Oren Gross
Oren Gross

Useful Idiots with Beards (Part I)

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at a news conference at the Capitol on June 24, 2019. J. Scott Applewhite | AP
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., at a news conference at the Capitol (June 24, 2019). J. Scott Applewhite | AP

As a doctoral student at Harvard Law School in the early 1990s, I had the opportunity to audit a course on feminist jurisprudence. On the very first meeting of the class, the professor asked the students to identify three things that were an inherent part of their identity. After several students responded, the professor called on yet another one. “Male” and “white,” he quickly responded and then briefly paused. Knowing him, I was certain that he was trying to decide which of the two obvious components of his identity he would put forward. Boy, was I wrong.

“A beard,” he exclaimed triumphantly. My jaw must have made quite a sound when it hit the floor. For, you see, while that student did, indeed, have a prominent beard almost Herzlian in size and shape, he, like me, was Jewish and he, like me, was Israeli. Neither seemed to make his top three list, surpassed not merely by his white male identity but also by his bushy facial hair.

Throughout history, antisemitism has been facilitated by the ill-intentioned, the ill-informed, the garden variety of useful idiots and the moral and intellectual spineless cowards

I had no doubt then, nor do I doubt now, that the respondent felt that he was provocative, a maverick. He was not following the millennia of Jewish tradition nor the nationalist identification of the Jewish people. He was a free thinker. He did not follow the herd. He was his own bearded man. Alas, he was nothing of the sort. In fact, he was following a road well-traveled. Rather than being a non-conformist, he joined a herd of other self-identified individual thinkers.

I was recently reminded of the story of my fellow student, today a respectable professor in an Ivy League law school, when I read Dora Horn’s People Love Dead Jews. At one point Horn retells the story of Jewish teenage boys who competed in athletics in Judea when it was under Hellenistic rule. Sports were sacred, writes Horn. They were a major key to enter the Who’s Who list of ancient times. However, the Jewish teens had a problem. Athletics were done in the nude and their Jewishness would be apparent for all to see. So the boys had to have their circumcisions reversed. Such a procedure was extremely painful and potentially fatal, but the boys, says Horn “did not want to miss out.” They wanted to “fit in.”

The role of some Jews in facilitating antisemitism has often been downplayed because for too many the problem with antisemitism lies almost exclusively with right-wing expressions of it either in deed or in speech. However, that is certainly no longer the case in either the United States or in Europe.

Throughout history, antisemitism has been facilitated by the ill-intentioned, the ill-informed, the garden variety of useful idiots and the moral and intellectual spineless cowards who lack what Gad Saad in his book, The Parasitic Mind, has blatantly, crassly, and in no way politically correct called, “testicular fortitude.” For their part, Jews could have been found in each of these groups, albeit more commonly in the latter two.

The role of some Jews in facilitating antisemitism has often been downplayed because for too many the problem with antisemitism lies almost exclusively with right-wing expressions of it either in deed or in speech. However, that is certainly no longer the case in either the United States or in Europe.

It may well be true to say that white supremacists are more violent than Islamofascists and radical left antisemites. At least for now. But we would ignore the rising tide of left-wing antisemitism at our peril.

It may well be true to say that white supremacists are more violent than Islamofascists and radical left antisemites. At least for now. But we would ignore the rising tide of left-wing antisemitism at our peril. As Bari Weiss puts it in How to Fight Anti-Semitism, “there are not a lot of white supremacists walking around New York City… and yet in 2019, more than half (57%) of all hate crimes in New York targeted Jews.” Religious-based hate crimes in the United States are overwhelmingly anti-Jewish. Indeed, there have been more anti-Jewish hate crimes committed than hate crimes targeting all other religious groups. This has been a consistent trend reflected in the FBI’s hate crimes statistics year after year. In fact, over the past ten years, the rate of all hate crimes motivated by religious bias that were directed at Jews hovered around 60%. Jews do not fare better in the countries comprising the European Union. Thus, for example, between 2007-2017, German authorities recorded 15,996 antisemitic hate crimes. In the same period, 6,741 hate crimes were committed against all other religions combined. In France, between 2010-2017 French law enforcement agencies recorded 4,197 actions and threats with an antisemitic character and 1,566 such actions and threats with an anti-Muslim character. One can assume that if the majority of antisemitic incidents had emanated from extreme right-wing groups, those would have gladly targeted not only Jews but also, for example, Muslims. The figures tell an entirely different story.

Tlaib connected Jews, money, profiteering out of the suffering of others, as well as …invoke[d] the imagery of poisoning the wells, a charge under which thousands of Jews have been murdered in the past.

Nor has the Alt-Right been exclusively responsible for the dissemination and perpetuation of old antisemitic tropes and new blood libels. The claims that Zionists/Jews are baby-killers or that Israel targets Palestinians in order to harvest their organs resonate too closely with the age-old blood libel about Jews killing young children and using their blood to prepare Mazot. Ilhan Omar’s invocation of “Benjamins” notoriously referenced the old antisemitic trope connecting Jews and money. Rashida Tlaib, in a less widely publicized yet more insidious statement, argued that “as a Palestinian American…as I think about my family in Palestine that continue to live under military occupation and how it interacts with this beautiful black city I grew up in…cutting people off from water is violence. And they do it from Gaza to Detroit. And it’s a way to control people, to oppress people…the structure we’ve all been living under … is designed by those that exploit the rest of us for their own profit…those same people that if you open the curtain and look behind the curtain it’s the same people that make money…there is someone there making money…they make record profits when we were all having some of the most challenging moments…this pandemic has exposed what we all have been fighting against.” While she did not elaborate on the identity of those that exploit the rest of us for their own profit, anyone listening to her knew precisely who she meant. After all, the connection between Gaza and Detroit has made the point quite clearly. Tlaib connected here Jews, money, profiteering out of the suffering of others, as well as the imagery of “cutting off people from water” which, in and of itself, invokes the imagery of poisoning the wells, a charge under which thousands of Jews have been murdered in the past.

We fundamentally must recognize two distinct types or categories of antisemitism that are going on, oftentimes at the same time, those that Dara Horn has terms the Purim version of antisemitism and the Hanukkah version of antisemitism.

We fundamentally must recognize two distinct types or categories of antisemitism that are going on, oftentimes at the same time, those that Dara Horn has terms the Purim version of antisemitism and the Hanukkah version of antisemitism. In the Purim version of antisemitism, the antisemites’ goal is openly, crassly, and unambiguously stated: Kill all the Jews. In the Hanukkah version of antisemitism, the ultimate goal is to eliminate Jewish civilization and tradition but to do so while, in Horn’s words, leaving “the warm, de-Jewed bodies of former practitioners intact.” The Purim antisemitism is easy to spot. Hanukkah antisemitism, much less so. Jews usually do not play an active and willing role in the former. Their participation is essential for the success of the latter.

About the Author
Professor Oren Gross is the Irving Younger Professor of Law at the University of Minnesota Law School. He is an internationally recognized expert in the areas of international law and national security law.
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