Conversations with an Anti-Semite

How do you convince a bigot not to be a bigot?

Unfortunately, as evidenced by my experience the other night, it might be near-impossible. The dialogue I refer to occurred on the Facebook page of a major Israeli media outlet, and almost immediately it was distressing.

And whom did I engage in conversation with? Why, none other than our “proud exile,” the man I wrote about in previous Times of Israel blog posts who derided the Passover holiday for its “killing of the first-born” plague that makes up an important part of the traditional story—owing to the fact that he himself lost a child some time ago.

This individual is suffering. He is quite disturbed. He is still very much affected by the trauma that informs him. To assuage his feelings, he resorts to anti-Semitic hate speech, which has gotten him banned from commenting on the Facebook pages of three Israeli news publications. On one of them, he called singer Drake a “Zionist oreo.”

Yes, he did that. Pretty horrendous stuff.

So this is not a rational person. Why I thought that I could allay his hatred is beyond me. But I did try … though I did also note his propensity toward hate speech, his history of being banned by Facebook and his fake accounts on the site, which constitute violations of the company’s Community Guidelines.

No matter. It had no impact whatsoever. I pasted the URL of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum into one of my posts so he could see that the institution is all-inclusive when it comes to documenting the horrors of the period—an issue that he has lambasted while remaining, in a willfully ignorant manner, under the offensive misconception that this atrocity is being promoted by Jews to include only members of their faith. I also pointed to a grief counseling group in his area that might offer help to him. He rejected my suggestions and opined that it was none of my business.

Well … perhaps he was right.

In retrospect, I shouldn’t have embarked on this discussion in the first place. I thought, after reading his comments, that he would be one to reason with. But he wasn’t.

You can’t reason with broken.

Our “proud exile” is a broken human being. He takes out his anger on others in the form of anti-Semitism. He has blamed the Jews for the prejudice that over the eons has harmed people who share my heritage. He is disabled, alone, withdrawn. He has mused about this on Facebook. He is, to a certain extent, anonymous.

There is no way, then, for a nonprofessional such as me to get him to see how misinformed he is.

I’ve written before about the need to understand the reasons behind bigots’ behavior, and I tried to keep this in mind during my exchange with this individual. I even brought up the fact that I have experienced the trauma of loss myself in the form of two great college friends who died—one from ALS and one via suicide. Yet these advances made no headway, and sadly, I found it difficult to remain sympathetic … especially as the “proud exile” lashed out in response with personal attacks and denials of his hurtful behavior aplenty. Caring became hard. Ultimately, I discontinued the conversation.

A long time ago, I saw a marvelous news report on TV that showed a former bigot apologizing to a group of African Americans for his past offenses. I remember hugs, laughing and crying. I wanted to have that happen again last night with my “proud exile.” Sadly, it didn’t come to pass, and that disappointed me. Maybe I wasn’t the right person to help out. Or maybe help, in this case, isn’t feasible.

Should people be left to stew in their own juices, though? If you see someone being hurt in this way, should you just leave it alone?

I wonder if I was misguided not to do so. Still, this is just one individual, and it doesn’t mean that I must stop trying.

It does mean, however, that I’ve got to recognize resistance on the other end … and refrain from pursuing my efforts further when it’s clear that they won’t work. Yesterday, I discovered that they didn’t work. As I expressed before, you can’t reason with broken.

You can, however, reason with willing. And I strongly believe that there are bigoted people in the world who are more than happy to talk.

I just have to find them. Perhaps one day—in the future—I will.

About the Author
Simon Hardy Butler is a writer and editor living in New York City. He has written for publications ranging from Zagat to Adweek and has interviewed innumerable people—including two Auschwitz survivors whose story may be heard at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s website. His views and opinions are his own.
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