Ari (Ballaban) Jun — In Conversation
Is How We Fight Antisemitism Out of Tune?
The last eight weeks have illustrated the falsity of this premise and shattered the metaphor. People susceptible to antisemitic behavior, it turns out, aren’t so for want of a single touchpoint with Jewish pedagogy, as “inoculation” would suggest. (In fact, to the contrary: We find that many “inoculated” folks misuse their limited knowledge of Jewish history or the Holocaust in attacking Jews.)
It’s time for a new metaphor, and I’d recommend something musical. Folks need to be tuned to recognize and respond to antisemitism.
Those who have played a musical instrument know that you can’t just tune it once, throw it in the case, and take it back out a week later expecting it to have stayed in tune. So too with the ability to spot and respond to antisemitism. One tuning (a training, museum visit, or conversation) will do some good but is temporary. Experiences, feelings, and memories fade—people fall out of tune—and eventually we must work to restore mellifluousness.
In that context, perhaps, we can understand what we see today. When the UC Undergraduate Student Government adopts a nakedly antisemitic resolution, uniquely demonizing Israel, it indicates they are long overdue for tuning. When someone (a white, college-aged man, if you’re wondering) stands up at a Cincinnati City Council meeting and announces that anyone supporting Israel is “participating…in a death cult…and God will judge [them]” for it, it’s time for tuning. When students at Cincinnati-area schools march around chanting “death to the Jews”—as has happened on two occasions that we know—Lord knows it’s time for tuning!
A particularly apt apothegm from the Talmud teaches that “the prisoner cannot free himself from the prison.” (b. Berakhot 5b) In this context, we can think as follows: It is a kindness to our peers to offer them tuning, since they cannot be expected to do it for themselves. We must remember that, if we seek proactivity in fighting antisemitism, we must engage and re-engage our peers, helping them even as they stumble, especially when they are out of tune.