Apparently, Abe Foxman called Andrew Sullivan an anti-Semite in his remarks to the Jewish Council on Public Affairs’ national meeting. I say “apparently” because neither I nor anyone else can confirm the veracity of the twitter feed from the meeting which carried the quote. Of course, nobody will deny its accuracy either. That’s bad.
Andrew Sullivan is many things, and some of his recent analysis of the Middle East conflict has been woefully inadequate. Lately, he finds it easier to substitute easy moral equivalence for the more complex reality in which there is blame enough to go around, without claiming that all bad acts are equally bad. But be that as it may, bad analysis does not an anti-Semite make, especially since the latter is a claim about a person’s beliefs, and inner beliefs can not be measured by a few comments; no matter how objectionable Mr. Foxman or anybody else finds them.
But a tiff between Foxman and Sullivan is not the real story here. In truth, Sullivan seems to love these dust ups – they are simply grist for his ever-churning word mill. If anything he should send Foxman a thank-you note. And the fact that Foxman labels Sullivan a Jew-hater, is hardly surprising. It’s simply one more case of the old adage that when all you have is a hammer, the whole world looks like a nail.
The story here is the dangerous devaluation of a real and ugly phenomenon i.e. anti-Semitism. Equally distressing, is the fact that Foxman, one of the nation’s leaders in the fight against anti-Semitism, also leads the process of its devaluation as either a meaningful term or a genuine challenge.
There is no question that Jew-hatred persists in this country along with other racial, ethnic and gender-based hatreds, and that both Foxman and the ADL have played important and even heroic roles in combating them. But with Jew-hatred on the decline in this country, and even more importantly, becoming almost exclusively the domain of the least educated and empowered segments of society; it often appears that Foxman is nothing more than a hammer in search of more nails.
In doing so, a great man becomes the boy who cried wolf. And in a world in which real wolves remain, he not only looks foolish, but feeds the belief that ALL claims of anti-Semitism are ridiculous. After all, people will reasonably conclude, look who’s making them!
If you are genuinely concerned about real anti-Semitism, stop tossing out that charge every time someone does something which any Jew finds disagreeable. The charge of anti-Semitism is powerful, which is why people love to use it. But it is powerful precisely because it describes an ugly state of mind and the potentially deadly actions which flow from it. If regularly used to describe anything else, the term, like the boy’s cries of wolf, will lose its potency, including at those moments when real wolves approach.