Gerson quotes Museum director Sara Bloomfield, who hints at anti-Semitism's reach:
Anti-Semitism has existed with and without Christianity. With and without the right wing. With and without the left wing. With and without democracy. With and without economic problems. With and without globalization. With and without a Jewish homeland.Gerson, predictably, concludes that anti-Semitism exists at odds with liberty. This is not a poor assessment - clearly, if you want to control someone's religious beliefs, you're not a friend of liberty. But this is interesting because it implies something more fundamental to human nature at work.
I think it's natural for people in a society to want other members of the society to conform. We like order in our societies, and look down upon those that would disrupt that order. Those that don't adhere to some extent to the line set by their society become the pariahs, the "others." And Jews? For the last 2000 years (with the exception of Khazaria in the 9th century and modern-day Israel) we have been the ultimate non-conformists. In societies built around Christianity and Islam we have stubbornly held to our beliefs and traditions. We're the world's others.
But what about in America? Certainly, if there's any non-Jewish society that has accepted Jews as part of its own, it's America, right? This is true to a great extent, and yet, Jews here are still an "other." Our holidays are weird, our customs strange, and our beliefs are poorly understood. Your average American probably couldn't tell you what Yom Kippur was, and probably still believes that the Old Testament God is vengeful and angry. These misconceptions and misunderstandings exist becaues even in America, we don't conform completely.
Which leads me back to the question of liberty. Gerson is not the first to claim this, but I'll quote him anyway:
But we do know that anti-Semitism has always been a kind of test -- a reliable measure of a nation's moral and social health. When the rights of Jews are violated, all human rights are insecure. When Jews and Jewish institutions are targeted, all minorities have reason for fear. And by this standard, America has cause for introspection.To me, this isn't just because Jews are some sort of special canary-in-a-coal mine, but because a society's level of liberty can be judged by the rights it affords its "others," and Jews are the most common "others" in Western and Islamic societies over the past couple thousand years. America has dealt well with us as "others," and through its guarantees of religious liberty, has let us participate fully in American society. What's more, American society has accepted us to some extent, not fully understanding us but at least dealing well with us.
So in modern America there are groups that are far more otherized than the Jews. Atheists and gays come to mind immediately. It's nice to say that we should resist otherizing groups altogether, and that's certainly true, but good luck with that. We'll eventually accept atheists and gays into the fabric of American society in the way America brought the Jews in, but someone else will take their place in the role of pariahs. And what's more, people with narrow perceptions of American society will continue to rail against "others," be they Jews or what have you. Resisting this is noble. But it should be our goal, first and foremost, to ensure that even the groups most marginalized by our mainstream society are treated equally by our government and our laws.