In a post this weekend, I inquired as to how I ought to raise the issue of anti-Semitism in discussions about Israel, or religious liberty, or Jews in general. Since on the one hand so many people seem to believe that the issue is raised as a distraction or canard, and on the other hand it's clearly a very important topic that needs to be investigated thoroughly, attempting to set some ground rules seemed like a good idea.
But upon further reflection, I feel like I was missing something important. The assumption behind my "how would you like me to raise it" is that there is a split between the substantive merits of the claim "that is anti-Semitic" (or "there is an issue of anti-Semitism that needs to be discussed"), and procedure by which it is raised. I still think that's true, but now I also think there seems to be a third angle: who is allowed to raise the issue of anti-Semitism? My intuition is that much of the reaction I've experienced in trying to raise the issue of anti-Semitism doesn't come because I've used the wrong words or timing. Rather, it's due to an entrenched belief that Jews don't have the right to raise the issue at all -- we are marked and tainted by our Jewishness, and are not objective arbiters.
The cynical person, after all, who thinks that anti-Semitism is a serious problem would likely believe that the refusal to consider anti-Semitism is evidence that the objectors do not care much about anti-Semitism at all. But that doesn't seem quite right to me. If they didn't care, they wouldn't have a reaction upon being called (or feeling like they're being called, or being within a mile of being called) anti-Semitic. On the fringes, you do get people who are either proudly anti-Semitic, or say things like "given the scope of Jewish power, it's reasonable and necessary to be a little anti-Semitic." But most people are not like that. Most people seem to vest a considerable amount of weight in their self and social perception as not anti-Semites.
From this framework, people create rules of discourse which help regulate which claims of anti-Semitism are considered to be worthy of response. An effective way to manage one's own image (to oneself and to society) on the anti-Semitism issue is to derail, prior to the merits, as many threatening accusations of anti-Semitism as possible. One way of doing that is via the procedural objection -- the anti-Semitism charge is being raised in bad faith, or at an inappropriate time in the conversation. Another is by challenging the party raising the claim. Since Jews are presumably the most attuned to anti-Semitism and most likely to feel its effects, a facial rule discounting Jewish claims of anti-Semitism yields great benefits to the Gentile population which does not want it to be seen or see itself as anti-Semitic.
This framework, I think, helps elucidate a continuum of responses that one sees from people who are charged with anti-Semitism, or racism, for that matter. On one end of the continuum are those who take the charge to be one which must be grappled with seriously. That doesn't mean they ultimately agree, or immediately acquiesce, it just means they recognize the right of the speaker to bring the charge and the correspondent duty to engage it. Some liberal minded White people, upon being called racist (or any other permutation -- asked to discuss racism, told there are racist implications to an issue area) by a person of color, react this way. I suspect a somewhat higher proportion would react this way if racism is brought up by a White person, but still a minority.
In the middle is the defensive reaction. Defensiveness is a mixture of guilt and dismissal. The guilt stems from the belief that the speaker has a right to bring the charge. The dismissal, though, is a denial of the duty to engage -- presumably based on a claim of epistemic superiority: I know I'm not anti-Semitic, so I have no need to grapple with your argument saying it's an issue in our interaction. While it recognizes, at some level, that it is meaningful that the charge has been brought (hence the guilt), it does not extend beyond that. Rather, the objection is procedural, claiming fault with the form or method or sufficiency of the instigating event, derailing the discussion before reaching the merits: "You have not (and probably cannot) show what I think is necessary to be shown before I will engage the topic of racism. So I won't, and don't have to." Most liberal Whites, and some conservative ones, respond this way to racism charges. Some Gentiles (of all political stripes) also respond this way to anti-Semitism charges.
Finally, at the other end of the spectrum is the disdainful reaction. Disdain mixes contempt with dismissal. The contempt comes from the idea that the speaker is for some reason, e.g., social position, barred from making the claim in the first place. The allegation of "the race card" is an expression of contempt by people who do not recognize in the first instance that Blacks have a right to talk about racism. The dismissal works the same way as above -- knowing oneself, there is no need to engage in what anyone else (certainly, any minority) has to say on the subject. Most conservatives respond to race charges in this way. It is also my experience that many Gentiles react this way when Jews bring up anti-Semitism. They don't look guilty, they look disdainful: "Oh, there they go again."
Some folks have tried to get me to admit that anti-Semitism is worse on the left than on the right. That has not been my experience. Rather, my experience is that both leftward and rightward responses to my talk on anti-Semitism has come with disdain. Conservatives are no more likely than liberals to react thoughtfully (or hell, even guiltily) when a Jewish interlocutor notes anti-Semitic implications in their argument. Sometimes, if you hit at just the right moment, you can get them to skip a beat, but that's usually about it. And I genuinely do not think that there is that same resistance to the claim from Christian speakers. A Jew who goes to a Evangelical congregation and says "they way you treat us and talk about us is wrong and hateful" isn't going to be taken seriously. A fellow member of evangelical community will. A mainstream Christian, I believe, is more likely to listen to an atheist or Hindu critic on the subject than he is a Jew.
So, for the most part, neither camp recognizes the right of Jews to speak on the issue. Neither sees the Jewish view as one with which they need to engage, and neither even feels particularly bad when faced with the knowledge that the Jewish community finds them hostile to their interests and liberation. Both make noises about how they're really all about helping and supporting everybody, and thus are bona fide friends of the Jews. But neither wants to hear nor cares about the Jewish perspective on what being our friend means -- indeed, they think our views on the subject are fatally defective and thus can be dismissed on face. As far as I'm concerned, then, the methodology of silencing is essentially identical on both sides. The first step towards remedy is a stated recognition that Jews have the right to raise the issue of anti-Semitism, at our discretion, and command the right to engagement on it. As I noted, that doesn't require capitulation. It does require a serious effort to figure out where we're coming from and understanding our argument.