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Inconsistency governs when antisemitism requires ‘and other forms of bigotry’ as chaperone

In his recent clash with Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.), Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) flip-flops on the question of whether antisemitism is a unique challenge.

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) Credit: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock.

When the U.S. House of Representatives condemned antisemitism, Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry on March 7, 2019, the resolution ostensibly responded to anti-Jewish remarks by Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.).

“It is troubling that Congress could not condemn antisemitism on its own,” CEO of StandWithUs Roz Rothstein said at the time.

Hours before the resolution passed, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told the Jewish Journal it was “an appropriate response to the debate we’ve been having about a number of comments made the past few weeks.”

When the White House created an Interagency Group to Counter Antisemitism, Islamophobia and Related Forms of Discrimination and Bias, Schiff didn’t appear to oppose the “antisemitism and” formulation, in which Jew-hatred appears to require a chaperone, as a dilution of anti-Jewish sentiment.

But when Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) sought to add “anti-Christian bigotry and bigotry against all faiths” to an amendment of Schiff’s that referenced antisemitism on March 1 of this year, Schiff adopted a bit of a different approach.

“Schiff, who is Jewish, appeared to balk at the request, noting that he would ‘be happy to accept an amendment’ that references ‘all forms of bigotry, including that against members of any faith,’ ” reported The Christian Post.

“When Buck asked whether that would mean deleting the reference to antisemitism, Schiff replied: ‘I’m not deleting antisemitism because that has been a unique scourge which is on the rise, but as I said, unless you want to add “anti-Muslim faith and other religious faiths,” I don’t think we should single out one to the preference of others.’ ”

What’s sauce for the political goose may not always be sauce for the political gander. When JNS sought clarity, Lauren French, a spokeswoman for Schiff, initially said, “We can’t swing this at the moment.” JNS offered more time, but French replied, “We’re going to pass on weighing in beyond his comments (at) the hearing.”

Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.). Credit: Official Portrait, U.S. House of Representatives.

Buck’s office did not respond to a query from JNS. The Anti-Defamation League did not respond to specific questions about either of the March incidents.

‘Often not about religion at all’

Antisemitisim often must be considered in the context of other forms of bigotry, as with White nationalists—in the past and present day—whose manifestos cite antisemitic ideas even when they attack African-Americans, Latin or South American immigrants or Muslims, according to Ethan Katz, associate professor of history and Jewish studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

“At the same time, antisemitism is a specific form of hatred against Jews that has precise characteristics, and a long and distinctive history,” Katz, who also co-directs Berkeley’s antisemitism education initiative, told JNS. “At times, efforts to denounce antisemitism can become watered-down if they are reworded to include all other forms of bigotry.”

When the House broadened the 2019 bill, which was proposed to be against antisemitism, “it felt a bit for many Jews like ‘all hatreds matter,’ in the way that ‘all lives matter’ lands, for understandable reasons, very poorly with many African-Americans,” said Katz.

He thinks that the dispute between Schiff and Buck is different, and both congressmen agree that language condemning other forms of hatred is OK.

“It seems that Congressman Buck is very focused on anti-Christian attacks and sees them as singularly significant to include. Representative Schiff is uncomfortable privileging that form of bigotry over other cases of religious bigotry,” said Katz.

“In reality, antisemitism is often not about religion at all, so classifying it as one among many forms of religious bigotry is itself problematic,” he added. “But neither member addresses that issue in this exchange.”

‘Jews are guilty somehow’

Alvin Rosenfeld, an English and Jewish studies professor at Indiana University-Bloomington, agreed that antisemitism is more than just hostility to the Jewish faith or people of that faith. (He also chairs the university’s Jewish studies program and directs its Institute for the Study of Contemporary Antisemitism.)

Schiff and Buck discussed “prejudice against particular faiths,” Rosenfeld told JNS. “That gets at a piece of what might be behind the hatred these days.”

Hateful people target many others based on their race, ethnicity, sexual orientation or other identities, noted Rosenfeld, who recommends looking at hatred more broadly.

“Judaism is the faith of the Jewish people, but people who are hostile to Jews often could care less about whether the Jews are religious or not. The general notion is that Jews are guilty somehow,” he said. “If you ask me what are they guilty of, to people who don’t like Jews, it could be anything under the sun and not just their religion.”

Jewish history is complex, which makes antisemitism complex, according to Rosenfeld.

“If you were to do a review of anti-Jewish hatred over the centuries, you would see sometimes it’s triggered by religious motives, sometimes by racial motives, sometimes by economic and political motives,” he said. “In that respect, antisemitism is different from other kinds of prejudices. It’s not just a prejudice or a bias, but something more encompassing than that.”

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