I am not sure it is a perfect analogy, but a number of people I know who have been attacked in the media have decided to steer clear, ignore and move on. They firmly believe that fighting the press only makes matters worse.
In one recent instance, I have seen it work very well. Before long, the item was forgotten, yesterday's news.
But for Jews, ignoring may not be the right strategy, if for no other reason than that the silence does not lead to Jew stereotyping going away.
My small suggestion is that we need to create new stereotypes. We need to create the image of Jews as blood donors, as champion philanthropists, as a people dedicated to the good. That can only happen if we all embrace these activities.
I strongly recommend my book, THE JEWISH AGENDA: AN OLD-NEW LOOK AT THE BIG PICTURE.
It tackles this issue, albeit coming from a different angle.
It is always important to correct misinformation and combat stereotypes. While some portrayals of Jews or Judaism stem from malicious intent, most are the result of ignorance which can be corrected by education and through correct information. The various Jewish defense organizations have done an enormous service over the years in flagging images of Jews in popular culture which cross the line of acceptability.
One of the best ways of defending against stereotypical portrayals of Jews and the spread of misinformation about Judaism in popular culture is through creating alliances with other minority groups that suffer from similar problematic portrayals. Over the years, sensitivity to all types of racism and sexism has shown itself an important weapon in the Jewish community’s arsenal of weapons with which to combat unacceptable portrayals of Jews and Judaism.
At the same time, I fear that the second part of the question reveals an anxiety about antisemitism which is unfounded. Thankfully, the Jewish community is in an enviable position in the United States. The number of antisemitic incidents is at a historic low compared to even a couple of decades ago. This does not mean that we should not respond to antisemitism (or any other form of racism) when it rears its ugly head. It does mean that we should not be over-vigilant, seeing enemies everywhere. Jean-Paul Sartre was totally wrong when he claimed that the antisemite creates Jewish identity. There is far more to Judaism than being vigilant against and fighting antisemitism. Shabbat, Torah, prayer, family, justice. These and others are the practices and values which have given Judaism the powerful substance which has given the Jewish people spiritual sustenance for millennia.
Is there anything we can (or should) do to combat the stereotypes and frequent misinformation about Jews in television and movies? Or does drawing even more attention to it just make it even worse?
The year Keeping Up With the Faith, with Ben Stiller as a young rabbi and Ed Norton as a young priest, came out, I spent a lot of time talking with both rabbis and non-Jewish clergy about the ways both Judaism and clergy are misperceived.
Words are important. They define our interactions and perceptions. Images can frequently be even more important. And when words or images portray us in a bad light—for humor, for an agenda, or just out of ignorance—it can have deep repercussions.
Obviously, we can’t go door-to-door in Hollywood or New York City and ask nicely for producers to not portray us poorly. And, to be fair, there have been many programs and films that portray our people in a good light as well. But, we are reminded by Leviticus 19 “You shall not hate your brother in your heart;you shall surely rebuke your fellowand not bear sin on his account.” This obligation is clarified in the Talmud: “If one sees his fellow engage in offensive behavior and rebukes him, but his friend does not accept it from him, from where do we learn he must go back and rebuke him again? From our verse in Leviticus 19:17, you shall surely rebuke—as many times as necessary.” (Arakhin 16b).
So what can we do?
We can refrain from seeing films or watching shows that portray us inappropriately
We can write reviews online (at Amazon, Netflix, Rotten Tomatoes, IMDB, etc.) that call attention to the inappropriateness of the portrayal of Jews (warning: There be Trolls).
Talk to our friends, co-workers, and other acquaintances about such portrayals and correct the misperceptions
Live our lives in such a way that we can correct such stereotypes.
Support films and shows that portray us positively
It may sound like little things, but every bit helps! And while there will be some who will say ‘Sha and be quiet, why call attention?’ We know the obligation to stand up for ourselves, as well as others (including the poor portrayal of women, African-Americans, etc.).
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