One of my favourite movies is Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall.” In one of the early scenes, Allen’s character, Alvy, rants to his friend, Rob, about the supposed anti-Semitism he experienced over lunch.
“I was having lunch with some guys from NBC, so I said, ‘Did you guys eat yet, or what?’ and Tom Christie said, ‘No, did Jew?’ Not ‘did you eat’ but ‘did JEW eat?’ You get it? Did Jew eat?”
Naturally, Rob calls Alvy out on his paranoia, but sometimes I feel like the Jewish community can use a few “Robs” in the real world.
Late last year, the Canadian Jewish News (CJN) published an article investigating how comfortable Jews felt at certain Canadian universities. http://tinyurl.com/hallfta
While the article brought up some legitimate issues, such as the mural at York University that blatantly encouraged violence against Jewish Israelis and should thus be condemned, it also referred to some issues that aren’t really issues. When it comes to campus life, methinks we protest too much.
For one thing, many of us seem to view any and all demonstrations against Israel as anti-Semitic. While there’s no doubt in my mind that a lot of the criticism against Israel is rooted in anti-Semitism, particularly the arguments against its very existence and calls for BDS, it’s perfectly legitimate for people to bring up fair and factual criticism about things like checkpoints and settlements, the very issues that a plurality of Israelis themselves discuss constantly.
The CJN article brought up how students at Wilfred Laurier University in Waterloo organized an Israeli checkpoint simulation, “where they yelled at participants in order to simulate what life is like for Palestinians in the West Bank,” and how some Jewish students felt uncomfortable seeing that.
Have we seriously become so thin-skinned that a fake checkpoint has us running to the hills, crying anti-Semitic wolf?
While I eat a lot of meat, I don’t feel I’m unsafe on campus because some vegan groups hand out graphic pamphlets in the atrium that condemn my life choices.
There are numerous campus groups that protest social justice issues around the world like child marriage, access to safe abortions, and Aboriginal rights, to name a few, and their protests tend to target specific countries. But that doesn’t take away their right to bring them up. I’m not sure why, when it comes to human rights issues in Israel and the Palestinian territories, many of us try to shout over the protests with cries of anti-Semitism in an attempt to delegitimize concerns and stifle criticism.
When we put Israel on a pedestal and declare that discussion about its policies by the outside world constitutes anti-Semitism, we do ourselves and free speech a great disservice.
But this paranoia about anti-Semitism isn’t just a campus problem. In September, the Anti-Defamation League ruled that the silly Internet meme, “Pepe the Feels Frog,” which is often used by members of the alt-right, is a hate symbol. To equate a cartoon frog to something like a swastika, an actual hate symbol, is preposterous. Has there ever even been one act of violence committed in the name of Pepe?
So, why are we so obsessed with feeling like we’re constantly being persecuted? I think it may have to do with identity.
Let’s go back to Woody Allen. He is an atheist who has ridiculed Judaism in several films and, yet, everywhere he looks, he sees anti-Semitism. This is a common theme seen in works by certain other North American Jewish cultural figures. For example, in Philip Roth’s Portnoy’s Complaint, the novel’s protagonist, Alexander Portnoy, rants constantly to his psychiatrist about his identity crisis. Portnoy is especially frustrated because he loathes Judaism and Jewish practice, but feels he can’t escape it because it’s such a defining aspect of his character. So he views those who dislike him as disliking him simply because he’s Jewish, even though he does virtually nothing that would identify him as such and is unlikeable for numerous other reasons.
It seems there are some Jews who identify as Jewish only when they feel they’re under threat; and so the Jewish victimhood complex is born, where they need to feel hated to feel Jewish.
So, ultimately, I hope we can work to find better things to bond over than our own “oppression.” Jew know what I mean?