Sunday, June 6, 2010

Anti-Semitic or Anti-Israel? Or Neither?

2nd UPDATE: That didn't take long. Poynter has changed it to say "offensive comments."

UPDATE: "Helen Thomas to Retire After Making Anti-Semitic Comments"

Oh, boy. Poynter, your headline is inappropriate. Thomas's comments, especially the "go back to Europe" one is, in my opinion, wrong and deaf to history but anti-Semitic?  Given the sensitivity of her "get out of Palestine" and subsequent remarks, and the different possible interpretations, they  should not be characterized as anti-Semitic since the intent and result are exactly the issue.

Here's Wikipedia's definition of anti-Semitism:

Antisemitism (also spelled anti-semitism or anti-Semitism) is prejudice against or hostility towards Jews, often rooted in hatred of their ethnic background, culture, and/or religion. In its extreme form, it "attributes to the Jews an exceptional position among all other civilizations, defames them as an inferior group and denies their being part of the nation[s]" in which they reside.

Antisemitism may be manifested in many ways, ranging from individual expressions of hatred and discrimination against individual Jews to organized violent attacks by mobs or even statepolice or military attacks on entire Jewish communities. Extreme instances of persecutionFirst Crusade of 1096, the expulsion from England in 1290, the Spanish Inquisition, the expulsion from Spain in 1492, the expulsion from Portugal in 1497, various pogroms, the Dreyfus Affair, and perhaps the most infamous, the Holocaust under Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany. include the
While the term's etymology might suggest that antisemitism is directed against all Semitic peoples, the term was coined in the late 19th century in Germany as a more scientific-sounding term for Judenhass ("Jew-hatred"),[2] and that has been its normal use since then.[3][4]

A number of stories about Helen Thomas's comments about Israel and Palestine have referred to her "anti-Semitic" remarks, which brings us to an old debate: If you're opposed to actions of the Israeli government, or even the existence of the state itself, are you anti-Semitic?

While perturbed by the "go back to Europe" comment, I'm not sure I'd characterize her remarks as anti-Semitic but rather  anti-government. Specifically, opposed to European Jews, including most recently, those from former Soviet nations, settling in an area where others also claim a right to live.

 I guess it depends on how closely you identify all Jews with Israel, and vice versa and so would want to be very careful with describing her remarks this way.

To be clear, I respect history, including Jewish claims to the land. I have always thought that different sides seem to want to start the timeline of history at whatever point most favors their demands but Jews have a strong claim to an ancient connection.
If you have a stake in the region---your son serves in the military of a Mideast country, for example, or your family hails from the region, are you automatically suspect? Should you be restrained from reporting on that region?  What if you're a cable TV commentator complaining that there are too many Jews on the Supreme Court? Where's the line?  If you've spent any time in a newsroom, you know that nothing sets people off more than claims and counter claims of bias in Middle East coverage.  So we ought to be extra aware of labels.

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