The hatred that must not be named | Robert L. Wolkoff


Anti-Semitism is hatred that must not be named. At least it seems safe.
Recently, the Jewish world held its collective breath when hostages were taken from a synagogue in Colleyville, Texas. The hostage-taker had gone to a synagogue because he was filled with fantasies about “almighty” Jews who could order governments to do whatever they want — in this case, demand that the US releases woman convicted of attempted murder of US soldiers. During her trial, she had demanded that jurors undergo a DNA test to ensure that they had no “Zionist or Israeli background”. The hostage taker’s last words included the phrase “f******* Jews”.

Considering all of this, one would have imagined that after the terrorist’s death, the FBI would offer a direct condemnation of his anti-Semitism. But then, not only was there no condemnation, but 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 hatred that must not be named.

Of course, the next day, when the outrage (and absurdity) mounted, the FBI backtracked and admitted what any clear-headed 8-year-old already knew. But, they were quick to add, “This is a terrorism-related case, in which the Jewish community has been targeted,” as if it were a coincidence that it was the Jewish community that was aimed. Instead, they might have noticed that the hostage taker had intentionally bypassed Colleyville’s 26 churches (i.e. 2 per square mile) to get to – wait for it – Beth Israel.

Similarly, after the horror of the attack, one would have expected the ADL to issue a strong condemnation. And they did – out of Islamophobia. The ADL devoted a paragraph of a lengthy report to jihadist praise of the terrorist, but several pages condemning right-wing extremism and “anti-Muslim bigotry”. I understand that Muslims around the world should not be portrayed as terrorists, when in fact all sorts of Muslim groups, including the local Colleyville Mosque, have to their credit condemned the act of terrorism. But the fact that one should not generalize does not also mean that one should not specify, and call things by their proper name.

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

Meanwhile, under the California sun, another “unnamed” drama is playing out. A young Arab woman protested against USC for discrimination. She suffered negative consequences because of her online comments, including “I want to kill all the fucking Zionists” and “Curse the Jews.” But, explain its apologists, it has nothing to do with anti-Semitism. Of course not, because anti-Semitism is hatred that must not be named. Instead, we are told, we need to “understand” his words “in context.” Frankly, I’m curious what that context might be. Here’s a thought experiment: In what context would it be morally acceptable to say, “I want to kill all the fucking Palestinians!” »?
I’ll wait.

What all of these stories (and many more, believe me) share is a reluctance to call things by their name. The good folks at Zioness have something to say about it: “[T]Arguing about Jews, as Jews, is anti-Semitic. Targeting Jews in a synagogue is anti-Semitic. Targeting Jews in a synagogue on Shabbat is anti-Semitic. Sudden stop. You cannot fight anti-Semitism without calling it anti-Semitism. You cannot fight for Jews by responding to an anti-Semitic attack with general statements about “confronting all forms of hatred” or with “prayers for peace.” Your willingness to use the words and name our community is directly linked to the potential for personal and collective change.

In the Harry Potter novels, Harry ultimately insists on naming “he who must not be named”. He does this in the frustration of anyone who refuses to say the words, because Harry is aware that you cannot fight an enemy if you refuse to name him, and the enemy, with all his terrible power, is back.

Same for us.

Rabbi Wolkoff serves Congregation Bnai Tikvah in North Brunswick. He has published hundreds of articles and lectured internationally on Jewish topics, and has been active in both interfaith work and the fight 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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