When the term antisemitism is cheapened by false usage on the right, it gives cover to the real antisemites
Tue 14 May 2019
On 27 June 1941, the Nazis marched into the Polish city of Bialystok. In this once vibrant, cosmopolitan city where Jews had made up two-thirds of the residents, German troops went door to door, pulling Jews into the streets. The lucky ones were shot. Much of the rest – including my great-great-grandparents, their children and their grandchildren – were packed into the Great Synagogue.
The doors were locked. Grenades were tossed into the building. And then, my family was burnt alive.
For years I had almost forgotten this story. But last fall it came violently into my mind, as I read the reports of a shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. It has haunted me ever since, though most intensely since the synagogue shooting in Poway, California, last month. And all of a sudden, I am feeling something that I never could have imagined before: the same antisemitism that so horrifically massacred my family, rendered them as less than human, was alive in America.
So when the influential conservative commentator and publisher of the Federalist, Ben Domenech, tweeted last week that late-night host Seth Meyers was an antisemite, it should have carried all the grave seriousness of these past few months.
Instead, Domenech’s ire was provoked by … Meyers asking some tough questions of his guest, political commentator Meghan McCain. Who’s not even Jewish. Who’s Domenech’s wife.
It’s easy to dismiss Domenech’s since-deleted tweets as the ridiculous product of one hot-headed husband. Unfortunately, they’re not. For while rightwing violence against Jews has been on the rise in the US, conservative and centrist commentators have increasingly used the label of “antisemitism” for everything but.
As someone who is intimately familiar with the dehumanizing violence that antisemitism entails, it is not only offensive to see the term cheapened by false usage on the right: it terrifies me for that cover it gives to the real antisemites who want to see me dead.