Easterbrook has apologized, leave him alone

Posted: Oct 24, 2003 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- After seeing the box office hit ``Kill Bill,'' New Republic writer Gregg Easterbrook was so furious at those who would produce and promote it that he was moved to write a denunciation on Easterblogg, his New Republic Web log. How can people in good conscience, he asked, traffic in such bloody and disgusting movies for reasons of commerce?

Except that he put the question this way to Disney and Miramax, makers of this particular movie. ``Disney's CEO, Michael Eisner, is Jewish; the chief of Miramax, Harvey Weinstein, is Jewish. Yes, there are plenty of Christian and other Hollywood executives who worship money above all else, promoting for profit the adulation of violence. Does that make it right for Jewish executives to worship money above all else, by promoting for profit the adulation of violence?''

Ouch. This is clumsy and stupid -- what does Jewishness have to do with this movie? Moreover, Easterbrook's resort to a classic Shylockian stereotype was somewhat shocking, coming from a guy who really should know better.

And he has paid. He has been vilified. He has been called an anti-Semite. The Anti-Defamation League issued a statement saying that ``Mr. Easterbrook's remarks reflect either absolute ignorance or total bigotry.'' He has been fired from his job at ESPN.

What is going on here? Jews are being attacked in Germany. Synagogues are being burned in France. Around the world, Jews -- such as Daniel Pearl -- are hunted and killed as Jews. The prime minister of Malaysia tells an Islamic summit that ``1.3 billion Muslims cannot be defeated by a few million Jews. ... We are up against a people who think ... they have now gained control of the most powerful countries. ... We cannot fight them through brawn alone" -- and gets a standing ovation from the heads of state of 57 countries. And amidst all this, the Anti-Defamation League feels the need to wax indignant over a few lines on a Web log?

It is certainly true that a single anti-Semitic statement can be the slip that reveals the real heart of a person who has simply been careful in public about his prejudices. A person who has been working at the edges of bigotry for years can inadvertently and thus revealingly cross the line. Then you have a dropped mask, and can fairly attribute malevolence.

Pat Buchanan, for example, has called Capitol Hill ``Israeli occupied territory.'' He declared that the only people who were in favor of the 1991 Gulf War were ``the Israel Defense Ministry and its amen corner in the United States.'' He used the case of a stalled train in a Washington, D.C., tunnel to dispute the fact that Jews were gassed at Treblinka -- after citing ``Holocaust Survivor Syndrome'' involving ``group fantasies of martyrdom and heroics.'' If such a man had written Easterbrook's three lines, then you might have a case.

But Easterbrook is no Pat Buchanan. Apart from those clanging three lines, there is not an ounce of evidence of anything anti-Semitic in Easterbrook's entire life.

The man has written millions of words, none of them remotely anti-Semitic. I hardly know him, but people who do testify that in private life, too, he is free of prejudice.

We have become very touchy about ethnic slurs in recent years. And that is not entirely bad. It is good that people should feel that there is public disapproval attached to any expression of bigotry, even if it does not suppress the underlying feeling. The very convention of proscribing such expressions is an unmistakable societal message that prejudice is to be accompanied by shame and opprobrium. You cannot legislate feelings, but you can certainly create social norms that make people who have such feelings know that they should not.

Nonetheless, the idea of destroying someone's reputation and career over a single slip of this type is not just ridiculous, but vindictive.

And hugely beside the point. The world is experiencing the worst resurgence of anti-Semitism in 50 years. Its main objective is the demonization and delegitimation of Israel, to the point that the idea of eradicating, indeed obliterating, the world's only Jewish state becomes respectable, indeed laudable. The psychological grounds for the final solution are being prepared.

That's anti-Semitism.

Easterbrook has apologized. Leave him alone.