When good allies don’t get it

Last weekend, an ally of mine posted something that I took exception to. It is a popular gaslighting meme about antisemitism. I will describe it later, along with my response and its aftermath. But first, what should one do – more generally — about an ally who supports an offensive meme.

Verbal self-defense trainer hat is now on.

What to do:

  1. Evaluate the knowledge and motivations of your ally.

Does the ally have experience with the target of the offensive meme?

In this case, yes, she does. She has been in mixed religious groups and has been exposed to Jews and Muslims in a personal way. So, in this case, I expected better than I got. If she didn’t know Jews and Muslims and generally support them, I would have expected less.

2. Write a short rebuttal to the meme.

Does the ally understand why the meme is harmful?  Is there an easy way to explain it? If there is, make an unemotional rebuttal of the meme.

3. Make a request that the ally stop repeating this harmful meme.

Result: In most cases, when a respectful rebuttal to an offensive meme is posted, an ally of good intentions takes down the post. 

4. Take the conversation away from the place where this ally is digging in with her right to support an offensive meme.

In this case, I wrote this blog.

5. What if the ally doesn’t take down the post?

If the ally does not remove the post, it shows that to this person, insisting on the right to post a damaging meme is more important to her than you are. Live with it and trust this person accordingly. You have the right to be disappointed.

So what got Rona on a tear?

The meme: It is a cartoon of an obviously Jewish guy (dressed in blue and white wearing a skullcap) talking to an obviously Arab guy (dressed in a thobe and red and white keffiyeh). The Jewish guy says “You’re antisemitic,” and the Arab guy says “but I am Semitic, too”. Beneath the picture is snapshot of a dictionary definition of “Semitic.”

Why the meme is wrong about antisemitism:

It diminishes the concept of antisemitism by confusing “semitic” with “antisemitism”..One has nothing to do with the other. Antisemitism is a political-philosophical idea that involves Jews, and only Jews, and targets them for oppression. Semitic is a language group that includes many people from the Near East.

Pretending that antisemitism is not a valid concept is gaslighting a significant Jewish concern. American Jews are being targeted on college campuses and have been for years.

The meme that was chosen did not address the war in progress and the need for a ceasefire. It attempted to diminish the reality of antisemitism. Had a cartoon been posted about the war or about the leaders on either or both sides of the Israel-Hamas conflict, I would not have had an objection. If the meme addressed the gagging of free speech and peaceful protest, I would not have objected.

What was the likely intention? 

The week that this meme was posted, police used violence against peaceful protestors who had set up encampments on university property. Some campus authorities used antisemitism and protection of Jewish students as justification. This police violence at American universities adds further fuel to the anger against Israeli retaliation after the October 7th attacks, which was the focus of the protests to begin with.

Antisemitic rhetoric from some (and not all) of the protestors is not a valid reason to silence them all, especially in the way that it played out in late April.

What is antisemitism?

Anti-Semitism, (see Researcher’s Note) hostility toward or discrimination against Jews as a religious or racial group. The term anti-Semitism was coined in 1879 by the German agitator Wilhelm Marr to designate the anti-Jewish campaigns underway in central Europe at that time. Nazi anti-Semitism, which culminated in the Holocaust, had a racist dimension in that it targeted Jews because of their supposed biological characteristics—even those who had themselves converted to other religions or whose parents were converts. This variety of anti-Jewish racism dates only to the emergence of so-called “scientific racism” in the 19th century and is different in nature from earlier anti-Jewish prejudices. [source Britannica]

Result of this conversation

I found out that my ally is a weak one. She is holding to her statement that antisemitism is irrelevant because it includes all Semites. I got the most passive-aggressive response, ever: “You do you.”

Well, I just did me, and I’ll do it again. 

Antisemitism and verbal self-defense

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