Anti-Semantic?

As we begin to read the Torah portions dealing directly with the Exodus from Egypt, we are reminded of the Passover Haggadah‘s four hypothetical children attending the hypothetical seder: the wise child, wicked child, simple child, and the child who doesn’t know how to ask.  The wise and wicked children’s queries are ostensibly semantically linked: the wise child asks: “‘What are these testimonies, statutes and judgments that the Lord our God commanded you?”, and the wicked son asks “What is this worship to you?”

There is a subtle difference in the actual respective Hebrew words used for “you”–eschem in the case of the wise child, lachem in the case of the wicked child–which raises the question: is it the difference in semantics that serves as the indicator between which child is “wise” and which one is “wicked”?  Why is the wise son let off the hook, while the wicked son is deemed to need a “blunting of teeth”?

The answers are varied, but the gist is that the wise child’s question is an inclusive one, the wicked child’s exclusive: the wise child means to participate in the ritual, the wicked child means to denigrate it.  In other words: the wise child is with us, the wicked child is against us.  Semantic foibles can be more easily forgiven those who have proven to be with our program; for hostiles, semantics are further proof of hostile intent.

With the recent significant uptick in overt Judeomisia, both in terms of verbal and physical assaults–some deadly–a lot of ink has been spilled about which side of the political fence is more responsible for the revival of the more recent public expressions of antisemitism.

The answer is simple and straightforward:  while both sides have contributed to its expression, the left and especially the progressive left have been exponentially more complicit in excusing it and promoting it, going so far as having gaslit erstwhile Jews into its promulgation.   And, in line with sentiments analogous to the Four Children of the seder, the occasional semantic offenses of those who have proven to be allies of the Jews and Jewish causes are eminently more forgivable (and, likely, ultimately correctable) than the unending onslaught of Judeomisia from unequivocally hostile progressive quarters, where the language has gone past simply being antisemitic in effect: one can assume it is antisemitic in intent, particularly when no compunction is shown about blatantly lying about who said what.

This follows a pattern in media that commenced with the 2016 election: Obama was a better friend to Jews/Israel;  OK, they’re equally as bad; OK, you got what you wanted but at the cost of strangling the Iranians and humiliating the Palestinians, and Jews shouldn’t want that.  (We can ignore the writer of “Donald Trump Is Bad For The Jews“: he predicted the internet would go the way of the fax machine.)  One wag who all but demanded that all Jewish Trump supporters be excommunicated in the wake of the Pittsburgh massacre last year was a lot more mealy-mouthed about the spectre of Corbynism in the United States, because it affected his sympathies for Bernie Sanders, another Jewish antisemite.

At about the same time, Rudy Giuliani enraged the progeiosie by claiming he was more of a Jew than George Soros.  Here’s the rub–Giuliani was right: he’s done more for the Jews and Jewish causes than Soros and his fellow travellers can undo with their well-documented Ziomisic hostilities.   Soros’ claims to being a victim of antisemitism are richer than he is; at some point they became analogous to the boy who killed his parents and threw himself on the mercy of the court based on his status as an orphan.

Before even the spasm of some of the worst incidents occured over the past two months, we had the spectre of certain critics lambasting President Trump for making insinuations about Jews and money at a speech he gave at the IAC, where the postgame analysis led an otherwise reasonable and bipartisan critic of Judeomisia felt compelled to criticize the President for…philo-semitism.  Ignoring everything the President had done for Jewish causes that his predecessors did not [and that his general election opponent surely would not have], the aforementioned critic recited a litany of ostensible linguistic offenses to buttress his case that philo-Semitism ultimately leads to antisemitism, forgetting the actual antisemitism that has led to actual antisemitism. 

More recently we saw professional Jewish Jew-haters like Hamas/Hezbollah fangirl Judith Butler and “lying about what we’re going to do [] when we get there” Masha Gessen lecturing about the Trump administration’s Title VI reforms.  These orders, meant to finally protect Jews on campus, were denigrated by Butler in Foreign Policy as having “elevated an antisemitic slur into law”, and by Gessen in New Yorker, who raged that “The President’s new order will not protect anyone against anti-Semitism, and it’s not intended to. Its sole aim is to quash the defense—and even the discussion—of Palestinian rights.”  (As if “Palestinian rights” were the sole Jewish tenet worth upholding.)

Being lectured about antisemitism by these particular miscreants is analogous to being subjected to a hypothetical lecture about domestic violence delivered by O.J. Simpson.

In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Jersey City and Monsey, a municipal Board of Education gave space for musings that the victims somehow brought it on themselves, seconded by an NBC News tweet with a headline all but making that same insinuation (even as they had the gall to blame Fox news for antisemitism in the wake of the attacks).

So what to make of this recent brouhaha on the right, where National Review ran an article by Zachary Evans–an IDF Veteran–that ostensibly carries as much a tone of “victim blaming” as some of the more recent media coverage of the aftermath of the terrorist attacks, and which has triggered a rather nasty back and forth between, at the very least, NR and Kevin Williamson on one side, and Bethany Mandel and Batya-Ungar Sargon on the other?

For starters, as Williamson has pointed out more than once, one can’t be sure that the critics are reading the same article–or bothered to read the entire article.  The fact that there are critics of ultra-Orthodox culture are nothing new.  The fact that a Jew would use the language of dehumanization against his co-religionists is, unfortunately, nothing new.  What is different about the reporting in NR–aside from their recent track record as a generally friendly publication, unlike the overwhelming majority of what passes for mainstream media–is that there is nothing that would even hint at excusing the atrocities committed against those communities recently.  When NBC had to delete their tweet, it wasn’t because they were sorry; it was because they got caught and called out.

Additionally, while Bethany Mandel is usually credible (which is why I have to believe that she only saw the reported indecent language and not the rest of the piece), Batya Ungar-Sargon should not be lecturing anyone about antisemitism after she wasted gallons of ink defending Linda Sarsour as a champion of Jews and insisting there had to be daylight between antisemitism and antizionism (possibly due to an inability or unwillingness to let go of fever dreams about the Women’s March being something other than a cabal of bigots, or that one day identity politics–to her the “greater good”–would one day accept Jews like her too).  Kevin Williamson is a more reliable ally of Jews and Jewish causes than Ms. Ungar-Sargon could ever hope to be at present.

The worst thing one can say about Evans’ piece is that it was ill-timed.  No one should be above criticism and scrutiny.  But as even his piece detailed, these incidences went way beyond that, escalating to stereotyping and dehumanization until these most visible of Jews became the most obvious targets for the worst crimes, and for repeated crimes, aggravated by the authorities’ seeming reluctance to prosecute the offenders in service to a progressive agenda.  In the grand scheme of things, the NR piece involved a lot more reporting than editorializing, even if it wasn’t particularly helpful.  (David French has penned a thoughtful critique avoiding the adhominy that Mandel and Ungar-Sargon felt compelled to engage in; one can surmise that Williamson would pay more attention to his NR colleague than to expletive-peppered tweets.)

Finally, the revisionism extends to a certain 2009 Grovel In Cairo when the then-President was both lauded and criticized for making an inexorable tie between the Holocaust and the state of Israel while he was admonishing the enemies of the Jews in that part of the world to stop trafficking in Holocaust denial.  As one observer put it, even his admonishment was insufficient: Obama failed to recognize that those parties “[did not] merely wish to deny the Holocaust but to finish it.”  In any case, the analog between Obama linking Israel to the Holocaust and the nonbinding resolution on Holocaust education introduced recently by three Republican lawmakers is a false one.  Obama was sending a dogwhistle to the allies he wanted to court by diluting the historical connection between classical Judaism and Israel in order to buttress Palestinian nationalist claims of equivalency, if not supremacy.  No one in the GOP has ever tried to do that: in fact, it goes against the entire program of the religious right even as those on the left never tire of attempting to tar them with accusations of antisemitism.  Obama’s link was worthy of the criticism it triggered; Budd, Zeldin and Kustoff are not trying to do what he did.

A further semantic irony of the Seder children is that the “wise child” isn’t necessarily automatically righteous; that’s why the label of chacham is attached, when one might expect tzaddik, the polar opposite of rasha.  Yet the Haggadah’s proscription for the chacham is to explain everything in detail, while the proscription for the rasha is to “blunt his teeth”, reminding reshaim then and now you don’t get to claim in-group privileges while disdaining in-group responsibilities and attacking the group from the inside.

Long before “Cool Hand Luke“, the Haggadah warned us: some folks you just can’t reach.

About the Author
Jon Taub is an ex-Upper West Sider, now-married Riverdalean who has two MA's, plays three instruments, and consults for biostartups.
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