At almost the same moment Barack Obama reminded the nation that “we must remain vigilant against anti-Semitism and prejudice in all its forms,” the president’s ex-pastor and spiritual confidante, Jeremiah Wright, made the point that “them Jews ain’t going to let him talk to me.”
Obama did say anti-Semitism in all its forms, didn’t he? After all, the Jeremiah Wright variety of Jew hatred is far more common than the octogenarian gunman type. Well, this was Obama’s idea of “vigilan[ce]” in March of 2008, after Wright’s radicalism was exposed:
He said Rev. Wright “is like an old uncle who says things I don’t always agree with,” telling a Jewish group that everyone has someone like that in their family.
Does everyone also have someone like James W. von Brunn in their family? Von Brunn is the 88-year-old who walked into the Holocaust Memorial Museum with a rifle yesterday and opened fire, killing the guard Stephen T. Johns. I ask the question because according to Obama’s logic of March 2008 the answer is a simple yes. Obama’s eccentric “uncle” believes that the U.S. government invented the AIDS virus to destroy black people. Von Brunn maintains the mirror-image fiction: the Jews have launched a conspiracy to destroy the “white gene pool.” Von Brunn maintains, “Bit by bit government institutions and Congressmen fell into Jew hands.” Can those be any other than the same hands that Jeremiah Wright sees blocking his path to the president? Wright published a piece in his church newsletter claiming Israelis had devised an “ethnic bomb” capable of killing only Arabs and blacks. Von Brunn wrote a book that “exposes the Jews and explains what you must do to protect your White family.” That bomb was apparently more sophisticated than originally thought.
It’s usually wise to let campaign dogs lie and address matters of governance and policy once the election is over. I re-introduce Wright in part because of his own timing and in part because I fear Obama is currently in the midst of giving a pass to yet another form of anti-Semitism and prejudice. In his speech in Cairo, Obama did assert the factual reality of the Holocaust. This is to be applauded, but he fell short on the “vigilance” scale in his failure to mention the widespread anti-Semitism that infects every aspect of so many Muslim and Arab countries. In fact, immediately after noting that “the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied,” Obama asserted: “On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people — Muslims and Christians — have suffered in pursuit of a homeland.” The equivalence that Obama chose to traffic in is exactly what today’s most tenacious Jew haters use for perpetual cover. The president’s adoption of that line all but erased what came before it.
Being vigilant about anti-Semitism means a good deal more than issuing statements once prejudice results in murder. It means confronting hatred in one’s intimates and one’s audiences, not excusing it as eccentricity or resistance. It means calling anti-Semitism by its rightful name when staring it in the face — “in all its forms.”