The difference between anti-Semitism and calling someone an anti-Semite


Ta-Nehisi Coates has an important post up at his Atlantic blog about how shaming anti-Semites will always be more important, more vital, than shaming those who are promiscuous with the term to the point of abuse.

Coates’ launching point is his stunned reaction to those who suggest — following the Gates arrest — that accusing someone of racism is tantamount to using the n-word. (I can’t bring myself to spell it out, no.)

If a Jewish person called me an antisemite–or a Nazi–not because I’d done anything to warrant it, but because they felt like it, I simply can’t see myself asserting that that’s almost as bad as me calling them a kike, a hook-nosed Jew, money-grubbing Jew, or any other anti-Jewish slur.

If only because I have no sense of the other side, my tongue would be stayed. But more than sheer modesty, I’d understand the difference between attempting to dehumanize someone, to reducing their entire person to the ugliest imagery I can muster, and dishonestly ascribing to them a set of noxious beliefs. One says that you have some dangerous ideas about humanity. The other doubts your relationship to humanity itself.

Moreover, I understand that my status as an antisemite, or Nazi, is up for a debate–even if it’s utterly unreasonable, and completely illegitimate. But I would never think that a Jewish’s person’s status as a "kike" is ever up for debate.

I wish I’d thought to say this this well, I wish someone had said it this well, ages ago. There is now a conventional wisdom that any use of the term "anti-Semitism" in the context of analyzing hostility to Israel is illegitimate. Exhibit A, of course, are Steve Walt and John Mearsheimer who refuse to debate anyone who trucks in the term in describing their meanderings on "the Israel lobby." They never  bother explaining why, or to address the allegation with any degree of honesty.

What this does, of course, is to shut down debate, and in the name of opening it up.

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