The dangerous banality of outrage


By Thane Rosenbaum

Welcome to a new era, in which there’s a good chance that some politician, public figure or celebrity will say something outrageous. It’s a phenomenon not confined to the United States, where jaw-dropping comments are rampant and where Donald Trump did plenty to degrade public discourse.
Blurting out the first thought that comes to mind is now a global habit, one without borders, filters or, apparently, hesitation. Mouths just erupt with slanders and stereotypes.
Lara Logan, a broadcast journalist with Fox Nation, recently compared Dr. Anthony Fauci to Dr. Josef Mengele, the Angel of Death at Auschwitz who conducted ghastly experiments on women and children, especially twins.

Fauci is an infectious disease expert who has now advised two presidents on the coronavirus. Regardless of how one feels about COVID-19 vaccine mandates or pandemic restrictions, Fauci is trying to preserve life by preventing the spread of a deadly virus. He is not firing up gas chambers.
Unfathomable as this may sound to some people, Trump is not Hitler, and Fauci is not Mengele.

Meanwhile, Rep. Lauren Boebert, in a public appearance among constituents, joked that “Squad” member and hijab-wearing Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar is really aligned with the “Jihad Squad.” But not to worry, said Boebert: Omar isn’t necessarily a terrorist because she doesn’t carry a backpack.

Such off-color stereotypes have real-world consequences. At a press conference, Omar played a voicemail of a recent death threat she received, that she believes is traceable to Boebert’s stump improv. She wants an apology, but Boebert has so far refused. One can’t help but wonder whether Omar now regrets some of the outrageous things she has said about Israel, the Jewish-American community, and the United States since she has taken office.

Blood libels splatter in all directions. There’s always more sympathy for those without blood on their hands.
The Squad’s fellow progressive, Rep. Jamal Bowman, stood in solidarity with Omar. Ironically, it was only a week earlier that the Democratic Socialists of America contemplated booting him from their ranks for having taken a trip to Israel to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Bowman crossed a pro-Palestinian picket line. Congressional scabs, apparently, receive no mercy. Of course, he may have already worked his way back into the good graces of Israel-hating progressives. Now that he has returned, he voiced his reaction to Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial and museum. Apparently, the visit gave him a fresh insight into the psyche of the nation.
He has concluded that the trauma of the Holocaust left Israelis mentally disturbed.

Perhaps it was said sympathetically. After all, he did visit Israel, albeit on a J Street junket. But it was a harsh diagnosis, nonetheless. And a categorically incorrect one; Auschwitz did not consign Israelis to everlasting madness. If they are nuts — and I am certainly not qualified to render an opinion — it more likely relates to repeated wars and acts of terror on the part of Arab neighbors bent on their destruction.

The Holocaust, which happened nearly 80 years ago on a different continent, is just another notch in Jewish neurosis. It doesn’t explain everything. After all, the vast majority of Israelis were born in the Middle East, Persian Gulf and Africa, and have no direct connection to the Holocaust whatsoever.

Toxic loose lips and casual antisemitic slanders are even worse in Europe.

In Poland, for instance, the country’s leading Jew-, LGBTQ- and immigrant-hating propagandist, Rafal Ziemkiewicz, is getting a new talk show that will widen his already growing audience. The extremist right is longing for the good old days when antisemitism was more openly expressed, and acted upon. Now there’s a consensus that hating Muslims and homosexuals should be included, too.

Some of Ziemkiewicz’s past statements include calling Jews “leeches” who “got what they deserved.” Yet, he also decries the Holocaust as “a myth.” Members of the LGBTQ community must “be shot,” and pro-abortion Polish women are “aggressive and vulgar whores.”

Expect the ratings for Ziemkiewicz’s new show to outdo Poland’s version of “Survivor.”

Finally, in France, the new leader of the extreme right, Eric Zemmour, is Jewish. Born in Algeria, his merciless attacks against French Muslims are being received by some as more palatable given that a Middle Eastern Jew is making them. He blames Islam and France’s black and Arab populations for all of society’s ills. A defender of French colonialism, he has justified the massacre of “Arabs and certain Jews.”
Obviously, one cosmopolitan European Jew wandered off the kibbutz and returned as a self-hating nationalist. Zemmour’s love of France is so fierce, he has a revisionist take on the Dreyfus Affair, in which the French government is less culpable.

Seeing the face of French fascism as Jewish was irresistible to The New York Times. In a recent op-ed, French antisemitism is minimized. Jews now enjoy the privileges of the assimilated majority, and “privilege” always means one thing: racism.

Except for one colossal omission: Antisemitism in France is hardly a thing of the past. Murderous hatred — of Holocaust survivors, women and children — has marked and stained the nation for the past two decades. The perpetrators of these crimes against Jews, in virtually every instance, were French Muslims.

It doesn’t justify Zemmour’s racist politics, of course, but it might account for how a Jew could wind up as the improbable leader of those who so passionately despise Jews.

These are all dangerous and disturbing trends, the normalization of what’s really on the minds of powerful bigots — unfiltered, uncensored and unashamed. What they say out loud doesn’t just die down. It can be, and often is, set in motion. Extremist talk morphs into mantras, recited by chattering masses on the march.

Remember these? “Stop the Steal!” “Jews Will Not Replace Us!”

During the summer of 2014, in both Germany and France, where memories of and moral responsibility for the Holocaust burn still, civilized people were stunned to hear: “Hamas, Hamas — Jews to the Gas!”

Perhaps these recent incidents can all be explained as a temporary social pathology, attributable to a pandemic, rising crime, grim employment prospects and generally hard times. Scapegoating galore ensues, but fortunately it’s not fatal.

Or maybe it is. When social niceties, common courtesies and mutual respect are abandoned, it’s not surprising what gets said — especially by those seeking attention and making mischief. Analogies become tortured. Pronouncements sound outrageous. Jokes come across as cringing and unfunny.

In time, we become inured to all the dignity denied as blowhards cling to their bullhorns, and won’t let go.

Thane Rosenbaum is a novelist, essayist, law professor and Distinguished University Professor at Touro College.

This article was first published by
the Jewish Journal.

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