How does one know when someone's comment is anti-Semitic? I
suppose it's the same as how United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart
explained pornography in the 1964 case of Jacobellis v. Ohio: "I know it when I
There have been several high profile examples of anti-Semitic outbursts
recently. And like famous anti-Semitic rants in the past, there has been much
debate as to whether these recent cases should be classified as anti-Semitic. In
all of these instances, one could argue, "I know it when I see it."
There are times when a celebrity makes a poor choice, but is likely not being
intentionally anti-Semitic. Examples are when Roseanne Barr dressed as Adolf
Hitler and posed for a magazine and when Prince Harry went to a costume party in
a Nazi uniform. However, when Mel Gibson repeatedly espoused his anti-Jewish
feelings, there was no question about his motivation or true feelings.
In recent days, we've heard questionable comments by Charlie Sheen and Glenn
Beck. We've seen video footage of Dior designer John Galliano expressing his
love for Hitler and berating innocent people with anti-Semitic slurs. And a
recent report said that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange suggested that British
journalists, including the editor of The Guardian, were engaged in a Jewish-led
conspiracy to smear his organization.
Charlie Sheen, who continues to prove that his "Wild Thing" character in the
movie Major League was pretty close to his real persona, referred to the
executive producer of Two and a Half Men by his Hebrew name: Rather than calling
him Chuck Lorre, Sheen referred to him as "Chaim Levine" and raised red flags
throughout the media and in Jewish organizations. Not only has Sheen denied that
there was any anti-Semitic undertone in his rant, he is now requesting that the
Anti-Defamation League and its director Abe Foxman apologize to him for
condemning his remarks.
It's pretty obvious that Sheen's not getting very good PR counsel these days (if
any at all) because he expressed his admiration for Mel Gibson in an interview
with Howard Stern. I don't think Mel Gibson is the guy you want to bring into
your corner when you've been accused of an anti-Semitic rant.
Glenn Beck recently apologized for his insult to Reform Jews. The Fox News
talking head said Reform rabbis are "almost like radicalized Islam." He was
responding to a letter condemning his virulent attack on George Soros. I was one
of several non-Reform rabbis who signed the letter urging Fox News to fire Beck.
While I don't agree with Soros' politics and certainly find his views on Israel
to be troubling, I understood Beck's comments about Soros (comparing him to the
Nazis) to be anti-Semitic in nature. While Beck will likely never apologize for
his Soros tirade, it is telling that he apologized to the angered Reform (not
"Reformed" as Beck called them) rabbis.
The anti-Semitic comments by Christian Dior designer John Galliano in a shocking
videotape were quite obviously anti-Semitic. Dior has fired him for his hateful
comments and he was arrested by French police over allegations that he abused a
couple in an angry, drunken, anti-Semitic diatribe. Oscar winner Natalie
Portman, who represents Dior in perfume ads, said she was disgusted with John
Galliano over his anti-Semitic rants. In a written statement, Portman said, "In
light of this video, and as an individual who is proud to be Jewish, I will not
be associated with Mr Galliano in any way."
Finally, Julian Assange's comments seemed to be more paranoia than
anti-Semitism. He suggested that British journalists were conspiring to smear
his organization. The New York Times reports that Assange "was especially angry
about a Private Eye report that Israel Shamir, an Assange associate in Russia,
was a Holocaust denier. Mr. Assange complained that the article was part of a
campaign by Jewish reporters in London to smear WikiLeaks."
While Assange's accusation does sound like the age-old charge that the Jews own
and run the media, it might not be anti-Semitic. Rather, Assange is probably
feeling like everyone is out to get him after the recent WikiLeaks dumps of
Are anti-Semitic comments on the rise? I don't think so. Rather, there has been
a trend of high-profile individuals making anti-Semitic statements. It's
entirely possible that these hate-filled tirades reveal the true sentiments of
these celebrities. Hopefully, they will apologize for their outbursts and be
more dignified and sane in the future.
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Rabbi Jason Miller is a Huffington Post contributor