An easy way to awaken prejudice in people is to accuse them of prejudice. If people of a particular skin color are repeatedly accused of bigotry by people of another skin color, there’s a tendency for them to hold the entire other-colored group responsible for the conduct of their accusers. The more innocent you are of the accusation, the deeper can be your resentment and prejudice.
This tactic, eliciting prejudice against your own group, is convenient if you gain advantage from victimhood. Israel is a good example of an institution that lives off bigotry toward itself. Its militarism, its persecution of its non-Jewish citizens and neighbors, its aggressiveness toward its benefactors can all be justified by centuries-old prejudices against Jews, which, we are meant to believe, persist to this day in all non-Jews. Israel’s incessant complaints of anti-Semitism have the effect of producing prejudice in otherwise rational people. Its a self-sustaining cycle that’s generated mountains of shekels and oceans of dollars for people in a position to skim from the resulting cash flow.
I was brought up to be a great admirer of Jews. Not just Albert Einstein and George Gershwin and Leonard Bernstein, but also Jack Benny and Abraham Ribicoff and Sigmund Freud. In Israel, Jews “made the desert bloom,” as many American baby-boomers were taught. In the sixty or so years since I first heard (and believed) that expression, I’ve become a fierce critic of the Jewish state and its defenders, whose brutality toward non-Jews in Israel’s neighborhood is documented in bloody detail.
Today, political leaders in Washington, London, Paris and Tel Aviv are saying that my revulsion toward Israel and its supporters amounts to anti-Semitism and warrants condemnation. This very day, a delegation of Democratic members of Congress is trying to silence, with accusations of prejudice, a couple of newly elected Democrats who have been critical of the Jewish state. Ironically, the two targets of Democratic sanctimony are darker in skin color than the average member of Congress and have probably been subjected to a good deal more invidious treatment than the Caucasian lynch mob assembled to blacken their names.
I can’t help feeling the accusation against the two congresswomen, whom I admire, is aimed at me. I suppose it’s meant to chill any disposition I might have to criticize Israel. Instead, it seems to be having an opposite effect. So deeply do I resent those who accuse me of anti-Semitism, that the accusation is causing a gradual metamorphosis. I tend now to listen for Yiddish surnames, the Hebrew language, and references to Jewish institutions and Israeli imports, and not in a good way. I’d be gratified if I could return to a time when the thought of Jewishness brought Sid Caesar and Sophie Tucker to mind instead of Harvey Weinstein and Benjamin Netanyahu.