On the anniversary of the beginning of Kristallnacht, the anti-Jewish rampage in the Third Reich from November 9-10, 1938, which left hundreds of Jewish institutions destroyed and approximately 30,000 Jewish males on the way to concentration camps, I listened to a highly respected Jewish Studies scholar discuss the history of anti-Semitism. Although hatred of Jews had transpired for centuries, the term “anti-Semite” was popularized by Wilhelm Marr in 1879 as the name for the Anti-Semite League. The concept was embraced heartily by popular Vienna politician Karl Lueger, who was the mayor of the city during Hitler’s youth. Of course, Hitler maxed anti-Semitism into a Final Solution that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews before the end of World War II in 1945. According to the scholar, 1945 is when anti-Semitism itself died. Certainly, this will come as news amid the anti-Jewish hate acts of recent years such as the murder of 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. But the scholar was making a case about language. Not every bigoted remark of even murderous act should be likened to the Nazi regime. Anti-semitism has become too elastic a term, and anti-Semitic too broadly applied a label. If every denigration, defamation, or circulation of stereotypes is seen as Hitleresque, then there exists no intelligent way to distinguish and discuss manifestations of anti-Jewish behavior. Every smear or slight gets featured in the media as anti-Semitic, and the pundits and critics run wild with sensationalism.
This year, the anniversary of Kristallnacht occurs as Kyrie Irving is serving a suspension, five-game minimum, from the Brooklyn Nets for posting on social media a notice about the film Hebrews to Negroes, supposedly an anti-Semitic production, one I haven’t seen. In today’s dominant media calculus, Irving’s post becomes a major scandal and makes Irving himself a major anti-Semitic figure. This illustrates the point about overreaction, overreach, and incorrect analysis. No figure was louder about this than Stephen A. Smith, who blabbers on and on about things anti-Semitic---and can’t even pronounce the word properly. Smith was probably taking advanced seminars in anti-sexist language to make sure he didn’t get suspended again by ESPN to read much about anti-Semitism.
Or maybe he was studying psychiatry because he presumes to analyze Irving’s “problem.” He says Irving is arrogant and believes he knows more than everybody else. As Smith says, “He thinks his intellect far exceeds so many others that he is enlightened.” This is almost humorous coming from Stephen A. Smith---the A stands for Arrogance and his whole everyday pitch is predicated on the idea that he knows more than others, an assumption that, by the way, has been proven on precious few occasions.
If his psycho-takedown is not convincing---and it shouldn’t be---Smith shifts to irrelevance. He asserts that Irving won’t get a contract extension because, according to what Smith has heard, Nets owner Joe Tsai is “through with him.” Nor, asserts Smith, will Irving obtain the money he would seek around the league because, according to Smith, nobody trusts him. “He’s enlightening a whole lot of people on how to lose money.” All that may be true but has absolutely nothing to do with any point Irving is making. For Smith, Irving is engaging in anti-Semitism, so that strand of conversation is closed for Smith and all others who view anti-Semitism singularly. No nuanced discussion, as proposed by the Jewish Studies scholar, can occur. So blowing money is the ultimate point. This is Smith’s way of calling Irving stupid.
It appears that before Irving can return to the team, he must meet a checklist of “sensitivity” requirements and meet with Tsai to “demonstrate understanding.” I wonder what understanding is to be demonstrated and what counts as demonstration. Even Smith---and I’ll back him hard when I think he’s right---thinks these demands are excessive and emasculating.
Kristallnacht. I’ve known about it since high school because one of my high school English teachers, C. Brooks Peters, was a former New York Times correspondent who won a Pulitzer Prize for covering it. Night of Broken Glass. Is Irving’s consciousness shattered irreparably? Is Smith’s? Is America’s?