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A lousy headline, but not anti-Semitic

Believing that everyone hates the Jews is not only inaccurate, it's a copout

The New York Post’s cover story on the brutal murder of Satmar property developer Menachem Stark – “Who Didn’t Want this Guy Dead?” – has sparked charges of gross insensitivity and anti-Semitism. Even if the most heinous charges of slumlordship are true – which Stark is not here to defend – is there an implication that he deserved to die?

There can be no question that the outrageous caption was ominous and gave the impression that Stark – a father of seven with a strong reputation for philanthropy in his community – died in some kind of mafia-style hit due to shady business dealings. The Post should take responsibility for conveying that unfair, uncorroborated, and unjust impression.

But what makes this story so mystifying is that charges of anti-Semitism against the Post would seem not just misguided but insane. The Post just might be the single strongest supporter of Israel of any mainstream publication in the U.S. Its proprietor, Rupert Murdoch, is one of Israel’s true, stalwart, and international friends and is on record praising Israel in the most glowing terms on innumerable occasions, including this: “Israel is successful because it is one of several countries whose economy revolves around the human mind and it is really a light unto the nations. Bear in mind that everything that happens in Israel happens despite all the threats to the country… As far as I’m concerned, what was right for King David is right for me. Therefore, to me, Jerusalem is the capital of the State of Israel.”

I have heard people tell, me that even the most trusted publications are still tinged with anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism is endemic. It lurks just beneath the surface even among non-Jewish supporters. Is this not what the Talmud says, that “it is a law of nature that Esau (understood to mean the non-Jewish nations) hates Jacob?”

I consider this belief, that anti-Semitism is some sort of genetic inheritance of the non-Jewish nations, always simmering just beneath the surface, to be one of the most destructive Jewish ideas that must finally be repudiated. It not only punishes friends along with foes, but it severely limits the Jewish people from developing their fullest potential.

No one would fault the most persecuted of nations for harboring a congenital belief that non-Jewish society remains rampant with anti-Semitism. But Jews, as a people, will never assert their place among the nations and have a dramatic impact on world events until they finally abandon the belief that latent anti-Semitism animates their Gentile neighbors.

American Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, although black, is no hero of America’s African-American community. The principal reason, arguably, is that he is a conservative who opposes affirmative action that would give blacks preferential treatment in education and jobs. But he maintains that positive discrimination undermines a community’s sense of self-reliance.

Is it possible that the lingering belief that the world is primarily anti-Semitic is harming the Jewish nation as well? My meaning is not directed to our commercial achievements. Thank G-d the Jewish community is overall a prosperous one. But riches were never our destiny. Rather, it was to serve as a light unto the nations. How can we possibly influence the world and teach them about Godliness and goodness as long as we believe that the nations of the world secretly despise us? Will we have any true desire to leave a lasting impact on the non-Jewish world, or indeed work with them for any purpose other than expediency, if we harbour an inner conviction that they retain a visceral dislike of Jews?

I am astonished at the degree to which Jews of all persuasions believe that anti-Semitism animates much of our world. I remember having lunch with a nationally prominent Jewish businessman. He numbered among his friends the leading lights of business and politics. Still, he said to me that he is convinced that deep down even his close non-Jewish friends hold his Judaism against him and that he will never be one of them. But did this statement result from evidence or paranoia?

Some will cite the unbridled bias against Israel as proof of global anti-Semitism and there can be little doubt that the Jewish state is held to an unfair double standard. But if we are to accept that Israel has no chance of improving its image because of a genetic dislike of Jews than we absolve ourselves of the responsibility to better communicate Israel’s cause. The belief that Israel will always be hated is destructive and self-serving. The State of Israel’s PR is so bad that we have successfully allowed murderous Palestinian terror groups like Hamas to successfully position themselves as underdogs against the Middle East’s sole democracy and victims of one of the most humane countries on earth.

The Post definitely blew it with its headline on Menachem Stark, and I feel deeply for his family. They should most certainly apologize for the outrage. But let’s not make this into a case of accusing a strongly pro-Israel and pro-Jewish publication of anti-Semitism.

About the Author
Rabbi Shmuley Boteach is the founder of This World: The Values Network. He is the author of Judaism for Everyone and 30 other books, including his most recent, Kosher Lust. Follow him on Twitter@RabbiShmuley.