An open letter to Representative Joe Walsh
Dear Rep. Walsh:
I write to protest your antisemitic statements, which have no place in public discourse. I demand that you apologize and take them back.
The statements in question were, ironically, when you called the organization 'J Street' (of which I am a supporter, but not a member) antisemitic. This was deeply offensive to all Jews.
Rep. Walsh, I'm not sure where your grandparents were in the 1930s and 1940s, but I'll tell you where my great-grandparents were: in Russia, Lithuania, and Latvia, being murdered by the Nazis and their collaborators. All of them. I'm also quite sure that you did not experience anti-Semitic slurs and violence as a youngster, as I did growing up in Florida in the 1980s. I doubt anyone in your family was ever denied entrance to a club, or a job, or anything else for that matter, because of their religion.
In short, you have no experience of anti-Semitism. Good for you! Your non-Jewish privilege has enabled you to move freely in certain corridors of power where Jews are still seen as "Other." You are part of the Christian majority in this country. You feel no ambivalence when the holiday season rolls around and "we" celebrate Christmas, or when your Tea Party colleagues refer to America as a Christian nation. This is what privilege is -- and you've got it in spades.
With privilege comes certain responsibilities. Rep. Walsh, you don't get to call Jews anti-Semitic -- certainly not without ample support from watchdogs of antisemitism like the Anti-Defamation League, or other reliable sources. That would be like me telling you you're not a good Christian. Certainly, I believe that; your outrageous comments about your opponent, your comments about Muslims, your cruel and un-Christian economic policies that would enrich the super-rich -- I have no doubt that Jesus would have condemned all of these. But it's not my place to say so. I'm not a Christian, and so I don't get to tell you about your religion.
Likewise here. When you call Jews -- like Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of J-Street, or that organization's hundreds of thousands of Jewish supporters, including me -- anti-Semitic, you cross the line into anti-Semitism yourself. You're saying "I know Judaism better than you do, even though you are Jewish." You're ignoring your non-Jewish privilege. And you're invoking the ghosts of our murdered ancestors, abusing our memories of them to score political points. It's disgusting, Rep. Walsh, that you would ever say such a thing.
You'll notice I haven't said anything about J Street's policies. They are beside the point. It so happens that every J Street supporter I know cares about Israel and supports a two-state solution (which you do not) because they believe doing so is in Israel's best interests. Many of them, like Peter Beinart, are deeply committed Jews who send their kids to Jewish schools. We Jews disagree amongst ourselves as to which policies are better for Jews, for Israel, or for the human race in general. That doesn't make some of us anti-Semitic.
But really, none of that matters. Even if the organization's policies could somehow be construed as anti-Semitic, which they cannot, you don't get to say so. It's not your judgment call to make. It's ours. And stealing that right, for an ethnic group to define and defend itself, is an act of violence.
That's why it's anti-Semitic for you, a non-Jew, to call Jews anti-Semites. Ironically, what you're doing is the same when some pro-Palestine people analogize Israelis to Nazis. It's outrageous when they say it, and outrageous when you say it. Except in the most extreme of circumstances, non-Jews don't get to call Jews anti-Semitic, or Nazis, or anything of the sort.
Think what you will about Israel and Palestine. Your positions are to the right of Israel's right-wing parties, and I hope they will be rejected by your constituents. But those are political views, and you're entitled to have them. What you're not entitled to do is abuse the memories of my murdered forebears, and tell me that I'm like those who murdered them. Please -- reflect for a moment on how offensive that is. And for once, please, say that you're sorry.