Like many of my readers, I'm aware of the rising tide of anti-semitism among hard-core conservative and right-wing movements. It's been around for centuries, so that's nothing new. What does trouble me is that it's based on such flimsy foundations - so flimsy that they cannot, repeat, CANNOT be sustained when one does a detailed analysis of their (allegedly) factual foundation. Most of them are conspiracy theories, pure and simple.
Many anti-semites rely on the "post hoc ergo propter hoc" logical fallacy ("Since event Y followed event X, event Y must have been caused by event X"). I've lost count of how many times I've seen an infamous quote referenced on social media: "Every. Single. Time." This refers to the claim that, after something bad happens, a prominent person or persons involved with the incident is/are proved to be Jewish. It's never explained precisely how their religion or ethnicity has anything to do with what happened: it's simply taken as a given that the very fact that a Jew or Jews was involved explains why something bad happened, because "obviously" that religion and its representatives was/were behind it. Logically, rationally, that's utter nonsense - but the claims are still being made.
Fellow blogger Eaton Rapids Joe applies his own analysis to anti-semitic claims. I recommend clicking over there to read it for yourself. His key point:
But the primary problem with "Blame the Jews" is that "the proof" is always done after-the-fact. It is not a testable-hypothesis that is proposed a priori, it is a witch-hunt performed a posteriori. And if they dig deeply enough, they can always find a Jew. It is finding water (di-Hydrogen Oxide) in the cells of every tumor during the post-mortem.
There's more at the link. Go read.
I think a useful analogy can be drawn between this a posteriori anti-semitism and mathematical odds. If one flips a coin, the mathematical odds of it landing "heads" or "tails" are 50-50. If it should happen that it lands "heads" ten times in a row, that does not mean that it's more likely to land "tails" on the next flip because "the odds are against heads coming up again". No, every single flip is a 50-50 chance, and previous flips have no bearing on those odds at all. That's how casinos and games of chance make their money. People don't understand the mathematics behind odds, and persist in putting their money on what they think is more likely to happen - even if it isn't.
In the same way, those who blame Jews for a particular problem are basing their claims on a repetition of past events. If Jews were (allegedly) responsible for a string of difficulties or incidents or occurrences, then the odds that they'll be responsible for future ones of a similar nature are greatly increased, according to the anti-semites. There are two strikes against that perspective:
- In the first place, one can seldom (if ever) prove that Jews were responsible for some or all of the previous incidents. Those blaming them rely on the "Every. Single. Time" hypothesis, which cannot be rationally foreseen, and relies on after-the-fact conclusions that may not have any real foundation in fact. They rely on inference, rather than on sober analysis of evidence in the light of reason. Thus, blame may be (and frequently is) unfairly apportioned.
- Second, the 50-50 chance again applies. Things happen whether or not people of a particular race, faith or ethnicity are involved. A string of such events that are blamed (fairly or unfairly) on a particular group may, or may not, mean that the next such incident can also be blamed on that group - but one can never be sure. It's not possible to know with certainty, in advance, that that'll be the case.
Are there "bad Jews"? Sure there are - just as there are bad Christians, bad Muslims, bad Hindus, bad-whatever-faith-you-like out there. We don't blame the group for the actions of the individual. We blame the individual, and deal with them as such.
This extends to racism as well. How many times have we heard people say that "all" blacks, or whites, or asians, or whatever, are criminal, or greedy, or patriarchal, or whatever, because many members of those groups exhibit such traits? That's completely false, as even a moment's thought will illustrate. It's not the race of the "bad guy" that matters, it's whether or not he's a bad guy in the first place! Yes, there are areas such as gang-ridden inner-city slums where one would be foolish not to regard everyone of a given ethnicity as potentially a criminal, and be on one's guard - but that's not to say that all of them really are criminals. That would be to imply that giants such as Clarence Thomas, or Thomas Sowell, are equally criminal (at least in potential) because they share their race with many gang-bangers and drug-dealers. Nope. We should not judge by the group. We should judge by the individual. We should do that when it comes to race, and also when it comes to religion.
Sadly, we often fail at that, because emotion can override reason, particularly in the presence of extremism. I wrote about it in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks in Paris in 1915. I stand by what I wrote then, and I think it's worth applying it to anti-semitism and our reactions to individual Jews. I began:
I've seen war from the inside. I've been under fire, and I've fired on others. I've been wounded - one of my wife's early experiences after we married was to pick a piece of shrapnel out of my back as it finally worked its way out of my body - and I've inflicted my share of wounds. I've picked up the dead, and the pieces of the dead.
Those aren't the worst aspects of violent conflict. To me, the worst is what it does to the human psyche. You become dehumanized. Your enemies are no longer people - they're objects, things, targets. You aren't shooting at John, whose mother is ill, and who's missing his girlfriend terribly, and who wants to marry her as soon as he can get home to do so. You're shooting at that enemy over there, the one who'll surely 'do unto you' unless you 'do unto him' first. He's not a human being. He's a 'gook'. He's 'the enemy'. He's a thing rather than a person. It's easier to shoot a thing than it is a person. So, right now, our boys are 'in the sandbox' shooting 'ragheads'. Their boys - those in Paris yesterday - were 'in the land of the infidels'. Those in this country on 9/11/2001 were 'in the land of the Great Satan'. They were - and still are - killing 'kaffirs', unbelievers . . . not human beings.
Go read the rest for yourself. I hope it clarifies matters.
In closing, I'd like to bring in Rudyard Kipling. He had an uncanny ability to use poetry to open our eyes to unspoken realities. His poem "The Stranger", although obviously written from a pro-European and pro-Western perspective, illustrates the conundrum of bias and discrimination as few others have done. Note how he acknowledges that "lies" and "badness" are on both sides of the equation - something few are willing to acknowledge. (For an interesting analysis of Kipling's state of mind when he wrote this poem, see here.)
The Stranger within my gate,
He may be true or kind,
But he does not talk my talk—
I cannot feel his mind.
I see the face and the eyes and the mouth,
But not the soul behind.
The men of my own stock
They may do ill or well,
But they tell the lies I am wonted to,
They are used to the lies I tell.
And we do not need interpreters
When we go to buy and sell.
The Stranger within my gates,
He may be evil or good,
But I cannot tell what powers control—
What reasons sway his mood;
Nor when the Gods of his far-off land
Shall repossess his blood.
The men of my own stock,
Bitter bad they may be,
But, at least, they hear the things I hear,
And see the things I see;
And whatever I think of them and their likes
They think of the likes of me.
This was my father's belief
And this is also mine:
Let the corn be all one sheaf—
And the grapes be all one vine,
Ere our children's teeth are set on edge
By bitter bread and wine.
Too many of us approach others out of that mindset. It's at the root of anti-semitism, racism, and a host of other evils. Because someone is "different" from what we're familiar with, we treat them differently from how we treat those who are "not different" - whether or not that's justified or justifiable. I suggest that's at the root of anti-semitism, as well as other forms of discrimination.
Can anti-semitism be valid? Based on cold, hard fact, I suggest not. I'll leave the last word to Robert Heinlein.
What are the facts? Again and again and again – what are the facts? Shun wishful thinking, ignore divine revelation, forget what “the stars foretell,” avoid opinion, care not what the neighbors think, never mind the unguessable “verdict of history” – what are the facts, and to how many decimal places? You pilot always into an unknown future; facts are your single clue. Get the facts!
If we'd all do that, I suspect a lot of discrimination would be undone, because it would very rapidly become clear that it's not based on fact at all, but on emotion, prejudice and suspicion. Too many of us always want someone to blame, someone we can hold responsible. That's a whole lot easier to deal with than sifting through the evidence to find the truth.
EDITED TO ADD: I see some commenters are making their (contrary) positions clear. I'm going to let them have their say, because their blinkered perspective and refusal to face facts actually reinforces what I've said above. Facts are stubborn things. The only thing more stubborn is those who cling to what they claim are facts, but in fact are anything but. They're nothing more than tired old shibboleths that cannot stand up to the weight of impartial, objective analysis - something anti-semites tend to avoid.