I Think My Friend is an Antisemite!

I thImage: A cholla cactus in bloom. Photo from pixabay.com.

Someone found this blog by typing “A friend of mine turned out to be antisemitic. How do I handle that?”

Ouch. It’s never pleasant to learn about potential conflict with a friend. I am assuming that this is someone you believe to be a friend, not a boss, a casual acquaintance, or someone on Twitter. Here are some thoughts about addressing the situation with a friend:

1. Find out more. Maybe you have misunderstood. But even if you heard right, there’s more to learn. Ask, “What makes you say that?” or “Why do you feel that way?” After all, maybe they hate “pews,” not “Jews.” (Sometimes it is good for people to listen to themselves, too. Your inquiry offers them a chance for self- reflection.)

2. Listen carefully. Did you hear right? Second, if indeed their words were antisemitic, find out what’s going on. Are they speaking out of ignorance or out of malice? Do they merely need better information, or are we talking about deep-set Jew hating?

3. Respect the person. Escalating to rage won’t teach or persuade. Calling names won’t help things. If they have bad info, say you disagree with their information, and offer a source for better info. Remember, this person is also made in the image of the Divine, even if they have just said something dreadful.

4. You can be honest. Tell them how you feel. Exactly what that is will depend on your emotions. “Hearing your words, I am angry / sad / hurt / speechless / etc” Again, don’t call names. This is assuming they are a friend; if so, they care how you feel.

5. If the problem is ignorance, offer information. You don’t have to be the educator: point them to a blog like this one or a book or a rabbi. Do not say, “Google it.” Google can lead to some dreadful misinformation, up to and including neo-Nazi sites.

6. If they really hate Jews, ask yourself if you can be friends. Personally, I could not be friends with someone who thought I was sub-human or evil. This also goes for someone who insists the most Jews are unacceptable but I am “different.” I’d have to tell them I was disappointed in them and then dust myself off and move on. Your decision is up to you.

7. Talk it out. Whatever the outcome, it’s an unpleasant experience. Have a chat with a trusted friend or your rabbi. A good talk will help you shake it off.

P.S. I wrote this post assuming that the person asking is a Jew or a member of a Jewish community. If you are not Jewish, these steps may also work for you. Alternatively you could say, “Dude. Do you have any idea how antisemitic you just sounded?” and see where the conversation goes from there.

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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at http://coffeeshoprabbi.com/ and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

9 thoughts on “I Think My Friend is an Antisemite!”

  1. Good Day Rabbi: I’ve been on both sides of this type of conversation. Once called a Jew hater by a friend of 30 plus years because I post articles about Palestinians from time to time. When I tried to explain there is a difference between government policies he ranted even further on my Facebook profile. I consider myself a friend of the Jewish people everywhere. Had he looked a little further he might have noticed 30 of my 215 friends are Jewish. He blocked me and I never heard from him again.

    On the flip side more people began communicating with me, including Palestinians, who read the comments. One Palestinian friend of many years living in London said: “now you have a better understanding of what happens when every Jew or Palestinian is painted with one brush.. it is hurtful”. Thank you for writing about this topic. A Native elder told me I was color blind. When I asked him what he meant he asked me how it felt being a minority at a meeting where I was the only white person. We smiled at each other and I said “I had not noticed”. “Now do you know why you are color blind?” he replied.

    1. The “New Antisemitism” from the left is a phenomenon of its own, and I need to address it in a future post.

      As for the “color blindness” issue – an African American friend pointed out to me that sometimes “color blindness” in whites can be a blindness to real issues of institutional and systemic racism. For members of some minorities in some systems, those issues are actually hurt, not helped, by “colorblindness.” I don’t think this is true around Jews and antisemitism at the present time – in the US, we are mostly perceived to be white – but for brown and black persons it can be frustrating to hear a white say that they personally are colorblind. Just FYI.

  2. I haven’t encountered really hardline anti-Semitism, but have been on the receiving end of some offensive remarks. One woman I thought was a good friend felt (wrongly, I must add) that I wasn’t paying for my full share of the drinks on a night out and told me in front of a group of people “You’re a real Jew, you know”. I couldn’t think of anything to say so I just left the pub and by unspoken agreement we avoided each other after that.

    Later I very briefly dated a guy who thought it was funny to tell me, repeatedly, that his father used to call Jews “counter-jumpers and sheenies”. When I let him know that this was offensive to me, he just laughed and said that they weren’t his words, this was just what his Dad used to say. That was our first and last date, needless to say.

    Maybe I’m lucky not to have experienced anything worse, but it still hurts me that people have these perceptions and find it amusing to say such things.

    1. Phew! That sort of shoot-from-the-hip hatred leaves me speechless, too.

      Yes, the crabby about the drinks woman would be off my list, too. It strikes me that this is a variation on the “I hate all Jews but you are different” trope I mentioned in the article. She decided that you weren’t different after all and chose to vocalize it. I am so sorry you had that experience. Did any other friend react? How has the rest of the group treated you since then?

      Ahh yes, the “Oh *I* would never say that, it was my Dad” line – how charming (not!) that he couldn’t take responsibility for repeating the slur.

      I would argue that you did run into “real” antisemitism, Grace, you just had the good sense to distance yourself from it. People can change, but they only change if they want to.

      I am reminded of the words of an old dear friend. I told him I was converting to Judaism. There was a pause, a long pause. Then he said mournfully, “I guess this means I can’t tell Jew jokes any more.” I said, “Yes, honey, that is exactly what it means.” And to his credit I can see a lot of change over the past 20 years since that conversation, although he has never made a big deal of it. We have remained friends and the fact that he was willing to learn better for my sake is a gift that I treasure.

  3. I appreciate how you break down the approach into steps that can be taken one at a time so that it isn’t so overwhelming to address the slur and the friend.

  4. I had a recent business partner who would make subtle comments to me about how she felt. I came to realize very quickly the comments were anti semitic. It was concerning. I came to find out that her father was racist as well. This business partner tried to bring brainwashing thoughts towards me and I almost took the bait, especially regarding who we would do business with. I am absolutely disgusted with this. I am officially ending the business relationship this Saturday in a meeting. Lord G-d help me!

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