On the road the other day, I drove across a tiny body of water that bore a strange name, Jewfish Creek, which is not far from the even tinier municipality of Jewfish in the Key Largo district. I didn’t know whether or not I should take offense at such a name, which probably means that I should not. Of course, taking umbrage at the faintest slight is a cottage industry today but I am extremely difficult to offend. It turns out that some people did complain about the name “Jewfish” in the recent past, and the townspeople could not care less and voted not change it. Jews are not Redskins or Indians, much less Chiefs or Braves, the former sports teams now searching for new names and the latter two on the chopping block as well.
To add insult to injury, some trace the etymology to the fact that this Jewfish, which is a saltwater fish that can grow to be quite huge, is kosher and was widely consumed by the region’s Jews; hence the name. But the Fisheries Society, sensitive to this slippery slur, two decades ago stopped using the term “Jewfish” and instead reclassified it by its scientific name – the Atlantic Goliath Grouper. So not only did they drop the term “Jewfish” but also they renamed this fish for one of the great villains in Jewish history. Now that is an insult. At least the residents of Jewfish and its adjacent creek stuck to their harpoons.
There are people who possess very keen antennae that pick up signals of abuse that most normal people do not. They have very low thresholds for affront and their main interest is not rectitude but power. The shortest route to power is through intimidation, and particularly by controlling the thoughts and words of others. That is why the variety of groups that perceive themselves as victims – American Indians, blacks, women, homosexuals, transgenders, etc. – are always modifying the terms by which they prefer to be referred. Indeed, they categorize all prior references as slurs and try to stifle their use, except, oddly, among themselves, where they liberally use words that are verboten to all others. Again, that is an attempt at power and control, not sensitivity and morality.
The latest addition to this genre is the repeated repudiation of so-called “anti-Semitic tropes,” words or phrases that are supposedly inherently hostile to Jews and brand practitioners as borderline Jew haters. Mentioning things like the Jewish vote, money, influence, media, power, and control, or using “Zionist” as a substitute for Jew, and literally dozens of other phrases, presumably send “dog whistles” to hate-filled ears and can provoke overt violence against Jews. For sure, some of these phrases may and often are used by Jew haters who are trying to instigate even more Jew hatred. The problem, then, is not with the words but with the people, and even if they wouldn’t sound these whistles, their designation as Jew haters would be accurate. Their malevolence is not in their mouths but in their hearts.
The bigger problem is that the accusation of “anti-Semitic tropes” is frequently used against people who have shown themselves to be quite friendly to Jews (Donald Trump, Boris Johnson) and to defend self-hating Jews (like the leftist George Soros) from any criticism. Thus, when the deeds of a non-Jew are objectively favorable to Jews but the individual is otherwise reviled by left-wing Jews and others, the search for “tropes” is pursued madly and always found. Conversely, when the deeds of a left-wing Jew are especially harmful to Jews, Israel, the United States and the rest of the West, his leftist allies (often Jews themselves) will label any criticism of this individual as trafficking in “anti-Semitic tropes.” It also becomes a convenient but vacuous tool to preclude any criticism of Jews for anything except being too proudly Jewish. It comes out that this cliché of the “anti-Semitic tropes” is a club to use against good non-Jews and a shield to use on behalf of bad Jews. We are better than that.
There is real hatred in the world, even real Jew hatred, but we do ourselves (and truth) a disservice by flinging about these accusations recklessly. To accuse friendly people whose actions reflect support and amity for Jews, but whose past words are excavated and scrutinized for hints, allusions, insinuations or just ambiguities that might trouble some Jew somewhere, is especially churlish. This, too, is about power and control, not Jewish self-defense or verbal kindness. Saying that Jews are “smart” is a compliment (I wish it were universally true!), not a blood libel, and should not be construed as a blood libel. Those were false, repugnant, libelous – and deadly.
We should be fearless in labeling Holocaust denial as Jew hatred, not a trope, but genuine Jew hatred. We should be fearless in labeling “anti-Zionism” as Jew hatred, not a trope, but genuine Jew hatred. Those who murder us, deny it happened and wish for it to happen again are Jew haters. Those who advocate that Jews, alone among the peoples of the earth, have no national rights are Jew haters. And this applies also to Jews who profess these malevolent views. These are not tropes or stereotypes but illegitimate expressions of contempt for Jews. They deserve all the opprobrium we can muster and send their way. They are not to be confused with people who send unconscious signals that are picked up by activists with a mission and a gripe.
If it seems like the same people who are apprehensive about “anti-Semitic tropes” are also vexed by team names like Indians and Redskins, it is because they are the same people. They revel in umbrage, and no name is safe. If “Indians” has to go, why not “Cowboys”? “Yankees” surely offends southerners, “Red Sox” and “Reds” those who suffered under Communism, “Angels” and “Devils” cancel out each other, and the mere mention of “Knicks” is irritating to anyone who likes basketball. And there are many more such transgressions.
What is masquerading as sensitivity is actually the toll road to tyranny. The activists should relax a little, get a sense of humor and find worthier causes to occupy their time. The rest of us should just keep speaking like we want to speak as long as we mean no offense by it and respect all people as individuals.
And if the Indians and Redskins are looking for new team names, as far as I am concerned they could do worse than to call themselves the “Jewfish.”