Thursday, January 6, 2011

A not so Subtle Subtlety of Anti-semitism

Anyone who thinks that antisemitism in the US is over and done with needs to open their eyes and ears. While overt antisemitism is frowned on and has legal sanctions, there is the subtler form that appears, particularly in our media.

Find someone who is Jewish, particularly observant Jewish, featured in an article or report in any of the media and here is what you see: if what that person has done is a "good" thing, then the person is identified strictly by name or perhaps business title or perhaps area of residence. HOWEVER, if what that person has done is something seen as "bad," suddenly the identification will also include "an orthodox Jew." Now, if religious affiliation and degree of practice were the actual policy of these media in identifying those in their reports, I'd expect to see every report read "Mr. X, a devout Catholic" or "Mr. Y, a practicing Presbyterian" or even "Mr. Q, a devout Muslim." I'd expect that quotes would read "Mr. Z, a Seventh Day Adventist, said...." But that's not what happens. Short of using titles such as Archbishop X, the religious affiliation is not immediately mentioned as an identifying characteristic. In fact, it's almost never mentioned, except where someone Jewish is being reported about.

Presumably the identifying characteristics used by the media are for purposes of "objective" reporting. Presumably these characteristics are used to give readers all the "facts" necessary. One of the 5 Ws that reporters are supposed to include is "Who." But what does "who" consist of? If in 99 out of 100 cases that "who" consists of a name and perhaps a business affiliation, then why make the exception when you are writing about Jews? Why? I'll let you guess.

Years back I subscribed to a professional journal that had relevance to the classes I was teaching. In an article on an archaeological dig taking place in the Middle East, one of those involved in the dig was identified as an orthodox Jew. None of the others involved in the dig had such a religious or belief identification. I fired off a letter to the journal demanding an explanation for this identification. What academic goal was being fulfilled by this identification? What information necessary to understand the article did this identification supply? And if religious affiliation was necessary for understanding, why were the others not identified by religious affiliation? What answer did I get back from the journal? Actually, I was surprised that they sent me an answer altogether, that is until I read the answer. They thought that the religious label was an interesting fact for their readers, there not being all that many orthodox Jewish archaeologists around. Say what?!

When I see an example of this kind of antisemitism I fire off a complaint to the offending publication. Yes, I know, my complaint isn't going to change a darn thing. However, that doesn't mean that I don't want these publications to lose the knowledge that someone "out there" saw what they did and can call a spade a spade. As I pointed out to one publication, if their religious characterization had been even handed there would be no complaint. But when a religious Jew was a Nobel Laureate, suddenly "orthodox Jew" wasn't an interesting fact any longer.

Antisemitism? Different form, different shape, different intensity, yet still there.


Primum Non Nocere said...

You are correct, and we should definitely do our part to combat this form of anti-semitism. But at the end of the day, like it or not, as the "Chosen People" we are held up to a higher standard. Other nations don't experience holocausts when they misbehave, as we are assured we will in Devarim. People expect more from us, which is why we need to go lifnim meshuras hadin to ensure that we don't cause any chillulei Hashem.

Primum Non Nocere: Why Am I Not Frum?

aminspiration said...

It gets sticky, because the nations of the world see that we are different and hold us to a higher standard but we dont necessarily hold ourselves to that high standard

Miami Al said...

I think it's less anti-semitism, where they would comment on all Jews, and more novelty and shock.

Even people from small towns that never knew a Jew growing up are familiar with Jews from cultural involvement.

Given the insularity, MINUSCULE size, and lack of geographical diversity, most Americans will go their entire life without actually knowing an Orthodox Jew, even if they've seen them.

It's an interesting fact.

Being a Jew is rare (< 2% of the United States), but in educated settings, we're more like 4%-8%, so that's less interesting.

But Orthodox Jews are slightly easier to befriend than unicorns, and only slightly.

rejewvenator said...

Considering how much Orthodox Jews separate themselves from the non-Orthodox, and insist that non-O rabbis aren't real rabbis, non-O conversions aren't real conversions, and non-O practices aren't authentically Jewish, why is it anti-Semitism for the media to agree that Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews are different enough to be worth making the distinction?

ProfK said...

Do a search of the mention of "Jew" versus "orthodox Jew" and you will find relatively few mentions of "Jew" on its own in news reports by comparison to "Orthodox Jew" although there are some. I'll surmise that this may be so because orthodox Jews stand out physically because of mode or type of dress and accessories.

Put 10 men into a lineup whose last names are all Brown. Make them all of the same race. Now tell someone that one of those men is Jewish and tell him to pick out the Jewish man. If the Jew is non-observant you aren't going to be able to pick him out of that lineup. If the man is observant then the job is easy--the one wearing a kipoh or dress hat and/or beard and payos is the Jew.

The form of anti-semitism practiced by many of the media assumes you can identify the Jew, not so easy to do when many are assimilated and stand out in no way. So, it's not that the media are distinguishing between "plain" Jews and orthodox Jews.

Miami Al said...


Because "Jew" isn't an ethnic minority. Judaism as religion is seen as perfectly normal in 21st Century America, same as Catholicism (once considered a threat to the nation). When a Jew commits a crime, the fact that he's a Jew is of little more interest than if he is a Methodist.

HOWEVER, just like Muslims get singled out when they do bad stuff, Orthodox Jews do as well. Same thing with Sikhs and other "fringe" groups.

Dog bites man - not news
Man bites Dog - news

It has been a conscious decision of fringe Jewish groups to claim the term Orthodox that has caused this issue. A polo shirt wearing man without a Kippa that happens to keep Shabbat and goes to the young Israel, you probably won't get "an Orthodox Jew" comments.

No different than media reports on skin color or ethnicity, "Orthodox Jews" have decided to make themselves an identified ethnic group.

That's not anti-semitism.

Matt said...

Has anyone looked at the possibility that we are singled out and identified because we single ourselves out. We dress differently, dine differently, attend different schools, hold different holidays, speak differently (you don't "stay by" you "stay with"), and look differently. How can we expect the world not to do what we ourselves try to accomplish?