Antisemitism is back. Of course, antisemitism never completely disappeared in America. Everywhere I have lived, signs of prejudice against Jews popped up: complaints about being “Jewed” out of money, acceptance of Jewish stereotypes, complaints about supposed Jewish control of newspapers, films, or whatever else the complainant didn’t like. But since the heyday of Father Coughlin in the 1930s, public pronouncements of antisemitism have gradually declined in the US. It was almost unthinkable that a famous personality could express open antisemitism in the public media without creating a firestorm of protest.
Until just a few weeks ago. On October 8, Ann Coulter responded “Yes,” when cable TV host Donny Deutsch asked her if “it would be better if we were all Christian?” Undaunted, when he asked her if “we should just throw Judaism away and we should all be Christians,” she said, “Yeah . . . we just want Jews to be perfected.”
The lack of reaction to Coulter’s open expression of antisemitism has been remarkable. Her political allies have seen nothing wrong with her statements. NBC executives have been silent. Media watchdogs have let her statements pass. Even the ever-vigilant Anti-Defamation League made only a brief public comment, and then dropped the issue. So Coulter stands by her characterization of Jews as imperfect Christians, thus imperfect humans. The only voice of criticism that I have heard is the columnist Leonard Pitts, who wrote a week later that silence about her words appears to be assent.
Coulter’s remarks are no surprise: she makes no bones about her Christian supremacism. The silence, though, needs to be explained. In an age of heightened sensitivity to racist statements by celebrities, such as Don Imus and Mel Gibson, why would Coulter be allowed to say that Jews are inferior? I believe there are three explanations.
The first is rooted in Middle East politics. Recently Christian fundamentalists have come strongly to the defense of Israel in its battle against Palestinians. Those who believe in the approaching “end time” want the Holy Land to be in the hands of Jews when Jesus returns, in order to fulfill their interpretation of Biblical prophecies. Fundamentalists in America are now some of the Israeli government’s most vociferous and financially generous supporters, just as many American Jews have gradually become more critical of Israeli settlement policy and treatment of Palestinians.
Those American Jewish organizations and spokespersons who have been the most vigilant in combating the antisemitism of neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and ordinary bigots are also the most vocal defenders of Israeli policy. They have gladly accepted Christian fundamentalist support for Israel, despite knowing that fundamentalists believe the return of Jesus will be the end of Judaism and Jews. Perhaps they made the calculation that support for Israel today is what’s important, since they don’t believe in the Second Coming anyway. Ann Coulter and Daniel Pipes, one antisemitic and the other accusing everyone who does not support the most aggressive Israeli policies of being antisemitic, mention each other approvingly in their writings.
A second reason is the increasing fuzziness of the concept of antisemitism. Antisemitism is increasingly used in political controversies to taint the ideas of opponents. The recent cases of Norman Finkelstein’s tenure denial and the proposed boycott of Israeli universities by British academics show how political arguments against Israeli policy are greeted with charges of antisemitism. Conservative Jews accuse liberal Jews of antisemitism. The essential quality of antisemitism, the hatred of Jews as Jews, whatever their ideas, is being lost, as the concept increasingly becomes a tool for partisan politics.
I propose a third reason: the growing importance of the right religion. Acceptance of Jews in United States since World War II has occurred less out of sympathy for our losses during the Holocaust than as part of a wider American acceptance of a whole spectrum of religious beliefs and non-beliefs. The election of John F. Kennedy showed that religion was becoming less relevant in public life. That acceptance is crumbling in the face of spreading Christian supremacism. Political candidates avow the centrality of religion in their lives to appease the increasingly intolerant demands of Christian fundamentalists that our political system become more explicitly Christian according to their definitions. Fundamentalists’ liberal use of quotations and ideas from the Old Testament should not lull American Jews into illusory beliefs about a common heritage. Jews reject Christ and so real Christians, in Coulter’s words, will eventually demand that Jews become “perfected.”
Coulter presents the dilemma of antisemitism starkly. Criticize the implicit, or in her case explicit, antisemitism of Christian supremacists, and possibly lose their support for Israel? Or ignore her ravings and hope nobody will notice?
But people will notice. Coulter’s right-wing allies will see that it is okay to proclaim the inferiority of Jews in the public media. Soon others will follow. Media executives, never a bold group, will be less and less likely to take action. The hard-won acceptance of Jews in the United States, which allowed me to grow up in one of the very few places in history where it did not matter that I was Jewish, will be lost. It won’t be long before the modern Father Coughlins of the Christian Right demand, as Coulter did, that Jews “have to obey.”
To the Editor:
Steve Hochstadt, professor of history at Illinois College, wrote in an article on December 10 at HNN, “The Return of Antisemitism”:
Ann Coulter and Daniel Pipes, one antisemitic and the other accusing everyone who does not support the most aggressive Israeli policies of being antisemitic, mention each other approvingly in their writings.
I wrote you that same day with two questions about this sentence.
1. I do not remember calling anyone antisemitic for not supporting what Mr. Hochstadt calls “the most aggressive Israeli policies.” Could he document this statement?
2. Nor do I remember mentioning Ann Coulter approvingly. A search of my website finds I have mentioned her in passing twice, without comment, once in a quote and once in a list. Could Mr. Hochstadt also document this statement?
To which Mr. Hochstadt replied on December 11:
I will point out that the following quotation appears on his website in an article about Lee Harvey Oswald: “And whence comes the liberal rage that conservatives like Ann Coulter, Jeff Jacoby, Michelle Malkin, and the Media Research Center have extensively documented?” I don’t think that Ann Coulter has done anything like document liberal rage, whatever that might be, but Pipes does, and that counts as mentioning her and her work approvingly. When you call up that article, or many other articles on Pipes’ website, a large ad for Ann Coulter’s articles appears on the left: “sign up to get Ann Coulter’s articles delivered free.”
Two points in reply: (1) Mr. Hochstadt may not think Coulter “has done anything like document liberal rage,” but if he goes to the source of this quote on my website at “Lee Harvey Oswald's Malign Legacy,” he will find a link from Ann Coulter’s name that goes to chapter one, “Liberals Unhinged,” of her book Slander: Liberal Lies About the American Right.
What Mr. Hochstadt “thinks” is less important, it seems to me, than that what Ms Coulter has actually published. And I also wonder how including her name in a list constitutes mentioning her favorably.
(2) If an ad for Ms Coulter’s articles has appeared on my website, it results from one of those automatic processes that keys words on my website. I do not control such ads – and indeed, some are not to my liking.
Then, when I asked for Mr. Hochstadt’s reply to the “antisemitic” challenge, you informed that he does not “have a specific answer about that other question.”
Research is supposed to be a hallmark of the scholar. I fail to understand how a professional historian can make such rudimentary mistakes as these – winging it with wild statements without so much as checking the facts.
Daniel Pipes demonstrates something of his method of discussion here. He denies mentioning Coulter approvingly, then does it again. He ends by some nasty comments about what he claims to be my methods of research and writing. This is why I declined to reply to his other claim. What’s the use, when he just says that black is white?
It might be more interesting if Pipes addressed the issues brought up in my essay, instead of engaging in petty quibbles, which make him look silly, and ad hominem remarks. Why, for example, does he persist in saying that Coulter’s work is worth looking at, while denying that he mentions her approvingly?
I would be happy to discuss substantive issues with him, or anyone else, but otherwise I won’t try HNN readers’ patience.