Who is a Racist/Anti-Semite? Blog by Rabbi Marc D. Angel

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It has become all too common for people to brand their opponents as racists or as anti-Semites. Instead of allowing for reasonable discussion among those with different viewpoints, name-calling is an attempt to stigmatize and delegitimize the other.

Certainly, there really are people who are racists and anti-Semites. They hate with a visceral hatred, without even knowing (or caring to know) about the victims of their hatred. Their venom is not aimed at an individual based on a particular grievance. Rather, it is a blanket animus against anyone who is associated with the despised group.

Genuine racists and anti-Semites are dangerous because their hatred has no limits. They are mired in hatred. They may reach the point of taking action—including violent action—against those they hate.

The late psychiatrist and philosopher, Dr. Silvano Arieti, pointed out that the root of hatred is fear.  Haters are basically afraid of those they hate. They ascribe evil powers and intentions to them. In this sense, hatred is a form of mental illness…an irrational fear-based fantasy that engulfs one’s life.

Many years ago, I officiated at the conversion to Judaism of a woman who had been raised in Saudi Arabia, a daughter of American parents stationed in that country. She had grown up with vile anti-Jewish stereotypes, even though she had never met a Jew.  When she traveled to the United States for college, she came into contact with Jewish students. For the first time in her life, she had to deal with her innate hatred of Jews…and her very likeable and decent Jewish contemporaries. She realized that the anti-Jewish venom that poisoned her upbringing had not only been unfair to Jews…but had been unfair to her own humanity. She began to study Judaism as a way of overcoming her prejudices; and she ultimately chose to become Jewish and to marry a Jewish man.  She told me: “If only everyone could live for one month in the skin of those they were raised to hate…then they would develop understanding. They would recognize how destructive hatred is to their own lives, let alone to the lives of the victims of hatred.”

There are, unfortunately, people of various religions and races who are indeed racists and/or anti-Semites. They are a threat to society, and a threat to themselves.

However, there are people who are branded as racists or anti-Semites, but who are incorrectly stigmatized with these terms.  If someone criticizes the views of a Jew, this doesn’t make him/her an anti-Semite. If someone points out negative ideas or actions of a black or a white person, this doesn’t make him/her a racist. To accuse someone of being a hater is to engage in a serious charge. One must think very carefully before labeling someone as a racist/anti-Semite.

It is increasingly common for people to brand as racists/anti-Semites anyone who calls their opinions or actions into question. Name-calling does not solve problems or disagreements.

It is problematic when individuals receive criticism but then blame the critic and call him/her a racist or anti-Semite. Instead of addressing issues, conflicts then become name-calling events in which both sides engage in ad hominem attacks. The fires of hatred intensify, and no one really wins. Society as a whole loses when public discourse is reduced to name-calling.

There are real racists and anti-Semites, and these surely must be confronted for what they are.

But there are also those who are branded as racists/anti-Semites as a way of dismissing their arguments and maligning their character.

It would be a giant step forward for society if the terms “racist” and “anti-Semite” were used only when entirely accurate, and not as a ploy for discrediting opponents.