“The greatest triumphs of propaganda,” wrote Aldous Huxley, “have been accomplished, not by doing something, but by refraining from doing. Great is truth, but still greater, from a practical point of view, is silence about truth.”
When it comes to rising anti-Islamic bigotry, Jewish media these days have gone Huxley one better. Not only is the Jewish press mum about hate crimes against Muslims (even as those acts scale new peaks in the U.S.); when the facts about Islamophobia grow too large to be conveniently ignored, our media simply change the subject.
So it was that during the same week the New York Times reported unprecedented levels of American Muslim-hating – a fact that ought to concern members of another religious minority – the big story in New York’s Jewish media was about an elite, heavily Jewish private school in the Bronx that didn’t get sufficiently outraged when a 6th-grade kid incorporated a swastika into an art project, apparently because it’s a sacred symbol where the child’s family comes from.
Yes, the school convened a special assembly to discuss that drawing. And yes, its top administrator then wrote to every student’s family to insist that, however innocent the intent, “the swastika should not appear anywhere” on school grounds.
But that wasn’t enough for Jewish media, whose reports suggested that this was “a clear case of anti-Semitism” (Jewish Week) or at least that the school was “failing to adequately discuss the anti-Semitic connotations” of a symbol already banned there as “hate speech” (Forward). The same stories also noted that the school is trying to mend its ways by joining with the Simon Wiesenthal Center to “expand and deepen students’ understanding of Nazi Germany.” The Wiesenthal Center is engaged in building a “Museum of Tolerance” atop a Muslim cemetery in Jerusalem.
No Jew needs to be reminded of the genocidal bigotry that unfolded around the swastika under Nazi rule. But before we monopolize the topic of religious intolerance with condemnations of one private school’s allegedly mild reaction to this particular symbol, under these particular circumstances, a bit of perspective seems in order. Suppose a student at the same school had drawn a star of David, and another student had objected that his family and friends (and 750,000 others like them) were expelled from their homes under that very symbol. Does anyone believe the school would have banned any future drawings of six-pointed stars? If it had, would its action have pleased the parents and alumni now demanding resignations from most of the school’s leading administrators?
It may seem curmudgeonly (or self-defeating) of me to expend so many words on a story I myself regard as silly. But I have a serious point to make. Just as Jews have a special stake in the phenomenon of anti-Semitism, we have particular reason to be concerned over bogus allegations. If charges of anti-Semitism descend to the level of farce, we risk having our warnings ignored when the real thing surfaces. The hysterical Jewish media coverage of a swastika in a sixth-grade Bronx classroom reminds me of the time two Anti-Defamation League officials insisted that “anti-Jewish stereotyping” in the X-rated cartoon Fritz the Cat reflected rising American Jew-hatred. And what about the media frenzy over Mel Gibson’s trivial Passion of the Christ – which, far from combating anti-Semitism, probably did more to promote Gibson’s film than that notorious dunderhead could have done himself? Stirring yet another brouhaha over nothing renders no service to the Jewish community. Crying “wolf” helps nobody but wolves.
Besides, phony claims of Jewish victimization obscure the very real threats faced by Muslims. And Jews, of all people, should be attuned to the seriousness of those threats. For all we hear about anti-Semitism in France, the most recent annual survey taken by France’s National Human Rights Consultative Committee concluded that “Jews are by far the best accepted minority in France today.” But the picture is bleaker for Muslims; in fact, a 2008 Pew Research Center poll revealed “unfavorable attitudes” toward Muslims not only in France but in Germany, Spain, Poland, India, South Korea (yes, South Korea), Japan, China, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and South Africa. And Muslims have more to worry about than mere attitudes: the civilian death toll from Western wars against the Muslim world is now well over a million for the last ten years alone.
At such a moment, the members of every religious minority, Jews included, should stand shoulder to shoulder against persecution – and there’s no real question, these days, about the community most in need of protection. It’s depressing, therefore, to note the paucity of Jewish organizations that have called for a show of solidarity with beleaguered Muslim communities. That ought to be the obvious response to today’s real dangers – and it’s the Jewishly correct response as well. But how are people to see right from wrong, if all they read about is a Bronx private school that didn’t scream loudly enough over a 6th grader’s artwork?
Michael Lesher, a writer and lawyer, is the author of Sexual Abuse, Shonda and Concealment in Orthodox Jewish Communities (McFarland & Co., Inc.). More information about his work can be found on his web site www.MichaelLesher.com.