What if PETA ads featured Palestinians?

Posted: Mar 05, 2003 12:00 AM
By now, you've probably heard about People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals' new PR campaign comparing dead Jews to hamburger meat. At the Web site, www.masskillings.com, PETA juxtaposes the dead or half-dead emaciated corpses of Jews in Nazi concentration camps alongside images of cows, pigs and chickens in factory farms. It's all part of its "Holocaust on your plate" campaign. PETA attempts to justify the effort in its usual way. Blah, blah, animals are people too, blah, blah, blah. Of course, this is all repugnant nonsense on stilts. But I can't shake the feeling that this PR blitz is significant for another reason. I think it's further proof that Jews have been exiled from the Coalition of the Oppressed. That's not my phrase. I first saw mention of it about a decade ago when I was walking through a largely gay neighborhood in Washington, D.C. There was a poster that read, in a bold headline, "Ban the Gay Rodeo!" Underneath a picture of a (presumably gay) cowboy on a bucking bronco was a long diatribe explaining how animals are equal members of the "Coalition of the Oppressed" alongside blacks, gays, Jews, Latinos, women, bisexuals, the handicapped, et al. Somehow, I don't think Jews would make that list today. I'm not alone. Todd Gitlin, one of the most respected left-wing intellectuals around, wrote a devastating essay for Mother Jones magazine last summer in which he declared, "Wicked anti-Semitism is back. The worst crackpot notions that circulate through the violent Middle East are also roaming around America, and if that wasn't bad enough, students are spreading the gibberish." Gitlin lists examples from around the world of leading "progressives" whose dislike for Jews is a bedrock faith. Perhaps more troubling: Some of his own students thought it might be worth investigating whether Jews had advanced notice about the World Trade Center attack -the numerous Jewish names on the roster of the dead weren't evidence enough. One of the events that set Gitlin off was a pro-Israel rally at San Francisco State University where Jewish students were surrounded by Palestinian students and sympathizers who shouted such peace-loving niceties as, "Get out or we will kill you" and "Hitler did not finish the job." Of course, it's worse in Europe. According to Petronella Wyatt writing in The Spectator of London, "Since September 11 anti-Semitism and its open expression have become respectable at London dinner tables." A member of the House of Lords told her, "The Jews have been asking for it and now, thank God, we can say what we think at last." The Italian daily newspaper, La Stampa, published a cartoon showing a tank bearing a Jewish star with its gun pointed at a baby Jesus, who pleads, "Surely they don't want to kill me again?" But, unlike too many liberals, I've never seen Europe as America's superior when it comes to enlightenment and decency. It's what's happening in America that is the most disturbing. Not a day goes by where I don't get the nastiest anti-Semitic bile, largely from self-described "progressives" who idiotically insist that "the Jews" have become Nazis. And their disagreement isn't with "Israelis," or right-wing Jews, Likudniks or anything of the sort. But with Jews, period. For example, a few months ago I spoke with students from some elite California colleges. I was told the story of a young man who was physically roughed-up solely for wearing a yarmulke while marching in a pro-Palestinian/anti-Israel protest. It didn't matter that he was on their side politically. He was a Jew. While anti-Semitism continues to die out on the right (conservative evangelical Christians are often more philo-Semitic than most Jews), it's gaining ground on the left. There are many reasons for this. Obviously, legitimate disagreements over Israeli policy toward the Palestinians is part of the equation. But there are other factors. The left has embraced some core principles that make anti-Semitism seem almost rational to them. Leftist intellectuals have firmly embraced identity politics, which says, in primitive terms, that you can't escape your authentic identity. Blacks are blacks, women are women and white men are white men. Second, power - economic, cultural, etc - is bad and oppression is noble. Israel is militarily powerful and many Jews are well-to-do and influential, they argue. Palestinians are "oppressed" and therefore admirable even when they perpetrate horrific violence. And last, America is always a force for evil in the world. And America is a friend of Israel's. In short, if some Jews are bad, all Jews are bad. End of story. One way to test this theory is to see what the world's reaction would be if PETA showed pictures of dead Palestinians alongside cows. My guess is we'd hear a lot more protesting from non-Jews.