In The Atlantic, Jeffrey Goldberg has asked “Is it time for Jews to leave Europe?” The piece has received praise around the American political press for the shear hotness of Goldberg’s take, built heavily on anecdotes and anti-Muslim suspicions. Fredrik deBoer has an excellent response to Goldberg here, as well as a detailed explanation as to why he doesn’t feel compelled to layer his response to Goldberg with heavy caveats about his belief in the existence of anti-Semitism.
I’ll differentiate from deBoer slightly and add some caveats to my post. I’m Jewish. I believe anti-Semitism is real, as it has been a real phenomenon for millennia. I believe it exists in Europe, in the Middle East, in Africa, in the Americas. I believe that there are anti-Semitic Christians in positions of power in Europe. I believe there are poor and working class anti-Semitic Muslims who are themselves powerless in Europe. I believe anti-Semitism exists because the horror of the Holocaust and the global recognition of that horror did not, in fact, magically dissolve millennia of anti-Semitism – just as the passage of the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, like the Emancipation Proclamation before them, did not end racism in America.
The problem with a hot take like Goldberg’s is that it argues fallaciously via anecdote and a presumably deliberate misrepresentation of power dynamics, both in history and today. DeBoer:
One point of Goldberg’s is the most absurd, the most toxic, and the most dangerous. Goldberg argues that there is a chance that Europe’s Muslims will form a coalition with Europe’s rising far-right political parties. He then explicitly analogizes that possibility to the conditions that led to Nazi party. This is utter, absurd lunacy, an idea so inherently ridiculous and straightforwardly wrong that it should totally disqualify his piece even from the many people who are bent on agreeing with it. As his own reporting makes clear, Europe’s actually-existing far-right parties hate Muslim immigrants and would never, ever form a coalition with them. The National Front, a white supremacist group, they’re going to get cozy with a bunch of poor Arabs and Persians? Really? Golden Dawn, which literally contributed to war crimes against Serbian Muslims? They strike you as a group eager to join forces with Muslims? The English Defence League, a movement that started explicitly to harass and exclude and degrade Muslim immigrants in the UK? Really? Indeed, the very rise in those far-right parties that he describes is happening because of anti-Muslim sentiment. The very idea of explicitly Aryan-supremacist, pro-white, anti-immigrant, pro-“Western civilization” parties forming a bloc with the very people they are rising up to oppose is so farcical that only a publication as motivated by intrinsic bigotry as the Atlantic could allow it to be published.
Indeed the existence today (as there has existed for millennia) of individual acts of anti-Semitism in the forms Goldberg articulates – graffiti, casual curses, an outrageous “comedian” and recently a small number of violent acts – are oceans away from the structural anti-Semitism in the form of the political machinery of the German state in the 1930s and 1940s. To equate the two is, as deBoer writes, insane.
But suppose we indulge Goldberg’s hot take for a moment. If he’s right, who else should consider packing their bags and leaving their land of residence for greener pastures?
As deBoer notes, Muslims in Western Europe are the target of large political parties, slurs, graffiti and sporadic individual violence. Following 9/11 there were ample examples of anti-Muslim acts across America. Today the US government wages a transnational war against Muslim terrorists and anyone who is in the same remote geography as these terrorists. Even here in America in a non-governmental capacity in recent weeks, Muslims have been shot and killed for the photographing snowfall and dropping their daughters off at school.
Surely Goldberg and his editors at The Atlantic would want us to ask, “Is it time for Muslims to leave America?”
In the last year, there have been thousands of instances of rape and violence perpetrated by American men against American women. Women who have publicly objected to sexism have been targeted with death threats, rape threats, harassment, and doxxing of their private information. When women have complained to social media companies like Facebook and Twitter that they are being abused, the platforms have largely protected their male attackers.
Surely Goldberg and his editors at The Atlantic would want us to ask, “Is it time for women to leave the internet?”
But perhaps the most concerning question must surely be related to the sickness of white supremacy and racism in America. Despite previously passing laws that ended slavery and largely ended segregation, white supremacy and racism still exist in America. In the last couple of years, there have been the repeated killings of unarmed black men and women. Sometimes it’s been by vigilantes like George Zimmerman or other home “defending” sociopaths who naturally escape legal sanction due to permissive Stand Your Ground laws supported by the gun lobby and NRA, historic bastions of white power. But more recently and more concerning to blacks is that police officers have repeatedly killed unarmed black men and not only gotten away with it, but never charged for these murders in the first place. In Missouri, in New York, in California, across the South, and in Ohio, it’s quite simply the case that the government has legally sanctioned the killing of black Americans.
Surely Goldberg and his editors at The Atlantic would want us to ask, “Is it time for blacks to leave America?”
The simple reality is that as a global society, we have problems to overcome. We have structural inequities and historic hatreds that have not been expunged by the passage of time nor the recognition of past horrors (like the Holocaust or slavery). Anti-Semitism exists. Islamophobia exists. Homophobia exists. Racism exists. Transphobia exists. It is entirely reasonable and necessary that smart people around the world discuss these scourges so as to shine light on them and hopefully make them regress further from not just individual consciousness but from the halls of political power.
But this project is not aided by alarmist, dishonest, bigoted pieces like Goldberg’s. If we want to confront the sickness of hatred in our world, we need to do it without the baggage of hatred. You can’t end anti-Semitism with Islamophobia. It just doesn’t work that way.