How do you respond to the horrific, violent crimes committed in Paris last week? All of us are asking this question, and not a few are willingly answering. The “variety” of answers is unsurprising. The Right is blaming Obama, and The Left is blaming white privilege. Some are responding with prayers and humanity, while others are responding with xenophobia and war mongering. Among these obvious, knee-jerk reactions was one other, which took less than three days to emerge. According to The Right AND The Left, the group truly to blame, the “real” authors of terror is The Jews! To be specific, The International Zionist Conspiracy.
Of course, this is simply de rigueur. No anti-Semite worth his salt would let an opportunity like this to inject more hate into an international tragedy already fraught with ethnic, racial, and religious tensions pass without stretching frayed nerves just a little more.
As a Jew, I am not surprised that anti-Semitism is one of the reactions to a night of unspeakable terror (I am, however, surprised it took so long). As a Jew, I am used to this. As Jews, we are used to this. As Jews, this has been our experience for over four thousand years. When pundits, experts, and politicians claim that Israel committed the atrocities in Paris last Friday night in order to incite Islamophobia across Europe or blame Jews for the deplorable economic conditions throughout the Arab world which leaves young, disillusioned, desperate men prime targets for radicalization (after all, Jews control the world’s economy), we just shrug our shoulders and get on with our lives.
The other week, during the protests at the University of Missouri, an ignorant but well-meaning acquaintance asked me why no Jewish students had complained about the swastika smeared on the bathroom wall. I replied that the symbol was not directed at them. What I did not say was the real reason: what would have been the point?
When we do speak up, our concerns are quickly discounted. The most common response is to accuse us of individual or minority paranoia. It’s all in our imagination. Besides, this is America. There is no anti-Semitism here. No American professional athlete has ever received death threats for not pitching the opening game of the World Series because it fell on Yom Kippur. No American president has ever been counseled not to accept Jewish refugees fleeing persecution so as not to look beholden to “The Jewish Vote.” No Jewish institution in America has ever been defiled with swastikas and phrases like, “Light the ovens,” and “Hitler was right!” No hyphenated American has had their loyalty questioned during war time (America would never mistrust and imprison hundreds of thousands of Americans based on paranoia and racism). No American has ever driven a truck into the front of a Jewish pre-school. No American has ever stood in front of a Jewish Community Center, asked people if they were Jewish, and then shot them in cold blood. And this is just the past eighty years of American non-anti-Semitism.
Anti-Semitism exists. And, it exists because of one simple reality – Jews exists. What’s more, we exist as the universal “Other.” The Other is not only different (not us) but also the receptacle for all we do not like about ourselves. The Other is our mirror reflection, us but opposite. The Other is who we are, who we want to be, and who we are not. We marginalize people, we are marginalizing The Other. When we discriminate against people, we are discriminating The Other. And, when we fear and then victimize people, it is The Other we fear and therefore victimize.
For everyone (and every group) there is an Other, but Jews are everyone’s Other. We represent the hegemony and the marginalized. We live, unnoticed, among the privileged center but have never fully assimilated into any society. We maintain our own language and rituals but do not force them on anyone else. We have similarities with every group but are different from all of them. Defying all logic, as well as thousands of attempts to destroy us, we continue to exist as a people.
Anti-Semitism has existed since, at least, Joseph, and will continue as long as there are Jews. There is nothing Jews can do to eliminate anti-Semitism because nothing we do incites it. Anti-Semitism exists because the Jewish people exist: as long as the Jewish people exist, anti-Semitism will exist. And we are not going anywhere.