Monday, May 11, 2020

Are We Back To This Again?

Tablet Magazine has a new 2,500 word essay comparing the antisemitic dangers of Black Nationalism to that of White Supremacy.

Is it novel? No. It's the same basic set of arguments about Black antisemitism everyone in the Jewish community has heard (and heard, and heard) approximately infinity times since 2015. It contributes absolutely nothing new to the topic. Misty-eyed reminiscence on (now more than a half-century old) Jewish contributions to the Civil Rights movement? Check. Cherry-picked anecdotes of a few hateful college lectures decades in the past? Check. Earnest equivalence between these lectures and Tiki Marchers in Charlottesville? Check. The only thing surprising about it is that Liel Leibovitz wasn't the author.

Is it timely? No. There's no effort to provide any serious topical hook; there's nothing in the news cycle that appears to have prompted it. It comes effectively out of nowhere. At least when I wrote about Tony Martin (a) it was prompted by a personal experience and (b) he hadn't been dead for seven years. This feels like someone just really missed the good old days where one could publish a "Black antisemitism -- the new threat to the Jews!" column every week. Some people miss the normalcy of going to the gym; some miss the normalcy of obsessing over Black antisemitism. To-may-to to-mah-to.

Is it good? No. It is absolutely possible to write a good piece about Black antisemitism. Adam Serwer had a great one in The Atlantic. And I'd be fascinated to hear Michael Twitty more fully speak on the dynamic he encountered here, if he were so inclined. But the hallmark of a bad piece on Black antisemitism is when it acts as if Black antisemitism drives the broader antisemitic environment Jews face on a global level. The shoals to avoid are very similar to those if one writes on "Jewish Racism" (and indeed, on my desk I have a book titled Black Anti-Semitism and Jewish Racism). Are there important things to say on the subject? Yes, absolutely. But there's a huge difference between noting that there are Jews who are racist and writing as if Jewish racism drives contemporary racism (in the U.S. or globally) on a level that is at par with or exceeds White supremacy. The latter is what crosses into antisemitic territory.

And indeed, ironically this is often exactly the sin that exemplifies how some Black nationalists cross into antisemitic territory -- they present Jews as at the center of or guiding the practice of racism in America. The problem isn't that there aren't Jews who are racist, the problem is presenting that iteration of racism in a fashion wholly out of proportion to its actually tangible impact. Yet that lesson somehow is lost when running yet another "Black antisemitism is just as central as White supremacy" column.

How does an essay like this get published? It's not that it's the worst thing Tablet has ever run (my podium for that event would probably include Anna Breslaw's "Nazis were right: Some of us are Jewshit", Alexander Zubatov's defense of the "Cultural Marxism" slur, and this Leibovitz classic), but it is one of the more pointless. It's not original, it's not timely, it's not prompted by anything, it's just -- there. Gratuitously stirring up trouble for no reason other than it can.

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