acceptable.  So, many people label their political opponents with labels that have a strongly negative connotation.

1.    Those who are against Israel’s right to exist are labeled as anti-Semitic. Those who are against Hamas’s right to rule Gaza are labeled as anti-Democratic.  (Actually, they are often labeled as Zionist pigs, thus supporting Jacoby’s original point).

2.    Those against gay marriage are labeled as homophobic.  Those in favor of gay marriage are labeled as anti-family.

3.    Those against a woman’s right to choose whether to have an abortion are labeled as sexist.  Those in favor of a woman’s right to choose are labeled as murderers. (The pro-life advocates won in the “label war” even if I disagree with their premise and their conclusions.)

4.    Those against affirmative action are labeled as racist and sexist.  Those in favor of affirmative action are often accused of supporting reverse-racism.

5.    Republicans labeled Obama as a socialist for wanting to reduce taxes on the middle class and raise taxes by a modest amount on those making over $200,000.  (This label didn’t even make any sense.)

6.    Those who opposed Bush’s going to war in Iraq in 2003 were often labeled as anti-American. The same people today are labeled as prescient.  (Truth in advertising:  I was against the war in 2003).

I prefer debate to be civil, and that we use labels very judiciously so as to keep the terms more meaningful.  Perhaps some will disagree with me.  They may argue that politics is a “contact sport” and as such the use of labels is appropriate and effective.  In that case, they should feel free to label me as a “wishful dreamer.”    

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4 Responses to “Yes, it’s anti-Semitism: Jeff Jacoby’s column of 1/7/08.”

  1. JN Says:

    Jim,

    I am thoroughly enjoying your new blog. And I do appreciate the format of responses to Mr. Jacoby. However, the higher thoughtfulness and precision of your responses makes me wonder whether Mr. Jacoby’s writings are indeed worthy of such attention.

    Best regards.

  2. Evan Says:

    Call me anti-Semite but I believe what is happening now in Gaza is a massacre. No different that Darfur

    • jimorlin Says:

      Evan, I think you understood Jeff Jacoby’s point, but missed mine. But you indirectly (and ironically) supported my main point that labels are not helpful, in part by making an overly simplistic comparison, thus providing your own label.

  3. Evan Says:

    Hi Professor, I read your post in the morning, I also believe when people start labeling others they stop the dialogue and the rational conversation ends at that point, I believe that Israel is the only democratic government in that region but as a free person I cannot ignore what is happening now, Israel is just making enemies for itself.

    And political correctness is killing this country. and in fact people try to be ignorant in order to stay politically correct

    Anyways, I love your book its a great source for me. Thanks a lot

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