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Eight mistakes the media makes about anti-Semitism in America today

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When House Democrats managed to turn an ill-conceived attack on one of their own into an all-inclusive condemnation of bigotry, they dodged a bullet — but not the war, as Donald Trump made clear.

"The Democrats have become an anti-Israel party. They've become an anti-Jewish party. And I thought that vote was a disgrace," Trump claimed after the vote, in a typically mendacious statement.

The resolution’s author, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, is of course both Jewish and a Democrat. In fact, the vast majority of Jews in Congress are Democrats — eight of nine senators (plus independent Bernie Sanders) and 25 of 27 House members.

What’s more, the resolution's first clause “rejects the perpetuation of anti-Semitic stereotypes in the United States and around the world, including the pernicious myth of dual loyalty and foreign allegiance, especially in the context of support for the United States-Israel alliance," directly refuting Trump’s claim. The second clause further "condemns anti-Semitic acts and statements as hateful expressions of intolerance that are contradictory to the values that define the people of the United States.”

The rejection of anti-Semitism could not be clearer. Yet, 23 Republicans voted against it! And Trump — whose last 2016 campaign ad was “packed with anti-Semitic dog whistles, anti-Semitic tropes and anti-Semitic vocabulary” as TPM’s Josh Marshall described it — calls Democrats “anti-Jewish”?

If Trump were alone, it would be laughable, if only in the darkest of ways. But of course he’s not. He’s got the vast majority of his party marching in lockstep with him — and pretending that Democrats are anti-Semitic is one of the few cards they’ve got to play going into the 2020 elections. Which is one more reason why we must be very clear about what anti-Semitism really is, what purposes and interests it serves, how it relates to other forms of bigotry, and why it’s being politically manipulated by Trump and his allies.

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Above all, the media has a responsibility not to further anti-Semitism by clouding and obscuring what is going on. There is no place for neutrality here. One cannot be neutral in the face of hate. With that in mind, here eight key mistakes the media needs to avoid — and help the rest of us avoid as well.

1. Failing to define anti-Semitism as an ideology, worldview, belief system and social identity characterized by animosity to Jews.

The meaning of “anti-Semitism” is relatively straightforward. The Holocaust Encyclopedia says, “The word antisemitism means prejudice against or hatred of Jews.” The Anti-Defamation League defines it as “The belief or behavior hostile toward Jews just because they are Jewish” and Jews For Racial & Economic Justice defines it as "the form of ideological oppression that targets Jews." Hostility to Jews because of their identity is the central feature, bolstered by some form of rationale, and creating a social identity for anti-Semites in opposition to their fantasy of Jewish identity, whatever that may be.

2. Failing to recognize anti-Semitism as inherently connected to wider sociopolitical issues.

As the Holocaust Encyclopedia explains in its definition of anti-Semitism:

In 1879, German journalist Wilhelm Marr originated the term antisemitism, denoting the hatred of Jews, and also hatred of various liberal, cosmopolitan, and international political trends of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries often associated with Jews. The trends under attack included equal civil rights, constitutional democracy, free trade, socialism, finance capitalism, and pacifism.

Thus, hatred of Jews is used to justify attacks on a wide range of liberal policies associated with them, and conversely, opposition to those policies serves to justify hatred of Jews.

3. Failing to understand modern anti-Semitism as primarily the historical product of European Christianity and its culture.

The ADL notes that while animosity to Jews as distinct socio-religious group dates to ancient times, “The rise of Christianity greatly increased hatred of Jews,” with the first rationalizing ideology — blaming Jews “as a people who rejected Jesus and crucified him — despite the fact that the Roman authorities ordered and carried out the crucifixion.” Crucially, the Roman authorities who were responsible for the crucifixion weren’t around anymore. Jews were.

The unified impact of this ideology became much more dire in the 10th and 11th centuries, as described by the Holocaust Encyclopedia, “in part because of the following: threat to the Church hierarchy from the impending split between Roman Catholicism and Greek Orthodoxy (1054); successive waves of Muslim conquest; end of millennium fervor; successes in converting the heathen ethnic groups of northern Europe; and military-spiritual zeal of the Crusades.” In this context, “Jews became bearers of the only minority religion on a now Christian continent of Europe,” and thus, the universal “other.”

In the early modern period, “Jews were permitted and encouraged to perform managerial and commercial tasks that the ruling classes had neither the skills nor inclination to perform themselves.” In particular: “Since the Catholic and Orthodox Churches banned usury (lending money at interest) and generally looked down upon business practices as immoral, Jews came to fill the vital (but unpopular) role of moneylenders for the Christian majority,” as well as engaging in commerce and the professions, and working “as managers on landed estates and tax collectors.” As modern states consolidated, Jews were........

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