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Portrait of an anti-Semite

Toxic comments on Facebook are often the handiwork of unhappy people who need compassion more than condemnation

One is a musician whose gigs have dried up. Another claims that his daughters have disowned him. A third is struggling with an incapacitating disability.

These are the stories behind three individuals I unofficially monitor for anti-Semitic hate speech on Facebook. They are spread out across the world and are different in many areas — from appearance to education — but there’s one thing that they share.

They’re all unhappy.

Such a revelation may come across as nothing to notify the press about; humans have scapegoated other groups for their own failures since time immemorial. Yet my observations on Facebook point to a facet of anti-Semitism — and, for that matter, any other kind of bigotry — that’s often left unaddressed … a crying shame, in my opinion. For the personal nature of hatred is common to everyone who holds such viewpoints, and it’s more frequently left to fester than removed through a combination of instruction and understanding.

Too bad. One would think this issue, as pervasive as it is, would be reviewed and confronted on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, the anti-Semites who disseminate their ideologies on Facebook are, in general, left uncontested by any authorities, which gives them every opportunity to pontificate on the Jews’ supposed malfeasance ad nauseam. What really is needed instead is counseling, assistance, therapy — and patience. These aren’t evil people. They’re just disturbed. And there’s no reason why they can’t become better members of society.

Something always happens to people during their lives that changes them, for better or for worse. In the cases of the individuals whose pages I monitor on Facebook, the catalyst is trauma. One particularly anti-Semitic woman, who has posted terribly insensitive comments about the Holocaust, recently wrote about her father, who was an alcoholic and, on at least one occasion, exhibited a similar insensitivity to her needs when she was a child. Another person who has made disturbing remarks about Jews ruminated on the death of a parent and expressed how lonely she was. Should we be upset at these individuals or feel pity for them? Is there a way to provide comfort without condoning their sensibilities?

There should be, and sites such as Facebook, in my opinion, have to be more proactive in offering such help. We, as observers of offensive behavior, also have an obligation: to be compassionate rather than judgmental, open to the idea that these bigots aren’t innately “bad.” It doesn’t mean we should support them in their rantings; instead, we should try to get to the source of their unhappiness…and open them up to human tolerance. Nearly all members of our species have the capacity to improve. Most anti-Semites, despite their indoctrination, are capable of transformation. It’s our job to give them the tools to do so. It’s our job not to ignore them.

I sometimes wonder if there’s anything I can do personally about these folks besides keeping an eye on the horrible things they say about my religion. Perhaps writing about their activities is not enough; maybe I should support an organization that encourages understanding among parties that have a lot to discuss with each other — as well as a lot to forgive. What I do know that each of us, in his or her own way, has the ability to combat hate speech through the recognition of unhappiness as a contributing factor. We all can do something once in a while to mitigate the tide of prejudice. One strategy is knowing our enemy…and realizing that at some point in this individual’s life, hate wasn’t ever deemed an option. If we all acknowledged that, the portraits we paint of these sad people would truly be a lot clearer.

Think about it. This would a step toward bettering their lives — and ours in the process. I believe we can achieve that goal. The only obstacle is motivation.

Do we have enough? It may not be clear just yet. But if you and I lend a hand there’s no question we’ll make an impact.

I have confidence that we’ll reach this objective — however long it takes — together.

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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