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Some of my best friends are Jewish

This article is primarily addressed to our non-Jewish readership, some of whom have sought clarificaton on this theme

It is quite common to hear certain non Jewish people, when accused of anti-semitism, defend themselves saying "Some of my best friends are Jewish". This doesn't go down well with Jews. I want to explain from a Jewish perspective how hollow and false such a defence sounds.

By the way, the issue is not confined to Jews and anti-semitism: As a child I remember hearing someone claim: "I'm not prejudiced against negroes, I absolutely love Louis Armstrong and I have all of Paul Robeson's LPs". These kinds of claims fell on deaf ears to my parents and to me as a child.

There are many variations of the theme:  For example, "I have business dealings with Jews", "I love visiting synagogues when I go overseas",  "I am profoundly interested in Jewish culture". Recently we saw an innovative application of the theme in "I named my son Shimon after Shimon Peres".

Are you starting to get the drift? In all of these phoney defences the suspect bigot is explaining how he BENEFITS from the group against which he's suspected of bigotry. And in his mind our bigot constructs the fantasy that the group is benefiting from him,  ie "I bought Paul Robeson's records, therefore African Americans should be grateful to me". Unfortunately it just doesn't wash. You bought his records for your own benefit. You paid the money because you had to. That's OK, just don't lay on me that I should be grateful in ways that you would not expect from others.

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I recommend caution with regard to the hidden meaning of any such phrases; and, I would also encourage you to try to avoid projections. You should definitely watch for negative connotations first before casting aspersions. For example, to say that "some of my best friends are Polish... Hungarian... Irish... or whatever" cannot automatically draw suspicion of bigotry unless they’re accompanied by the negative stereotyping. – It all depends on who’s accusing whom of chauvinism, because some accusations are bigoted to begin with. A lot of anti-semites accuse other non-Jews of anti-semitism to hurt their feelings. The best way to respond to such accusations is to simply say that they are not true... reveal their intent and leave it at that.

Posted by Poeticbent on 2009-11-09 21:52:47 GMT

Hey Malvina, I am from New Zealand, and, we came to Australia for my Husband to be the principal of a Private school. Even though NZ is next door so to speak, we felt that we were different, so I can imagine how much harder it would have been for you and your family.. But guess what Malvina we survived and it means that we are all made of tough stuff eh.. People can be distant when ones husband is the Principal and it is hard to know who are your friend because of your position or who are your real friends, so it was very lonely for a few years. I don"t know how I would stand the bigotry and hurt that you guys have had to put up with.

Posted by Gaye on 2009-01-28 13:12:15 GMT

Ralph began this thread because some non-Jewish members understandably sought clarification on why "some of my best friends...." is seen as offensive. He stated that his article was primarily addressed to our non-Jewish readership, and invited comments. That was why I qualified my comment with "as a Jewish woman". I think an important point is that the phrase itself is not offensive, just as saying "I have a great collection of Louis Armstrong" or I am interested in Jewish culture" are not offensive in themselves. It is only when such statements are tacked on to a denigrating remark that they become offensive, because it is then a clumsy ploy to mask the prejudice. The common phrase "I am not racist, BUT..." eg. "but I wouldn"t want to live next door to one," or "have my daughter marry one", or "have business dealings with one" are common variations. These phrases are all evidence of bigotry which the speaker tries to deny by qualifying it in advance with "I"m not a racist". As Malvina said, we are a sensitive people, and really should not assume that any remark expressing admiration or interest is necessarily based on a hidden agenda. Gaye"s sensitive and empathetic messages illustrate this.

Posted by Felicity on 2009-01-27 23:45:06 GMT

The "some of my best friends are Jewish" is, as noted, patronising. As Ralph says, it is what the speaker gets out of the relationship. But it also an excuse for someone taking liberties that another, lacking such a figleaf of "friendship", would not dare exercise. Further, many of the people whose "best friends are Jews", befriend whose whom I regard as enemies.

Posted by paul2 on 2009-01-27 14:33:54 GMT

Malvina, I wish that Christians had done and would do what you say here, but I am afraid that most Christians seem to hide their light under a bushel. 30 years ago there were enough Christian in western countries to fight the flood of imorality and filth coming into the west, but Christians just kept sleeping and said nothing, thus now we have a world where for decent people the world is not worth living in.. Malvina, around my husband and I you wouldnt have to be sensitive, we would have loved to talk about your culture and religion as we are both very inquisitive and are interested in everything.. This is how good friendships are made, just wish you lived in Brisbane on the north side and we could get together.. If people show that they are wary (have been there) it can set up a resistance as people pick that up and they act accordingly, which then can make you think it is that they dont like you or your religion. I discovered this after having been very hurt once and having put up massive walls to protect myself, that just being friendly and loving makes all the difference and helps heal..

Posted by Gaye on 2009-01-27 12:08:39 GMT

I found your central  point most poignant (forgive the alliterative pun). the simple but compelling.  ie. "I indulged your group by supporting something of them, therefore you are indebted to me".  Keep smiling.

Posted by HN on 2009-01-27 07:40:51 GMT

I know what Ralph is talking about, however it could also be because the person in question knows the hell that the Jewish people have been through and is actually being very caring and letting them know that they actually care as they dont know how to do it any other way.. I dont have any Jewish friends and not by choice, but I support them highly as I do any decent person or race, they are just people and I love people or should I say decent people. There is good and bad in every race we avoid the bad and love the good, simple whether he be Hundhi, Buddist, Christian or even Dutch, German, Japanese, African and even Americans or Australians.. If he happens to be Jewish who cares, he is a person from a very fine religion..

Posted by Gaye on 2009-01-27 04:11:39 GMT

I also love people who have completely estranged themself from the Jewish Community, and hold views which would be shared by all antisemites, yet often start their sentences "as a Jew"... They are of course deriving benefit by way of flogging their writing career.

Posted by Dan on 2009-01-27 02:21:16 GMT

I"m not an antisemite. Look! I named my son Shimon after Shimon Peres Hahahaha.... Where have I heard that excuse before?

Posted by Daniel on 2009-01-27 02:19:44 GMT

As a Jewish woman,I have been trying to identify the cause of my own unease whenever I hear that phrase. I think it carries an air of the speaker being patronising, as if in spite of the faults he sees in Jews (or any other group) he deigns to befriend them. He is also identifying them as "other" which is the source of all prejudice. He is actually saying that in spite of "blah, blah " he is willing to be friends with some of them. Therefore his belief in the "blah" reinforces the fact that he is prejudiced. And yes Ralph, this applies to your benefit theory too - seeing that they belong to a group that is so "blah blah, they should be grateful for the friendship offered by the bigot.

Posted by Felicity Bartak on 2009-01-27 02:18:00 GMT