Public Comment

Real vs. Imagined Anti-Semitism

By Jack Bragen
Wednesday March 18, 2009 - 06:04:00 PM

In high school, there was a kid who would call me “Jack the Jew.” I asked the fellow student how he knew I was Jewish, and he told me he could tell by my looks. 

I’ve run into bigotry against Jews thousands of times. When someone points me out as the “Jew,” and says the word “Jew,“ like it’s an insult and not a compliment, that’s anti-Semitism. Most, not all, of those who are blatantly anti-Semitic seem like less educated persons than the average. 

I went to a lunch with a group of people, several of whom didn’t know me well. A woman in the group in her 20s started to talk about a book she had read by “a Jewish Person,” which was connected with the Holocaust. When I told the woman I was Jewish, she suddenly became very flustered, and acted as though she had said something wrong. I talked more to this person as the luncheon went on, and she told me that the anger of the Palestinians couldn’t be solved until we deal with “the problem.” I asked her, what was “the problem,” and she wouldn’t answer. Then this woman went on to say that the Holocaust didn’t happen. That was my first exposure to someone denying the Holocaust, and I didn’t quite know how to interpret it. 

Later, I received a number of e-mails from this woman promoting Jimmy Carter’s book about “Israeli apartheid.” 

One time, a man intent on starting a fist fight with me employed numerous derogatory slang terms about my being Jewish, such as “kike.” I took him up on his offer, but didn’t “win.” 

One time in a “group therapy” setting, there was a substance abuse counselor who said “Jews are very direct.” She made other remarks that were anti-Semitic, and made remarks that were offensive to an African American woman in the room as well. When the counselor defied the African American woman who was offended to “specify exactly what I said that was racist,” it was hard for her to remember. This is the oldest therapeutic trick in the book: When a consumer is upset, the therapist asks for all the details of the incident that made them unhappy. The consumer is generally on enough medication so that they can’t produce the detailed explanation asked for. 

Knowing all of this, I had deliberately stored memory of the counselor’s racist comments. So, at the time, I was able to repeat back several comments she had made that were both anti-Semitic and prejudiced against African American people. I never saw the counselor work at that center after that. 

The fact is that anti-Semitism is all over the place. It is not the rarity that many people may think it is. 

That said, I don’t perceive the Berkeley Daily Planet as an anti-Semitic paper. 

It doesn’t make a person automatically prejudiced against Jews when they disagree with some of the policies of Israel. There are thousands of Jews who do not agree with everything Israel does. 

I recall seeing one or two articles in the Planet about Israel which I did not completely agree with. It does not automatically qualify as anti-Semitic to express an opinion that differs from one’s own. 

Israel has a right to defend itself. Yet it is the manner in which Israel does that which will show a level of extremism or lack of it. 

Jews are not superior. Those who believe Jews are the only ones who have been persecuted are not correct. Those who believe Jews are not capable of the very same atrocities that have been done to us are wrong. 

That doesn’t take away from the fact that the Jews to this day are subject to some form of persecution nearly everywhere. 

I do not know whether or not Israel is a bit overboard in its zeal to preserve itself. I do not think the truth is clear and obvious about this matter, which is an extremely complex and difficult one. 

I know that there is room to disagree, and doing so in a rational, honest and open minded manner is not bigotry. 


Jack Bragen is a Martinez resident.