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WOULD YOU RATHER BE UGLY OR JEWISH? (A NEW “NEW ANTI-SEMITISM”? PART 2)

Norman G. Finkelstein photo
Norman G. FinkelsteinBrooklyn, NY
WOULD YOU RATHER BE UGLY OR JEWISH? (A NEW “NEW ANTI-SEMITISM”? PART 2)
The available polling data does not reveal resurgent anti-Semitism. On the contrary, it suggests that anti-Semitism is a marginal, benign phenomenon in the West.

The other evidence Shlomo Ben-Ami adduces is equally problematic. He gestures to a recent poll that allegedly found pervasive anti-Semitism among the British population.[1] But does this frequently cited poll prove it? Let’s parse some of the damning indicators:

17 percent of respondents believed that “Jews think they are better than other people.”

Between their secular success, on the one hand, and their theological “chosenness,” on the other, many Jews themselves believe in their group superiority. Isn’t that why they kvell over the Jewish pedigree of the seminal figures of modernity—Marx, Einstein, and Freud— and 20 percent of Nobel laureates?[2] The inexorable corollary of the poll finding would appear to be that many Jews are anti-Semitic because they think they are better than other people.

10 percent of respondents “would be unhappy if a family member married a Jew.”

What’s most telling about this percentage is how low it is. It’s easy to predict a qualitatively higher percentage if the prospect posed to respondents was that of a family member marrying a Muslim or African. The fact that Jewish intermarriage nowadays causes so little ado among non-Jews suggests just how trivial a phenomenon anti-Semitism has become. Indeed, the prospect of intermarriage almost certainly induces more unease in the Jewish community (among Orthodox Jews it’s dubbed the “Silent Holocaust”) than in the majority culture. Meanwhile, a 2014 poll of Israeli Jews found that fully 75 percent opposed intermarriage; even among secular Israeli Jews, nearly two-thirds opposed it.[3]

17 percent of respondents believed that “Jews have too much power in the media.”

This “proof” of anti-Semitism is also commonly reported in the US context. But American Jews are proportionally overrepresented as a group in influential media, whether it be Hollywood, book publishing, opinion journals or newspapers. Is it so far-fetched to posit a link between this overrepresentation and the media’s obsessive focus on The Holocaust, putting all other human suffering in the shade? During the past three decades, the US has released more than three times as many films on the Nazi holocaust (110) as on US slavery and the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki combined (36).[4] In politically correct liberal precincts, no one would raise an eyebrow if it were said, “White people (as against people of color) have too much power in the media,” or “Men (as against women) have too much power in the media.” Why, then, is it anti-Semitic to flag the overrepresentation of Jews in the media?

20 percent of respondents believed that “Jews’ loyalty to Israel makes them less loyal to Britain than other British people.”

It’s arguable that, as compared to a single allegiance, when a loyalty is divided between a pair of states, a relatively smaller quantum of love will be bestowed on one of them. Love of country doesn’t have to be a zero-sum game, but surely it can be. In the case at hand, if a Zionist tenet holds that Israel is the State of the Jewish people; and if it is the “duty” of Zionists to “assist the State of Israel in all conditions and under any circumstances…whether the government to which the Jews in question owe allegiance desires it or not” (David Ben-Gurion);[5] and if many British Jews claim to be Zionists—doesn’t it ensue that their British loyalty will be shortchanged?

13 percent of respondents believed that “Jews talk about the Holocaust too much in order to get sympathy.”

The most disturbing aspect of this finding is what it suggests about the mental equipoise of the other 87 percent. Does any sane person not think that some Jews talk too much about the Holocaust, or that some Jews have exploited it? Stating the obvious is not anti-Semitism; it is just an empirical observation.


None of these British survey findings presages a resurgence of anti-Semitism; at most, they are indeterminate—the affirmative responses might be indicative of a deep-seated irrational loathing of Jews, but they also might not be.[6] Even in the worst-case scenario, most of the findings fall in the relatively low 10-20 percent range. A 2015 Anti-Defamation League (ADL) poll, posing the same genre of questions but after the brief spell of violent assaults against Jews in Europe earlier in the year, likewise found that among major West European countries (France, the United Kingdom, Germany) just 10-20 percent of those surveyed “harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.”[7] Indeed, the modest percentages in response to manifestly true statements suggest that such poll results are more a testament to the hegemony of political correctness than a genuine gauge of popular opinion. Most of these sorts of findings are also socially inconsequential. Although “a law may not make a man love me,” Martin Luther King, Jr. once prioritized, “it can stop him from lynching me.”[8] Jews in the West not only no longer need fear judicially-sanctioned murder but, judging by intermarriage rates, they even verge on being loved. True, it’s not pleasant to be perceived as cheap, but how many doors are closed to Jews on account of this stereotype? Jews are so tapped into networks of power and privilege that being Jewish, far from being a liability, confers social cachet. When she married Marc Mezvinsky, no one pitied Chelsea Clinton for slipping a rung on the social ladder. If it’s not easy being a Jew, it’s a lot easier to bear than the cross of being short, fat, bald or ugly. Most people carrying one or another social stigma learn to cope—it’s called life. By and large, being Jewish falls, on this spectrum of social stigmata, at the benign pole.

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[1] The Guardian headlined its article on the findings, “Almost Half of Britons Hold Antisemitic Views, Poll Suggests” (14 January 2015). The poll was commissioned by the Campaign against Antisemitism (CAA), a pro-Israel organization founded after Operation Protective Edge (2014) to counter alleged manifestations of British anti-Semitism.

[2] An article in New York magazine under the title, “Are Jews Smarter?,” pondered the genetic evidence (24 October 2005).

[3] “Poll: Most Israelis oppose intermarriage,” Haaretz (22 August 2014).

[4]I am grateful to Jamie Stern-Weiner for culling this data from Wikipedia.

[5]ZviGanin, An Uneasy Relationship: American Jewish leadership and Israel, 1948-1957 (Syracuse: 2005), p. 119.

[6] Even the pair of survey statements that prima facie appear to be conclusive evidence of anti-Semitism aren’t so clear-cut:

11 percent of respondents believed that “in business, Jews are not as honest as most people.”

Jews are often said to be consummate businessmen; at any rate, they are disproportionately and conspicuously successful in capitalist enterprise. Of the world’s 50 richest people, 20 percent are Jewish, although Jews constitute less than 0.2 percent of the world’s population. If one subscribes to Balzac’s maxim that “behind every great fortune there is a crime,” or Marx’s that “Capital is dead labor which, vampire-like, lives only by sucking living labor,” then this disproportionate success of Jews in business might also be construed as proof that Jews include a disproportionate share of ruthless shysters. The stereotype might be invidious, but that doesn’t make it a priori false, let alone anti-Semitic, anymore than Martin Luther King, Jr.’s admonition, “the vast majority of white Americans are racist,” was inherently anti-White, or the acknowledgment by revered African-American scholar W. E. B. DuBois of the “accumulated sloth and shirking” of his Black contemporaries was necessarily self-hating. (James H. Cone, Martin & Malcolm & America: A dream or a nightmare (New York: 1991), p. 233; W. E. B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk (New York: 1989), p. 6) Many Jews are wont to believe (and not implausibly) that creditable group traits—for example, Jews as “People of the Book”—account for their percentage overrepresentation among Nobel laureates. So, why can’t discreditable group traits account for their identical percentage overrepresentation among the world’s richest people or, for that matter, the fact that, in the 1980s Wall Street insider-trading scandals, Jews figured saliently among the indictees (Ivan Boesky, Dennis Levine, Martin Siegel, Michael Milken) while, in the 1990s, six of the seven “robber-baron” oligarchs who controlled 50 percent of Russia’s economy were Jewish?

25 percent of respondents believed that “Jews chase money more than other British people.”

Immortalized in What Makes Sammy Run?, Jewish ambition surely lies at the heart of outsized Jewish achievement. However bountiful one’s natural endowments, to enter society’s rarefied ranks still requires singular discipline and focus, even a monomaniacal fanaticism. In a materialistic society, ambition often takes the form of aspiring to the most remunerative professions; hence, the coveted advanced degrees are in the fields of business, medicine and law, in all three of which Jews have made a distinctive mark. So, why should it surprise if Jews are perceived as being peculiarly moneygrubbing? It’s just the flipside of the legendary Jewish drive. And, inasmuch as in-house Jewish humor itself plays on the stingy Jew (think Jack Benny’s response to “Your money or your life!”;www.youtube.com/watch?v=-tVzdUczMT0), it would be odd if the stereotype lacked any sociological basis.

[7] The ADL survey questions read:

1. Jews are more loyal to Israel than to [this country/the countries they live in].

2. Jews have too much power in the business world.

3. Jews have too much power in international financial markets.

4. Jews don’t care about what happens to anyone but their own kind.

5. Jews have too much control over global affairs.

6. People hate Jews because of the way Jews behave.

7. Jews think they are better than other people.

8. Jews have too much control over the United States government

9. Jews have too much control over the global media.

10. Jews still talk too much about what happened to them in the Holocaust.

11. Jews are responsible for most of the world’s wars.

Respondents who said at least 6 out of 11 statements are “probably true” were considered to harbor anti-Semitic attitudes.

[8] Taylor Branch, Parting the Waters: America in the King years, 1954-63 (New York: 1988), p. 213.

#Anti-semistism, #Norman Finkelstein, #Palestine, #Israel

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