Josh's work is invaluable. But Rabbi Baird's article is deeply patronizing and spectacularly superficial in its analysis of what both anti-Semitism and "philo-Semitism" mean. His promotion of it is thus deeply disappointing, as it betrays an exceptionally thin notion of what anti-Semitism means that is, in my view, deeply damaging to the project of Jewish equality and part of a broader, poisonous intellectual trend which does not apply the same standards to anti-Semitism as it does to any other "-ism".
Rabbi Baird alleges that the Jewish community's "anti-Semitism education machine" has effectively brainwashed American Jews (or at least tried to) into believing that Jews are a hated, despised minority in this country. But really, survey data demonstrates that most Americans have rather warm, fuzzy feelings towards American Jews. Consequently, we should understand that anti-Semitism in the United States as a serious social or political influence is mostly a dead letter, and we should concentrate on (a) threats from abroad (which Rabbi Baird concedes still exist), (b) managing our internal affairs (such as dealing with intermarriage and decreased Jewish commitment among younger Jews), and (c) doing "more to help others who are not yet accepted in America."
I don't dispute the survey data. I agree entirely that most Americans have warm feelings towards Jews, and that those feelings are perfectly genuine -- the respondents aren't just lying to pollsters because they're embarrassed to admit that they're secret anti-Semites. And I agree that this is certainly significant -- it's obviously better for any minority group for the majority to think positively of them rather than negatively.
Nonetheless, I don't think this establishes that America is "philo-Semitic" in any robust sense. By "philo-Semitic", I mean a polity that respects Jews qua Jews, particularly, one that respects Jewish difference. Anybody can be friends with someone with whom they share common needs and convergent interests. The true test of equality is whether a group has a right to be different, to have divergent interests, to stake out positions independent of the majority and chart paths others do not wish to explore. Jews share some things in common with the dominant social castes in our society, and along other axes, we're different. A philo-Semitic polity would respect our right to be different, and acknowledge the Jewish voice (as well as other voices) as an independent and valuable contributor in crafting the American nomos.
The survey Rabbi Baird cites is perfectly consistent with my belief that Jews are not respected in this way. Rather, Jews are respected as "Judeo-Christian"; as some sort of subset of the Christian majority, and not as independent actors. A truly differentiated Jewish voice, one that speaks as Jews and is clear and unapologetic about where it differs from Christians and Christianity, has very little presence in the public life. And many of those who consider themselves (and genuinely believe themselves) to be great friends of the Jews are actively patronizing to these assertions of Jewish independence. What we see is not philo-Semitism is that is meant as genuine respect for Jews as equal human beings. What we're seeing is instead the imposition of brute political influence to define the problem out of existence without having to do anything so messy as actually listen to Jewish qua Jewish perspectives.
Before I turn to that case, though, I want to provide some background which will help illuminate some objections I have towards Rabbi Baird's piece. I'm informed here by my main academic focus on anti-racism work in America. There is a lot of scholarship on what it means to oppose racism, less on what it means to oppose anti-Semitism, and almost no cross-pollination between the two fields. The idea that the mechanics of anti-Semitism discourse in America differ in any meaningful sense from racism discourse appears to be universally held, and for the life of me I can't fathom the foundation for it.
First, my background in anti-racism work and the way racism is operationalized in American society makes me extraordinarily suspicious of claims of excessive "card playing" by minority groups. The "race card" is topped by the "'race card' card"; the "anti-Semitism card" is typically trumped by the "'anti-Semitism card' card". The degree to which Jews actually allege "anti-Semitism" is wildly overstated compared to the amount of times it actually happens, and -- as everyone who has been trying in vain to get Fox to pay attention to Glenn Beck's naked anti-Semitism has found out -- the mythos that anti-Semitism is an accusation that can't be ignored and can't be defended against likewise is greatly exaggerated. The main function of this mythology is not to open space for criticizing Jewish institutions (like Israel), but rather to rationalize refusing to listen to Jewish complaints regardless of their validity -- a threshold barrier that indicts and dismisses any claim of anti-Semitism prior to assessing the merits (see also).
I really would like to see some empirical work done on the relative tendency of American Jews to call things anti-Semitic -- how often and what does and doesn't get the label -- rather than have to listen again and again to vapid conventional wisdom that simply assumes an epidemic that I don't think exists. Frankly, I've seen this argument raised too often, with too little hard evidence, in too many contexts for me to take it seriously as anything but concern-trolling.
I mentioned I found Rabbi Baird to be tremendously patronizing, and this is the first dimension that explains why -- lectures to minority groups (whether delivered by a Jew or not, delivered by a person of color or not) about how they're really just imagining their victimization, that they're more or less brainwashed by a culture of victimology that doesn't let them see that hey, everything's equal now -- is Exhibit A in how racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, or any other -ism is marginalized and erased. Yes, it's possible that the Jewish community has a mass communal psychosis. Or it's possible that we have something worth saying that other people ought to listen to, even where it can't be choately expressed. This is anti-racism 101, and it's about time it became anti-anti-Semitism 101 too.
Second, also flowing out of my work in anti-racism circles, is the premise that personal attitudes are the primary, if not solitary, relevant question regarding whether racism or anti-Semitism exists or not. If a person genuinely feels that they're a-okay with Jews or friendly towards Black people, then case closed. It is, in the immortal words of Kimberle Crenshaw, declaring the end of racism "by proclamation alone."
This presupposition is deeply problematic. For starters, it's nearly unfalsifiable -- we have very few ways of gaining insight into what anyone truly believes in their heart of hearts. Anyone can claim to be philo-Semitic -- I mean, Helen Thomas is still insistently telling everyone how much she loves Jews. But putting that aside, the bigger problem is that framing the question this way entirely cedes what is due to Jews to whatever Christians think is their due. If Christians think they're treating Jews fairly, then, ipso facto, Jews are being treated fairly. And why should I make that concession? Why is Jewish equality defined by non-Jews? They had the power to tell us why we were inferior, and now they get the authority to tell us that we're equal? Bullshit. It's epistemically precarious (non-Jews are considerably less likely to know what Jews need in order for us to be truly equal than Jews are) and politically reactionary (reinscribing the same old power arrangements whereby the conditions of Jewish life are set by and for the non-Jewish majority).
Again, the point isn't to say that all these people who say they're friends of Jews are lying -- as I said, I think the survey respondents are answering honestly. The point is that what's being measured isn't any sort of genuine encounter with Jewish lives and experience; what's being measured is how well Christians stack up against a metric they themselves created -- one that may bear little, if any, resemblance to what Jews think constitutes equal respect and equal dignity. That's the question that we should be exploring, and that's the one Rabbi Baird resolutely ignores -- or worse, declares we have no right to ask at all.
Third, insights from the burgeoning literature on the psychology of prejudice (note that while most of this research has been done regarding race, I don't see any reason why it wouldn't apply with equal force to anti-Semitism) should make us appropriately skeptical that conscious attitudes represent the totality of relevant information regarding personal prejudice. Much the opposite: what we've discovered is that the "American dilemma" -- a strong commitment to liberal egalitarianism, paired with deeply ingrained prejudicial biases -- leads to the conscious suppression of these attitudes, which then reemerge as subconscious bias. Moreover, as Jon and Kathleen Hansen have documented, while people "crave justice", they satisfy this craving by the path of least resistance -- which often means simply redefining an unjust state of affairs as just. We should expect, then, that given the choice between a deep, wide-encompassing reckoning with Jewish experiences that might require a substantial and painful reassessment of a bevy of social arrangements and political priors, and simply using their overwhelming political and social dominance to decide that they're already good friends of the Jews, the American Christian community will choose the latter.
These observations interlock with each other to provide a cohesive and coherent explanation for how genuine positive views about Jews can coexist with a social structure that is not remotely philo-Semitic at all. The liberal consensus against anti-Semitism means that everybody needs to craft a self-image that is not anti-Semitic. The assumption that anti-Semitism is only "in the heart" means that it is a concept primarily in control of non-Jews, who, consistent with the desire to not view themselves as anti-Semitic, have every incentive to define anti-Semitism narrowly and, more importantly, in such a way so that it doesn't touch on any beliefs or principles that they actually care about -- the aforementioned path of least resistance. Finally, in order to complete the moral cleansing, it is necessary to excise the residual "anti-Semitism talk", that is, the discourses which make it seem like anti-Semitism is and remains a serious problem (which would destabilize the notion that it is something we really have overcome). It is notable, then, that the one anti-Semitic stereotype that retains quite a bit of vitality in American social and political discourse is the one Rabbi Baird himself invokes -- that Jews are too quick to claim things are anti-Semitic when they're not, that the accusation of anti-Semitism is typically abused, and that the belief that anti-Semitism remains a problem is nothing more than the product of Jewish brainwashing and victim-mongering.
There's plenty of evidence, not the least of which is the survey cited by Rabbi Baird, that indicates positive feelings towards Jews. Is there significant evidence demonstrate actual philo-Semitism in the sense I described it above -- as willingness to hear a Jewish voice that diverges from what one is already telling oneself about what justice means, what a good foreign policy is, what a moral America represents? I think the answer is: clearly not.
Consider the infamous J.D. Hayworth incident, where the (non-Jewish) Hayworth had a staffer tell a synagogue that Hayworth was, in fact, a better and more observant Jew than they were. When the congregation walked out in protest, another Hayworth flack declared "no wonder their are anti-Semites!" What moves are being made here? Obviously, Hayworth and his staffers don't think being Jewish is a bad thing -- they're identifying with it. But they're defining "Jewish" in a way that obviously bears no resemblance to how Jews define themselves, but instead is coterminous with how Hayworth sees himself already. And so Hayworth's observant Christianity in facts makes him a better Jew than the Jews. And when Jews try to protest this arrangement -- try to restate a Jewish identity independent of Hayworth's appropriation -- that's, we're told, the cause of anti-Semitism. Jews are okay so long as Jews are tamed and turned into, in the words of Stephen Feldman, "a quirky Protestant sect". If they try to assert their autonomy, then danger strikes.
What happened to Hayworth's audience has happened to me as well. Perhaps Josh has had the experience of being told by a non-Jewish interlocutor that some position I take -- some fundamentally Jewish position I take -- on abortion, or Israel, or the rights of religious minorities -- makes me a bad Jew. I've had a Christian commenter ask wonderously why, in her view, so many Jews didn't see that the Republican Party was the real "pro-Israel party"? She definitely believed herself a friend of the Jews; she just thought we were all delusional (much like Rabbi Baird, apparently she thought we'd been brainwashed). Nonetheless, I stand by my response to her -- the fact that the bulk of the Jewish community appears to have a different conception of what "pro-Israel" means than that held by Mike Huckabee should by all rights be a sign for Huckabee to reassess. Instead, it's a sign of Jewish pathology. Jews differ from what non-Jews construct as philo-Semitism, and so Jews are marginalized.
Socially speaking, this is most prominently instantiated by the "Judeo-Christian" dynamic, whereby Jews are included by name but excluded in every other respect. As I have previously argued:
“Judeo-Christian”, of course, is a nonsense phrase that is 100% Christian and, where it does happen to overlap with Jewish perspectives, does so completely by accident. And where Jewish ideology clashes even a little bit with Christian hegemony, it is immediately jettisoned from the pantheon. So we get Katherine Harris telling folks that adhering to “Judeo-Christian values” means only electing Christian legislators (presumably, not Jews), and Duncan Hunter explaining that the reason Israel can have gay soldiers but America can’t is because the latter’s combat troops have, you guessed it, “Judeo-Christian values.”
I noted in that post that the dynamic bears disturbing overtones of Christian (and Enlightenment Liberal) supersessionist ideology. But here the point is more basic -- the rhetoric of "Judeo-Christianity" is an integral part of the system of Jewish silencing whereby Jews, having already been "spoken for", are deprived of the opportunity to speak with their own voice. It maintains Christian control over the content of Judaism, preventing any autonomous Jewish existence that might challenge Christian self-image as "friend of the Jews".
I don't want to act like this a problem only of the right. The left does much the same thing. In crafting its Church policy on Israel the Presbyterian Church went out of its way to engage only with those Jewish groups that it viewed as already amenable to its political priors. It was a massive expression of Christian arrogance towards the Jewish community -- that it, not we, gets to decide who to talk to, what to talk about, and what the contours of the discussion will be. I think that the BDS wing of the anti-Israel left is infected with this sort of logic -- instead of grappling with Jews qua Jews and the Jewish community as a whole, they take a few "good Jews" as inoculation against the idea that there is possibly anything for them to talk about or think about with respect to how their politics intersect with an egalitarian treatment of the Jewish community.
Christine Littleton once defined the feminist method as starting "with the very radical act of taking women seriously, believing that what we say about ourselves and our experience is important and valid, even when (or perhaps especially when) it has little or no relationship to what has been or is being said about us." I used that quote as part of the close to my series on anti-Semitism because I think it says something very important, particularly with respect to articles like Rabbi Baird's, which starts with the very reactionary act of assuring his audience not to take Jews seriously, to ignore what we say about ourselves and how we describe our experience as irrelevant in the face of what others say about us. But Philo-Semitism isn't about what Christians say about us. It's about whether they listen to us, not just when we agree, but also (and especially) where we disagree and demand changes.
As I alluded to above, I don't measure my equality based on some stylized thermostat of what feelings other people have in their heart. I measure it based on whether I feel like I have the right to present my own perspective as a Jew and have it be listened to, even when what I say isn't what non-Jews want to hear from me. I want to be able to tell people that radical anti-choice politics bear no relationship to how the Talmud treats the issue of abortion, that my synagogue would happily perform a gay marriage, that declaring America a "Christian nation" whose schools should teach Christianity is profoundly anti-Semitic, and that promoting radical Israeli settlers who demonize Palestinians and would see Israel destroyed is offensive to my faith -- and have them listen. I want to be able to tell people that we have the right to communal autonomy, that while Jews predominantly opposed the Iraq War we also had the same right as anyone else to support or even cheerlead for it, that universalism is not a panacea for anti-Semitism or any other oppression, that our faith should be judged based on what our faith does, not on some generic skepticism towards "faith" -- and have them listen.
And I don't feel that way. I believe that when I speak as a Jew (as opposed to "as a liberal" or "as a man" or "as a scholar on race" or as nearly any other identity I possess), and I say things that don't cohere to how others think Jews should think, I'm systematically ignored and shunted aside by audiences that are, I suspect, universally comprised of persons who think themselves quite friendly towards Jews. I found Rabbi Baird's article to be profoundly disrespectful of huge swaths of the Jewish community who don't think that all we have the right to ask of Christians is that they no longer harbor a conscious wish for our demise. The love that Rabbi Baird identifies is not a love that interests me, because it isn't born out of any respect for Jews qua Jews, for Jews as a group with independent desires, politics, dreams, and aspirations.
In the immortal framing of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Rabbi Baird is granting "cheap grace" to the Gentile public -- an easy absolution for what should be hard work. Equality is hard, it isn't simply the exorcism of negative thoughts and impure hearts. It entails costs. It entails listening. It entails letting groups that historically have had little control over their fate space to chart their own destiny, and entails a willingness sometimes to give up the privilege of saying "no". That is not something that can be measured by any thermometer. That is true love of an equal, and it's costly, and difficult, and unlikely to come easy. But I know when I see it, and I have faith in my coreligionists that they'll do the same.