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Undercurrent of Anti-Semitism

Steve Smith
On Media (September 2016)

Dear Editor: I write in response to the article, “Shining Light on Anti-Semitism,” published in the July/August 2016 issue of Western Friend.

Thanks to Deborah Mayaan for calling our attention to an undercurrent of anti-Semitism among some Friends, as we react to the plight of Palestinians who are subject to Israeli occupation.  The “undercurrent of anti-Semitism” arises when we fail to distinguish clearly between the policies and actions of the current Israeli government, and the attitudes of other Jews.  This insidious conflation infects our attitudes toward all Jews, many of whom abhor the Israeli occupation as much as anyone does.

Jewish students at Pomona College (Claremont, CA) recently awoke to find pasted on their doors an anonymous “eviction notice,” directing them to vacate the dormitory.  The motive for this egregious display?  To subject Jewish students to a taste of the humiliation of Palestinians on the West Bank who are evicted by Israel from their ancestral homes.

The anti-Semitism of the Pomona College incident is unmistakable.  Those who posted the “eviction notices” had little or no information about the views of the students whom they were targeting.  The Jewish students were singled out simply as Jews, on the false assumption that they are complicit in the unjust actions of Israeli authorities.

The March/April 2013 issue of Western Friend included a short piece that I had written, “Weighty Friends and Quaker Pharisees.”  In it I disavowed anti-Semitic connotations of the word “Pharisee” that are rooted in Jesus’ polemics against Pharisees, as reported in the Christian Gospels.  Through a respectful exchange of emails, Deborah has helped me to see that these connotations cannot be cast aside; the word “Pharisee” remains darkened by hints of anti-Semitism that continue to be felt by Jews who are sensitized by millennia of Christian hostility toward Jews. 

While I cannot change the printed copies of the March/April issue of Western Friend, I would now title my piece “Weighty Friends and Rule-Bound Quakers.”  

– Steve Smith, Claremont Friends Meeting (PYM)

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