Dinner-party anti-Semitism?


Writing in the New Statesman, Rhoda Koenig, a transplanted New Yorker now living in London, finds "dinner-party anti-Semitism" is on the rise:

The moment the icy splinter of fear entered my heart, four years ago, occurred, as it has for so many of us, at a dinner table. “Don’t you think that Israel is becoming very unpleasant?” said one deep thinker. “We used to be on their side because they were the underdog, but now they’re so aggressive.” That was not the moment. It was the next comment, made as I was taking a deep breath, by another guest. “Well,” he said, “I never thought about that before, but, yes, you’re right.”

That person was someone who had for several years been a good friend, good not only to me but in general. He is a kind, compassionate man, quick to offer practical help and moral support to his friends. He does a great deal of unpaid work for charity. His words took me back to a time when the same sort of mindless verbal ping-pong was played over other tables, when Gentiles in England dismissed reports from central Europe as hysteria or propaganda. I later said to my friend, who never reads a newspaper, that he shouldn’t comment on topics he didn’t understand. He protested that he wasn’t commenting: he was “just agreeing”…

It was not the first time my friend had startled me with a remark of this kind. We had met not long before 11 September 2001. About a week after the World Trade Center was destroyed, he said to me, “I don’t mean to offend you by saying this: I just wonder if you think this could be true. Someone told me there was a rumour that the Israelis were responsible.”…

My friend and I remained on good terms until last year, when he asked if I would join him on a trip he was very eager to take – to Syria.

While criticism of Israel often is a thin veneer for anti-Semitism, and while dinner-party anti-Semitism doubtless is a real phenomenon in Europe (remember the French ambassador who called Israel "that shitty little country"?), I’m not sure the examples Koenig brings meet the standard.

The argument against anti-Semitism is weakened if we cry wolf and label all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism.

Aside from Koenig’s friend’s remark about 9/11, which shows ignorance and credulity more than anything else, I’m not sure I see anti-Semitism here. I’d like to visit Syria, too; does that make me anti-Semitic?

Perhaps talking patiently and persistently with people like Koenig’s friend about the righteousness of Israel’s cause will win Israel and the Jewish people more friends, rather than disassociating with such people and leaving them to the influence of real anti-Semites.

Meanwhile, Ha’aretz tackles the fallacy that if Israel were nicer there would be no anti-Semitism.

Recommended from JTA