The Anti-Defamation League, Chicago 47th Ward Alderman Matt Martin, and the Chicago Tribune Guild Executive Board recently attacked Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass for supposed anti-Semitism.
The charges against Kass are wrong. And as a Jew, I find the charges particularly offensive because they abuse the meaning of anti-Semitism.
In his July 22 column, Kass pointed the finger of responsibility for the spike in murders in Chicago and other cities at progressive prosecutors who, like Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx, were elected with the help of millions from billionaire George Soros. “He remakes the justice system in urban America, flying under the radar,” Kass wrote about Soros, by supporting the election of prosecutors who “help give repeat, violent criminals little or no bond when arrested” and let the violent out of jail.
The column ignited a firestorm. In a July 27 letter to the editor to the Tribune, the ADL slammed the column for “casting a well-known Jewish individual as a puppet master who manipulates high-profile events for malign purposes” and “mainstreaming anti-Semitic tropes.” Alderman Martin piled on, describing the column as “just the latest manifestation of an old trope that Jews foment civil unrest.” And the Tribune Guild Executive Board condemned Kass for an “odious, anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that billionaire George Soros is a puppet master controlling America’s big cities” that “does not deserve a mainstream voice.”
Kass defended himself in a July 29 column. Among other things, he pointed out that his July 22 column did not identify Soros’s religion. In an August 9 article, Carl Cannon then more deeply explored the issues and decried the accusation against Kass as a particularly vile political tactic.
Neither Kass nor Cannon, however, gets to the heart of why the July 22 column is not anti-Semitic: criticizing a person for actions that have nothing to do with being Jewish – without attacking the person for being Jewish or connected to Jews, and without attacking Jews as a group – is not anti-Semitism.
Kass did not attack Jews as a group or Soros (or anyone else) for being Jewish or for being connected to Jews.
Kass instead criticized Soros for heavily funding the election campaigns of those who would change criminal justice policy.
Funding election campaigns to change public policy has nothing to do with being Jewish. It has everything to do with being an American. Non-Jewish Americans (such as Charles Koch and Jeff Bezos) and Jewish Americans (such as Sheldon Adelson and Michael Bloomberg) alike give large sums to election campaigns to change all kinds of public policy in every conceivable way.
A review of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of anti-Semitism, adopted by the United States government and many other nations, similarly refutes the anti-Semitism charges against Kass.
The IHRA definition emphasizes that anti-Semitism means directing hatred at Jews as a group or attacking a person for being Jewish or connected to Jews. “Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”
One of the examples that the IHRA has provided to further help define anti-Semitism is particularly relevant: “Making mendacious, dehumanizing, demonizing, or stereotypical allegations about Jews as such or the power of Jews as collective — such as, especially but not exclusively, the myth about a world Jewish conspiracy or of Jews controlling the media, economy, government or other societal institutions.”
Kass did not express hatred (or anything else) toward Jews. He did not attack Soros (or anyone else) for being Jewish or connected to Jews. And he made no allegations about Jews collectively or that Jews as a group control anything.
If Kass’s July 22 column is anti-Semitic, then any criticism of any American who happens to be Jewish for doing anything that other Americans do is anti-Semitic. This trivializes charges of anti-Semitism by expanding the meaning of anti-Semitism to the point of meaninglessness. The result is that too many either disregard real anti-Semitism, allowing the guilty to avoid consequences, or credit false charges that end up unfairly smearing the innocent.
Kass rightly denied the false charges of anti-Semitism against him. This Jew stands with him.