Letter: Breeding anti-Semitism
David Segal’s commentary (“On anti-Semitism, from Aspen,” Sept. 6, The Aspen Times) on anti-Semitism is timely, yet it raises a few important taboo issues. While I agree with Segal’s call to “work against bigotry, anti-Semitic or otherwise, whenever and wherever we witness it,” I offer several critical responses to points made in Segal’s piece with regard to anti-Semitism.
First, it is disconcerting that Segal views critics of the Israeli state (not Jewish people) as those who would make this valley an “(un)welcoming place for Jews.” This is an overplayed “Jewish race card” that any criticism of Jews or Israel is anti-Semitism.
How does Segal explain Jews opposed to the militarized, segregationist, oppressive actions of the Israeli state? Are they anti-Semite, anti-self or against themselves? It is important to recognize that not all criticisms of the Israeli state are anti-Semitic. Some of the more intelligent criticisms would appear to be working to offset anti-Semitism by curtailing misactions and power abuses by the Israeli state that spawn the greatest incidences of anti-Semitism. There is no nation-state that cannot be criticized, including Israel, for states are institutions of power, and along with power comes the abuse of power and oppression of some groups by other groups to maintain power.
Next, it is ironic that in his piece on anti-Semitism, Segal relays a story about his group on the Adventure Rabbi retreat who encountered a conflict with another group when they asked them to move, claiming “a spot reserved for our Passover Seder.” After “(we) asked them politely to finish up their rock climbing so we could use the space,” Segal recalls a highly negative anti-Semitic utterance by one of the other group members. While the particular comment was totally outrageous, the larger situation reveals a deeper reality and the likely cause of anti-Semitism. How does one — or rather one group — “reserve” nature? How does one group feel entitled to tell another group that they must leave the spot in nature they are enjoying (this is not the Hotel Jerome in 2012)? How might the rabbi’s own behavior be viewed as possible seeds for anti-Semitism? In short, Segal might try to be more self-reflective and critical of fellow Jews who display a sense of entitlement and ethno-exclusionary praxis.
Lastly, one surefire way to attack anti-Semitism is to dismantle many Jews’ belief in Jewish supremacy, ideas that have many unintended consequences, including anti-Semitism. While it is no surprise that all Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jews are taught to believe Jews are God’s “chosen people,” it is alarming that many highly secular Jews hold the same view. Promoting this flawed ethnocentric belief only miseducates Jewish youth, perpetuates a sense of undeserved self-worth among the indoctrinated and breeds anti-Semitism among non-Jews.