In his recent News piece, “Anti-semitism and accusations,” Ian Moreau ’21 implies that anti-Semitism can only exist in untrue remarks, and that statements are only anti-Semitic if they mention Jews outright.
Moreau argues that because there is fundraising involved in advocacy for Israel, it is “utterly ridiculous” for a tweet about it to be anti-Semitic. Did he read the tweet he quoted? Rep. Ilhan Omar’s mocking tone and lack of nuance go beyond a critique of money in politics. She uses an anti-Semitic dog-whistle that a cursory familiarity of anti-Semitism immediately identifies. The effect of Omar’s trope is not “discussing salience,” but silencing. “How are pro-Palestinian activists and politicians supposed to raise their concerns?” Well — with reasoned and sensitive language, and with an understanding that anti-Semitism has a 2,000-year-old legacy, the hallmarks of which should be proactively avoided. It is possible to be critical without coming off as hateful, regardless of intention.
Moreau’s argument that Omar’s remarks cannot be considered anti-Semitic because she did not explicitly mention Jews in them is one of the more outrageous statements to be published in the News during my time at Yale. Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people. She was referencing a Jewish country, Jewish ideas and Jewish bodies. Moreau himself makes the link extremely strong — he writes that because Yale is a university with a “significant Jewish population,” it is the “ideal place … to foster meaningful debate on Israel’s role in the world.” By estimates from the Slifka Center, Yale’s Jewish population this year hovers around 11% of undergraduates, probably equal to, if not smaller, than its share of students with Chinese ancestry. Yet something tells me a call to foster debate about China justified by the ethnicity of an overrepresented demographic of Yale students would not go over as well.
This especially, when Moreau immediately proceeds to warn us (and rightly so!) about implicit Islamophobia. We should be careful when we slap anti-Semitic labels on Muslims without thinking, just as we should be careful when we point to Jewish money (yes, even without calling it Jewish) as the source of our woes. I don’t think I need to include examples of glaring prejudice without overt group-naming. Moreau’s blindness to their potency would not carry over well in most circles at Yale in discussions of racism, sexism, misogyny and as his own article shows — Islamophobia. We all know this. That these progressive standards of language are not carried over to anti-Semitism is concerning.
There are good ways to criticize the Israel lobby. One might be to point out the fact that AIPAC is under the umbrella organization of Christians United for Israel, a group largely defined by biblical fundamentalism — according to LifeWay Research’s 2018 polling, 80% of evangelicals believe that the creation of Israel fulfills a biblical prophecy that bring us closer to Christ’s return. Another way is to talk about Israel’s official and unofficial occupation of Palestinian territory, and the motivations of money in that matter. And if Moreau is so sensitive about financial support, he should apply that same level of scrutiny to terrorists’ financial and organizational involvement in Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), according to a report by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
A decidedly bad way to criticize the Israel lobby is to disqualify a statement as not anti-Semitic after Jews have said that it is. Imagine a classmate using a veiled racial slur against a black student, being chastised for it, and then justifying it: “it wasn’t racist! She didn’t actually say he was black!”
Moreau finishes his confused and derogatory jeremiad with a list of questions. Let’s try to answer the last two. “What language is being used?” Anti-Semitic dog whistles. “Does labeling them as anti-Semitic require the conflation of Israeli policy (or a political group) with Jewish people in general?” No. Things might not be so complicated, after all.
Daniel Kipnis is a senior in Trumbull College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .