The Simon Wiesenthal Center has released its list of 2010’s “Top 10 Anti-Semitic Slurs“. Aside from wondering whether it should be called a “top 10” or a “bottom 10” list, I find the list, or really the spin used by those who published it, to be disturbing.
Despite claims by both the center’s website, and by its Dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, that this list represents some new level of threat, the fear-mongering is not borne out by the list itself. And once again, it’s hard not to feel that this is another example of people who have nothing but a hammer seeing a world full of nails.
Don’t get me wrong, there is anti-Semitism in the world and it should be fought wherever it exists. And just as we ought never to make less of it than it is, neither should we make more of it than it is. I fear that is exactly what the Wiesenthal Center list does, and in the process, it misses some very valuable information about how best to combat anti-Semitism expressed by cultural influentials.
In a piece published by the L.A. Times, Rabbi Hier suggests that “When anti-Semitism moves from the back alleys into the D.C. press corps and Hollywood, it’s time for all of us to take note”. No doubt. But should we not also take note of the fact that in each of the cases to which he refers, the offender in question was not only publicly lambasted from all sides, but in virtually each case, lost their jobs!
In other words, the issue here is not rising or deepening anti-Semitism, its expanding free speech and even more rapidly expanding access to that which is said. While there is plenty of evidence in the list that some people in positions of power and influence harbor hostility to Jews and do so base on absurd stereotypes, a quick follow up as to what happened to those who shared their views indicates that there is less room than ever for such public hateful utterances.
If anything, this list should give us cause to celebrate that while the problem still persists, anti-Semites are easier to smoke out than ever, and that when they share their hateful ideas, they are more likely than ever to pay a step cost for sharing those hateful ideas.
Vigilance in the face of anti-Semitism is always appropriate, but the ‘boy who cries wolf’, even if unintentionally so, is hardly a useful watchman over the innocent flock which anti-Semites would attack.