Talk to Me Like I’m Goyish
There was a fellow named Tom Schweich, who was the Missouri state auditor. He was running for the Republican nomination for governor until about a week ago, when, for reasons not entirely clear, he shot himself. This is a horrible tragedy: by all accounts, he was a good man and an exemplary public servant, and he left behind a wife and two young children. To the extent that his suicide is understood at all, the consensus is that the campaign for governor had gotten brutal, and included a level of personal attack beyond what Mr. Schweich could bear.
This is, in particular, the explanation given by former U.S. Senator John Danforth, who was Tom Schwiech’s political mentor. More precisely, he calls Schwiech the victim of “an anti-Semitic whisper campaign”. And make no mistake: Danforth has no tolerance for anti-Semitism under any circumstances. He is righteously furious, and it’s hard not to be completely on his side. There is one complicating factor, though. Tom Schwiech wasn’t Jewish.
Schwiech did have, as the expression goes, some Jewish ancestry (his grandfather) and might be said to have “looked Jewish”. This apparently made it plausible for his political opponents to say that he was Jewish. In fact, that seems to be what the whisper campaign consisted of: whispers that Schwiech was a Jew. On this subject, Danforth said “The only reason for going around saying that someone is Jewish is to make political profit from religious bigotry.” And, responding to state GOP chairman John Hancock, who says that he might have said that Schwiech was Jewish because he honestly thought so, Danforth replied “Someone said this was no different than saying a person is a Presbyterian. Here’s how to test the credibility of that remark: When was the last time anyone sidled up to you and whispered into your ear that such and such a person is a Presbyterian?”
So this is my question: in the United States, in the year 2015, is “He’s Jewish” in itself an anti-Semitic attack (whether accurate or not)? Is it genuinely less neutral than “He’s Presbyterian”? Or is Danforth, who is almost 80, assuming that opinions he might have grown up with are still prevalent?