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Shinewald: Anti-Semitism needs to be called out on both sides

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U.S. President Donald Trump

In her last op-ed in The CJN, my column-neighbour to the south, Barbara Kay, took on our fellow CJN columnist, Bernie Farber.

Kay disliked a piece Farber wrote in the Toronto Star about the recent murderous attacks against Jews in New Jersey and New York. She argued that Farber ignored the attackers’ demographic group, a “rage-fuelled subsection of the area’s African-American population.”

Though she cited studies showing elevated anti-Semitism among black Americans, Kay offered no evidence to support her claim that a “rage-fuelled subsection” even exists. It is true that the alleged perpetrators are black (like members of my own family), but these attackers may have been fueled more by mental illness and cultism than by anti-Semitic rage. Admittedly, though, it can sometimes be hard to separate one from the other.

But Kay makes a valid and important point in asserting that our own political predilections frequently shape how we experience anti-Semitism. She is also right that leftists can be quicker to highlight offences that fit into their progressive politics and to dismiss those that don’t. Her discussion of black anti-Semitism, while flawed, is therefore nonetheless brave, since Kay forces this touchy issue to the fore, prompting hard discussion around its possible role in the attacks.

Kay’s core point is that lefties like Farber, who was once my boss at the Canadian Jewish Congress and now chairs the Canadian Anti-Hate Network, must be as voracious in opposing left wing anti-Semitism as they are in opposing anti-Semitism from any other quarter. Farber says he is, Kay says he’s not. Whatever. You can decide for yourself if you like.

I wish, though, that Kay had taken that same spirit to heart in presenting her own argument. To wit, she also confronted Farber for quoting U.S. President Donald Trump, who told a Jewish audience a few days before the New Jersey murders, “You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all.” (I had the same quote in my last op-ed, though I had read neither Farber’s nor Kay’s pieces.)

Kay attacked Farber for omitting the quote’s “celebratory context.” She asserts that Trump was “jovially” recounting the purchase of land in Jerusalem for the new American embassy. Trump, says Kay, was “kibitizing” about real estate with, apparently, Jewish real estate developers.

But Kay can’t have it both ways. She can’t both charge that the left must confront anti-Semitism in its political orbit and then explain away counterpart anti-Semitism at the very centre of hers.

Of course, you could argue that there is no provable, causal connection between Donald Trump’s bottomless vomitorium of repulsive rhetoric and individual acts of anti-Semitism. But to do so would undermine Kay’s argument about black anti-Semitism and the recent attacks, which similarly lack causal connections.

More importantly, it would also require arguing that the U.S. president’s words don’t matter. But that’s not even plausible.

So even if Kay is right, and that Trump was just kibitzing about real estate, and that we should just chill out and chuckle along with him, then the kibitzing context would still be completely lost on anyone who was not, say, a Jewish real estate developer. Millions upon millions of others, quite possibly including the New York-area attackers, just heard a wildly anti-Semitic screed from their president. And, as Kay argues with respect to African-American anti-Semitism, sooner or later anti-Semitic contexts encourage anti-Semitic violence.

It’s just not that complicated: when the president of the United States calls Jews “brutal killers” and “not nice people at all,” it simply makes us even less safe.

READ: SHINEWALD: THE FOUR STRAINS OF MODERN ANTI-SEMITISM

My own politics fall roughly somewhere to the right of Farber’s and the left of Kay’s, so it’s not surprising that I find myself simultaneously in agreement and disagreement with them both.

I just wish that we can all be equally relentless in confronting anti-Semitism, irrespective of its origins and irrespective of our own political dispositions.

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