Yesterday on the peace picket line, I was casually chatting with Andy and for some reason I made some reference to what I considered to be a fact -- that Israel has a canny tendency to mix religion and politics ... if they cannot convince you with one approach, they will dissolve into the other in order to prove a point. There are plenty of other countries that do the same thing, so I didn't feel I was being unfair or biased.
But a woman standing nearby upbraided me, saying the what I suggested was dangerously close to "anti-Semitism," Her comment brought me up short. I'm not against Arabs, Jews and others in the Middle East, I thought. But then the dime dropped: Anti-Semitism, in her lexicon, meant anti-Jewish, the common, cultural usage of the word.
An etymological description of the word "Semite" includes this:
In recent use often with the specific sense "Jewish," but not historically so limited.
So there the two of us were, working with different assumptions. She seemed to feel that to speak skeptically of Israel (and therefore mostly Jews) was anti-Semitic. It's a common enough and much-promoted presumption in this country. My bias, on the other hand, was that human beings, wherever they come from, have the capacity to be idiotic and self-serving and that there is no reason why it shouldn't be duly noted.
The woman seemed offended that I did not agree to a commonly-held bias. And perhaps I was offended that she didn't see what struck me as axiomatically true...in the realm of self-serving idiocy, human beings seem to have no equal.
It was just a small moment and did not devolve into a shouting match. She did manage to play the Holocaust card before the conversational exchange evaporated, but since by that time I had a better handle on where she was coming from, I didn't bite.
But it was interesting -- my assumptions, her assumptions ... everyone making assumptions. Maybe that's a habit to look into.
I am willing to apologize to any Arabs or Jews who might somehow be offended, but I have a much harder time apologizing to idiots.