Ugly labels have been attached to Jews for centuries and so widespread that it has always encompassed all social classes, and elevated to new heights when adopted by intellectuals and artists alike–the very people who stand at the helm of social justice for all humankind. All humankind, apart from Jews! And by lending their voices to this type of absurd and irrational passion, these artists, writers, and thinkers have made anti-Semitism a type of acceptable hate. This by no means takes away from other oppressed classes and their tragic history because of hate, or the institutionalized racism that had caused much suffering for many other people around the world.
However, as Sartre had observed in Anti-Semite and Jew: the anti-Semite “localizes all the evil of the universe in the Jew.” He described this type of hate as something that is so deep-seated that it extends to the psychological realm. People who had never met a Jew or seen a Jew would still possess hate towards them, and adopt preconceived notions about the character and traits of Jews, as well as their role in society. Even when Jews were expelled from parts of Europe, anti-Semitism never disappeared; therefore, experience alone does not turn a person into an anti-Semite — it’s free choice and a modified view of history and society that contribute to this mindset.
“A man may be a good father and a good husband, a conscientious citizen, highly cultivated, philanthropic, and in addition an anti-Semite. He may like fishing and the pleasures of love, may be tolerant in matters of religion, full of generous notions on the condition of the natives in Central Africa, and in addition detest Jews” (Sartre, Anti-Semite and Jew).
No other nation has had to deal with a type of hate that has no borders, one that originated in antiquity and survived centuries of upheavals, wars, peace, and enlightenment and still persists today. The hate towards Jews is so bizarre that it has always been the unifying factor across polarized societies; even when entrenched in political or religious divide–it made absolutely no difference because the common enemy, the Jew, had posed the same threat on all of humanity, and continues to do so apparently. We are the “ruthless Cosmopolitan” as Stalin would say. And today, we continue to hear the same old anti-Jewish stereotypes, the very ones fabricated in the blood libels and The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. We see similar political cartoons, exaggerated physical depictions, satanic traits — elevated to mythical powers–and the same old vicious slurs.
Although I have a better understanding of why an anti-Semite chooses this faith, I am still left puzzled by it all, especially by modern anti-Semitism. The new generation of anti-Semites have adopted a passionate stance against Israel — it’s nothing new and neither is the fact that they will use other Jews to make their point for them, i.e., “when another Jew is anti-Israel or anti-Zionist, he cannot possibly be an anti-Semite and neither am I, just because I have a problem with Israel’s policy towards Palestinians or their historical claim to the land.” As a wise friend of mine had once noted: just because not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic in nature, this doesn’t mean that much of it isn’t! And often you will find that these new-age humanitarian organizations such as BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions) will argue that Jews have cheapened the meaning of anti-Semitism, and use it as an excuse for invasion and control. But by saying this, they are actually staying true to similar anti-Jewish propaganda from the past, and how easily many new phrases are mainstreamed by the media and public.
The new ideology is widely received by academics and artists along with the usual cadre of social activists. There’s one difference though: in the past, Jews were also painted as pathetic beings — hunched over, stateless and weak, yet still an imposing threat and the enemy. Today’s Jew is depicted as a victimizer–ruthless and strong, and Israel has been selected as the paradigm of racism. What may seem like a serious attempt at rational argument shows that Western liberal anti-Zionism actually ends up stimulating anti-Semitism, and you find that their new phrasing is nothing more than veiled racism. With that said, is it a wonder that age-old anti-Semitism infiltrates popular culture over and over again and takes many different forms of expression.
“Dirty Jew,” really? What makes Jews so dirty in the first place that generation after generation will adopt the very depiction of Jews that one would always hear when an angry crowd would gather around a Jewish business and pillage it or burn it to the ground, or when Jewish blood was spilled again because of another pogrom — yet no one objected. Face-to-face harassment of Jews continues as does assault, arson, vandalism of Jewish businesses and cemeteries as we’ve recently seen, and Dirty Jew is that one favored phrase that is painted across walls and headstones and spewed towards us repeatedly.
But I really want to understand why Dirty Jew? Does it have something to do with our personal hygiene? Should I shower more often (twice a day perhaps) or use a better soap or deodorant? Any recommendations? Does it have something to do with the cleanliness inside my home, outside my home? Na, that too won’t cut it as I’m very much a clean freak and my husband tends to the garden daily — you know how the English feel about their gardens. Also, when you think about halacha — Jewish laws — we have so many that revolve around cleanliness. We’re supposed to rinse our hands before a meal and visit the mikveh regularly, at least before Shabbat and holidays, and women have their set of rules for the mikveh too. Halacha also stipulates that one must already be clean before immersing themselves in the water of a mikveh, so under no circumstances would a dip in the mikveh become a substitute for a good scrub and rinse.
So, if that’s the case, and we can safely establish that Jews had never suffered from bad personal hygiene, especially if you take into account European history and their lack of cleanliness, albeit our notions of personal hygiene and environmental cleanliness may very well differ these days, could Dirty Jew have another meaning altogether? Probably. It blends with so many other depictions past and present of Jews as manipulators of media and financial institutions, organizers of secret societies, architects of revolutionary subversion, crooks, outsiders, sly businessmen, oily, and whatever other nasty epithets out there.
It’s one of those repeated formulas as Sartre had also noted in Anti-Semite and Jew that allowed instant entry into certain drawing rooms. By repeating how horrible we are, anti-Semites perform a type of rite of initiation which admits them to the fireside of social warmth and energy. It’s safe to say that the same argument applies to those who are “only” anti-Zionist activists.
I’m not a Dirty Jew, but I’ll tell you what is dirty, this game that anti-Semites/anti-Zionists are so good at playing. Often times, they know very well how irrational their statements are, but they spread lies regardless, and inspire hate that continues to promote violence. These people choose to be impervious to reason when they ignore or whitewash other crimes. Instantly, their passion seems manic and malevolent rather than pure and meaningful. Their intelligence evaporates — poof. Gone. Their argument becomes dull and senseless. They are devout followers of their anti-Semitic faith — they choose to be dirty.
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