Hello, I just brought up a matter in a conversation with my brother and his fiance, who is Jewish, that I hoped might ameliorate their views about whether our mother’s partner is antisemitic, but ended up going completely sideways. The background is that my mother’s partner is a very liberal, tolerant (supports BLM etc) painfully corny but well-meaning, in my view. An example of a usual corny joke might be something along the lines of saying he’s making a “PANdemic” while cooking something in a pan and thinking that’s hilarious.
Apparently, a couple years ago, around the holidays, my brother, his fiance, my mother, and her partner were going holiday shopping and discussing what to get. My mother’s partner turned to my brother’s fiance and said, “We could buy you a dreidel,” thinking he was being humorous and clever. I didn’t know about this incident until around a month ago, and my brother and his fiance shared their view that he is antisemitic for singling her out based on her Jewish identity. At first, I was surprised they characterized him as antisemitic for that, but my brother’s fiance noted that someone doesn’t have to overtly say they hate Jews to be antisemitic.
Fast forward to today: I asked my brother and his fiance if their views on my mother’s partner have changed since my mother mentioned in a group text the other day that her partner attended a solidarity rally/vigil for the Jews in our hometown (~25% Jewish) against potential antisemitic acts; the group text started with my mother asking my brother’s fiance whether her extended family is Israel was okay.
Although it was not my intent, my brother and his fiance were extremely upset and angry at my question. In their view, I was invalidating his fiance’s experience of antisemitism with the dreidel incident (like saying someone who attends a George Floyd rally can’t be racist) and was trying to convince her that his comment was okay. I explained that I did not think it was okay and was sorry I made her feel that it was. I tried to clarify that I thought antisemitism conveyed a stronger sense of animus toward Jews than what the partner said. I acknowledged that even if someone didn’t mean it in a harmful way, teasing someone based on a specific *stereotype or trope* about Jewishness (“You must have a few lawyers in the family,” “You must be good with money”) is antisemitic. But I likened his dreidel comment to joking that we must like soy sauce because we are Chinese. Ignorant, insensitive, discriminatory, and prejudiced? Yes, but neither case felt like a stereotype per se (good or bad) about our group identity. They countered that antisemitism is equivalent to racism and both exist on a spectrum.
Although my original intent was to see if the attendance of the rally softened their views about the partner (it didn’t, they stated there’s no way they can tell what his intention was in attending), it very much backfired and I’m afraid caused strain where there was not any in my relationship with both my brother and his fiance. They pointed out that I had terrible timing and have brought further pain in this already scary and terrible time for the fiance.
There have been past debates about matters like whether whites wearing dreadlocks etc is racist (b/c culturally appropriative), and I get now that whether or not something is racist, antisemitic, or any other kind of -ism is not up for debate by the people not affected by it. But I’ve seen people of certain groups have a diversity of opinion about whether they individually find something racist etc. I’m posting this to ask how individuals who are Jewish find the dreidel remark; this is for my own understanding of people’s perspectives – not at all to further pursue this issue with my bro and his fiance. No way.
Thanks for anyone’s time in reading all this and sharing their thoughts and peace be to all.