But in recent weeks, we have seen a flood of public figures saying some not-too-nice things about Jews. The question is, though, where do we draw the line between what is anti-Semitic, and what is just plain stupid?
First came Glenn Beck, who compared Reform Judaism to “radicalized Islam” on his radio program on Feb. 22. Beck was speaking to what he saw as the politicization of the Reform movement, stemming from an open letter that criticized Beck for repeatedly using Nazi comparisons; the letter was signed by mostly non-Orthodox rabbis.
“There are the Orthodox rabbis and there are the Reform rabbis,” Beck said. “Reformed rabbis are generally political in nature. It’s almost like radicalized Islam in a way where it is just — radicalized Islam is less about religion than it is about politics.”
After the ADL and several Jewish groups, including the Union for Reform Judaism, pounced on Beck, he made an apology on his radio program.
Then we’ve got John Galliano. A video surfaced this week of the designer for influential fashion house Christian Dior speaking in a Paris café about his feelings on Jews: “People like you would be dead. Your mothers, your forefathers, would all be f*****g gassed… I love Hitler.” The video was shot in the same café where Galliano was arrested late last week for allegedly assaulting a couple and using more anti-Semitic slurs.
Reaction to the Galliano case was swift, and almost unequivocally negative: Dior fired the designer, referring to a zero tolerance policy regarding any “racist statement or attitude.”
And then we come to Charlie Sheen. Tucked somewhere in the TV star’s whirlwind of oddball behavior and statements about his “tiger blood” was a particular rant in which he used the Hebrew name of “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre.
Between calling Lorre a “contaminated little maggot” and a “clown,” Sheen referred to Lorre as “Chaim Levine” several times.
The ADL once again quickly retorted, with a statement from Abraham Foxman: “By invoking … Lorre’s Jewish name in the context of an angry tirade against him, Charlie Sheen left the impression that another reason for his dislike of Mr. Lorre is his Jewishness … his words are at best bizarre, and at worst, borderline anti-Semitism.”
So here we have three stories with similar headlines, but very different undertones. Galliano’s cruel words directly reference the Holocaust, even endorsing the death and destruction of Jews. It’s classic anti-Semitism, cut and dry.
But Beck’s comparison and Sheen’s rant aren’t so easy to classify. Beck’s statement was wrong and horribly misguided, but he wasn’t calling Reform Judaism evil, he was calling it political. It’s certainly offensive and uncalled for, but not anti-Semitic.
As for Sheen, well really, who cares? Sheen said he was trying to “address the man rather than his television persona.” Maybe that’s true. Or maybe he was just being flippant.
Either way, to point the finger of the Jewish establishment and call Sheen anti-Semitic cheapens the weight of an ADL statement. In a post-Holocaust landscape, we’re understandably watchful of signs that anti-Semitism may rear its ugly head, but Jews must be wary not to label every criticism, awkward comparison or stupid remark as anti-Semitic.
Save that scarlet letter for when it’s truly deserved, and the world will pay more attention. Toss it out to every Charlie Sheen-type who opens his mouth, and its power quickly fades.