Sunday, October 26, 2003

The Easterbrook Flap, and Imaginary Antisemitism

I don't really have much to say about this whole sordid business that hasn't been said elsewhere. I didn't believe for an instant that Easterbrook was an anti-semite, or even that what he had to say was particularly anti-semitic; would there have been comparable outrage if he had been writing about greedy black record executives irresponsibly promoting racial polarization and violence? One thing I do think needs saying is that the blogosphere reaction to Easterbrook's column, and his subsequent firing from ESPN as a result, illustrate that the American Jewish community is not without it's own share of overly sensitive types who are ever on the lookout for acts or statements that can be construed as antisemitic, however imaginary.

In particular, I think no truer statement has ever been made about one high-profile female blogger (who I refuse to link to here, as a matter of principle) than that she is a "Jewish Al Sharpton." Her perpetual overreaction to events, her shrillness of tone, which makes Paul Krugman seem like a Golden Retriever on marijuana, and her inability to even contemplate the notion of a dialogue with the other side make her, as far as I am concerned, a malign influence in the blogging world. Said blogger, as well as a certain high-profile site which I also won't link to (hint: its' name starts with "L", and has a "G" followed by an "F") are to my mind nothing other than the blogosphere equivalents of the Ann Coulters of this world, so shrill and so eager to see the worst in those who disagree with them that one feels a sense of shame at being allied with them over any issue whatsoever.

Anti-semitism does still exist in the world, and, as the Mahathir speech has shown us, it is still pervasive amongst large numbers of people, but there is a danger in the use of the charge of "anti-semitism" as a cudgel against all critics of either Jews or Israel, and it is the same risk that those who reflexively reach for the "racism" charge run: that after crying wolf too many times, these terms will have lost all their power, so that when a truly troubling incident does come along, few people will be willing to take them seriously. Part of being a member of an often persecuted minority is frequently having to wonder whether an unpleasant interaction or an inexplicably unsuccessful initiative is due to prejudice, and this is understandable in as far as such suspicions often end up being correct, but one must nevertheless guard against reducing every setback or unpleasantness to this single factor, not just to preserve one's credibility, but also to maintain one's sanity. Neither America nor today's Western Europe are Nazi Germany or the Jim-Crow South, and sometimes people either misspeak (as with Easterbrook), or are merely political opportunists (as with Chirac on Mahathir); it is also true that sometimes an asshole is just an asshole, not a racist or an anti-semite.