Robert L. Wolkoff

The hatred that must not be named

Anti-Semitism is the hatred that must not be named. At least it sure seems that way.
Recently, the Jewish world held its collective breath when hostages were taken in a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The hostage taker had gone to a synagogue because he was filled with fantasies about the “all-powerful” Jews who could command governments to do their bidding—in this case, demand that the US release a woman convicted of attempting to murder American soldiers. At her trial, she had demanded that jurors be given a DNA test to ensure that they did not have “Zionist or Israeli background.” The hostage taker’s final words included the phrase “f******* Jews.”

Given all that, one would have imagined that after the terrorist was killed, the FBI would offer a straightforward condemnation of his anti-Semitism. But lo and behold, not only was their no condemnation, there was no anti-Semitism. According to the FBI, the actions of the hostage taker were not “specifically related to the Jewish community.”

Anti-Semitism is the hatred that must not be named.

Of course, by the next day, when the outrage (and the absurdity) mounted, the FBI backpedaled and admitted what any clear thinking 8 year old already knew. But, they were quick to add, “This is a terrorism-related matter, in which the Jewish community was targeted,”—as if it were coincidental that it was the Jewish community that was targeted. Instead, they could have noted that the hostage taker intentionally bypassed the 26 churches in Colleyville (that’s 2 per square mile) to get to—wait for it—Beth Israel.

In similar fashion, after the horror of the attack, one would have expected the ADL to issue a strong condemnation. And they did—of islamophobia. The ADL devoted one paragraph of a long report to the jihadi praise for the terrorist, but several pages condemning right-wing extremism and “anti-Muslim bigotry.” I do understand that Muslims everywhere should not be painted with a broad brush as terrorists—when in fact all kinds of Muslim groups, including the local mosque in Colleyville, to their credit condemned the act of terrorism. But the fact that we mustn’t generalize doesn’t also mean that we mustn’t specify, and call things by their proper name.

The fact that all Muslims are not terrorists does not mean that no Muslims are terrorists. In truth, there have been enough Muslim terrorists to take over entire countries. What do we gain by ignoring this? The family of the terrorist claimed that he was suffering from mental instability. Perhaps (although that explanation/excuse is getting a little threadbare). But isn’t it interesting that the mental condition of Muslim terrorists never leads them to attack Eskimos. Only Jews. Why do you suppose that is? Of course, it couldn’t be anti-Semitism, because anti-Semitism is the hatred that must not be named.

Meanwhile, in sunny California, another “unnamed” drama is being played out. A young Arab woman has protested against USC claiming discrimination. She has suffered negative consequences because of her on-line comments including, “I want to kill every motherf****** Zionist,” and “curse the Jews.” But, her apologists explain, this has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Of course not, because anti-Semitism is the hatred that must not be named. Instead, we are told, we must “understand” her remarks “in context.” Frankly, I’m curious what that context could be. Here’s a thought experiment: in what context would it be morally acceptable to say, “I want to kill every motherf****** Palestinian!”?
I’ll wait.

What all these stories (and many more, trust me) share is an unwillingness to call things by their proper name. The good folks at Zioness have something to say about this: “[T]argeting Jews, as Jews, is anti-Semitic. Targeting Jews in a synagogue is anti-Semitic. Targeting Jews in a synagogue on Shabbat is anti-Semitic. Hard stop. You can’t fight anti-Semitism without calling it anti-Semitism. You can’t fight for Jews by responding to an anti-Semitic attack with blanket statements about “confronting all forms of hate” or with “prayers for peace.” Your willingness to use the words and name our community are directly related to personal and collective potential for change.”

In the Harry Potter novels, Harry eventually insists on naming “he who must not be named.” He does this in frustration at all those who refuse to say the words, because Harry is aware that you can’t fight an enemy if you refuse to name it, and the enemy, with all his terrible power, is back.

Same for us.

About the Author
Rabbi Wolkoff serves Congregation Bnai Tikvah in North Brunswick. He has published hundred of articles and lectured internationally on Jewish topics, and has been active both in interfaith work and in the struggle against anti-Semitism, both in the United States and in Sweden, where he served for a decade. He is a JNF Rabbi for Israel.
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