I recently noticed a poster going up on telephone kiosks throughout the city, in which a Far Eastern child admonishes, "Anti-Semitism is anti-me." My eyes scanned to the bottom for an explanation. There I read "Anti-Semitism is anti-everybody," and was directed to the Anti-Defamation League's Web site to help fight anti-Semitism.
Mystified by the confusing, discordant message being attempted, my mind tried a few extrapolations: Be careful being anti-Semitic; you might accidentally offend an Asian-American if he's adopted by Jews…Don't be anti-Semitic, because we all come from Adam and Eve, so we're all related…Ah, the poor Buddhists and all that they've suffered from anti-Semitism. I walked on, then came to another kiosk, this one sporting an androgynous Lutheran minister. Ok, I thought, perhaps this one makes more sense: To a man (or woman) of the cloth, anti-Semitism runs counter to the teachings of the church. Or maybe this minister used to be a rabbi but converted? Eventually I came upon a third poster: Apparently, anti-Semitism is also anti-Naomi Campbell.
So now I had a black woman, an Asian child and a gender-vague minister being offended by anti-Semitism. Some semblance of an understanding began to take form in the fog that this ad campaign created in my brain: Equate anti-Semitism with discrimination against minorities that are more visibly minorities; remind people that anti-Semitism is no different from racism.
Could that really be it? Could the message really be that shallow? A friend suggested that to counteract accusations that Zionism is racism and that Judaism is a racist religion, the ADL is showing that anyone could be Jewish, that there's no specific race in Jewry. Perhaps the ADL is trying to appeal to the simplistic idiocy of some on the Left in their own language by showing them the error of their ways through something so superficial as images of diversity.
She was on to something: Giving the ADL the benefit of the doubt (after all, aren't Jews supposed to be smart?), I thought maybe the campaign was designed to do battle with the new, leftwing anti-Semitism, half of which masquerades as anti-Zionism and the other half of which has become more vocal in this country since 9/11 when tasteful self-censorship on the question of the Jews ceased and more people started asking, "Just how much of the world do the Jews control?" and: "If Israel would just go away, things would be so much less complicated and we'd be safer."
I decided to call the ADL.
"Anti-Semitism is indivisible," explained Graham Cannon, Director of Marketing and Communications, who assured me twice that the ADL was very proud of the campaign. "You can't isolate one group and hate them. You can't split these things." Mr. Cannon added that the ads would be ongoing, with new images replacing these three every two months.
Upon hearing that the ads also would be going up around college campuses across the country, I gave Mr. Cannon a chance to demonstrate that there was some intelligence in the underlying motivation for the campaign, and asked whether perhaps it was meant to counter the new leftwing anti-Semitism. Cannon didn't address this point at all, ultimately directing me to Abraham Foxman's quote from the press release:
"The new campaign, aimed to reach and engage a broad and diverse audience, is designed to change the perception that anti-Semitism is strictly a problem for Jews. Anti-Semitism is everyone's problem. Anti-Semitism in a society is an expression of a hatred of the other, it is contrary to our values of democracy, diversity and acceptance."
We were back to that. Back to the same hollow rhetoric that reduced the lessons of the Holocaust to some watered-down notion of the importance of tolerance for all people. We were back to the flawed assumption that hatred is a package deal. Yet if that were true, the campaign would be useless from go because if you're a hater, you do hate everyone. Obviously, there is something that separates hatred of Jews from hatred of other minorities, and its effects need to be addressed more directly rather than universalized.
A George Will quote comes to mind: "Celebration of tolerance is the first refuge of the intolerant."
Precisely what Jews don't want to believe. Ever afraid of being singled out, we thought that when we joined the "minority" club and took cover under one big umbrella, that there'd be safety in numbers, that no one would try to tell us apart and we'd be privy to the same protections other minorities are. To the minorities, we were saying: "Hey, guys, we're one of you. We're in the same boat." As well, we hoped these groups whose backs we'd watched and with whom we'd marched would return the favor in the Jews' hour of need.
But they didn't. Because they've got nothing in common with Jews, whom they see as a privileged minority and part of the power structure. On the Israel front, the sympathies of our "co-minorities" as a group are instinctively inclined to the poorer, darker, more oppressed-seeming Palestinians. Witness last year's minority-dotted anti-war rallies, complete with posters reading "Sharon=Hitler." So much for half a century of Jewish effort.
Here again, a benefit of the doubt to the ADL campaign: Show a black, a gay and an Asian in order to target blacks, gays and Asians who might be swayed to anti-Semitism in today's environment of misconceptions about Jews. (The press release does say the campaign aims to target a "broad and diverse" audience.)
Still, the new slogan campaign is an attempt to re-bond on that tenuous, artificial, lowest-common-denominator connection simply as a group that's been oppressed. It is a re-intensified effort at the decades-old campaign which countless Jewish dollars funded and which failed so miserably. In fact, one can see the disastrous ineffectiveness of this strategy by doing exactly what the ADL asks and logging on to their site, which chronicles the resurgence of anti-Jewish thinking, anti-Jewish graffiti and anti-Jewish violence throughout the world.
Instead of tackling the misconceptions that are planted in the minds of the masses and that have led to a revived anti-Semitism, we see a reverting back to the flawed approach of a bland, generic anti-hate message that has already backfired. We're not being told that anti-Semitism is bad in and of itself and why, but it's bad because it's like being racist, dude.
Naturally, setting people straight on the issues is the harder task; the truth is never as neatly packaged as the lie that's big enough, said loudly and often enough until believed. But that's not a license for groups like the ADL to take the easy way out. We can't all just get along until we've had it out first.
Instead of wasting all that ad space on meaningless slogans, the organization could have conveyed a message that educated, that actually meant something. For example: "Zionism is humanism: If everyone has a homeland, why can't the Jews have the only democratic one in the Middle East?" Even better, without changing the current campaign, they could have endowed it with some meaning: "Anti-Semitism is anti-everybody" could be a reference to Jews as the canary of civilization: "Anti-Semitism is anti-everybody. Because it always starts with the Jews, then they come for the rest of us." Such a message would provide a historical context and tell people particularly the younger generation something they probably don't know or haven't thought about.
Good intention can no longer justify decades of organized Jewish bumbling the likes of which led to Jewish college students and the adult Jewish Left to actually be taken by surprise at the display of Jew-hatred on college campuses, and to be so ill-prepared to counter it. Fanaticism says: If what you are doing isn't producing the desired result, intensify your efforts. Or, if you've dug yourself into a hole, keep digging. Hence we see the ADL redoubling its counterproductive efforts.
Anti-Semitism isn't anti-everybody, Mr. Foxman. It's just anti-Jewish.