Like any Jewish child, I learned about anti-Semitism when I was small. It wasn’t that hard to recognize it, since anti-Semites were generally quite open about their feeling. Swastikas scrawled on synagogues, prejudice against Soviet Jews, efforts to annihilate the Jews of Israel were very obvious signs that even a child could understand. Therefore, I was not prepared for what happened in our town a few years ago.
Our town is unusual in being predominantly Jewish, and, of course, competes in athletic events with surrounding towns that are not. That had not been a problem for many years. Overt expressions of anti-Semitism are rare, fortunately, limited to the occasional defacing of a synagogue.
Earlier in the decade, a neighboring town came to play baseball against our high school team. As they walked onto the field, they threw pennies. At first, our team did not understand what was going on, but then members of the opposing team helpfully called to each other to watch for the money-grubbing Jews to rush onto the field to scoop up the pennies.
The opposing team was ultimately reprimanded for their penny tossing behavior, but such behavior is inevitably inspired and shaped by adult behavior. The opposing team had learned well. In the 21st century, anti-Semitism is no longer crude and obvious. Instead it relies on coded words and coded tropes to spread its vile message.
Why have anti-Semites resorted to coded words and tropes? One reason is that overt prejudice is no longer considered socially acceptable, particularly on the American Left. Anti-Semitism, and racism have not disappeared from American society. The periodic appearance of nooses in schools and workplaces provides eloquent testimony to that sordid fact.
Second, and equally important, coded words and tropes offer plausible deniability. As could have been expected, the penny throwing baseball team insisted that they “hadn’t meant anything,” by tossing pennies; it was just a joke. Fortunately, no one believed them and they were disciplined.
The obnoxious actions of a high school baseball team can be dismissed as juvenile behavior, but the coded words and tropes of the American Left are much harder to dismiss. That’s especially true when you consider that the use of coded words and tropes is followed by denial. The perpetrators inevitably respond to accusations of anti-Semitism by piously disavowing any intent, and brazenly asserting that they are victims of pervasive attempts to silence any criticism of Jews. We are supposed to believe that they “hadn’t meant anything” by the use of coded words or tropes, just like the baseball team “hadn’t meant anything” by their penny tossing escapades.
What are these coded words and tropes? They include thing like:
Claiming that Zionism is racism
Denying the right of Jews to their own homeland
Holding Israel to different standards than all other countries
Accusing Jews of controlling the media
Accusing Jews of controlling banks
Comparing Israelis to Nazis
Denying the reality of the Holocaust
Claiming that accounts of the Holocaust are exaggerated
Claiming that the Holocaust gets too much attention (especially from “Hollywood,” a code word for Jews)
My Jewish problem now is not anti-Semitism. Anti-Semitism has always existed, and it has often been far worse than it is today. My Jewish problem is how to combat the use of coded anti-Semitic words and tropes that are used precisely to allow for plausible deniability, and are inevitably followed by claims of denial.
As the great Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis said: “Sunshine is the best disinfectant.” We cannot, and should not remain silent when anti-Semitic code words and tropes are used. We should allow the sunlight to shine on them by pointing them out for all to see. We should not accept denials, since the entire purpose of the coded words and tropes is to spread anti-Semitism while simultaneously denying that one is anti-Semitic. And most emphatically we should not fall for the outraged bleats of victimization by the anti-Semites caught using anti-Semitic code words and tropes.
Over the centuries Jews have been accused of many things, but we have never been accused of being dumb. We know anti-Semitism when we see it and we will continue to point it out wherever we find it.