The Best-Friends Shell Game

It is a cliché that sooner or later, half-way through his rant about the Protocols, the ZOG or whatever, the genuine anti-Semite will say that “Some of my best friends are Jews”. Bystanders may be forgiven for suspecting that those best Jewish friends do not exist, or are at most uneasy acquaintances. If the ranter forgets to say this, why then, the other party will generally remind him, in the form of “And some of your best friends are Jews, right?” In other words, the claim to have Jewish friends has come to mean that one is an anti-Semite; and correspondingly for other possible prejudices, such as “Some of my best friends are gay”, “I know lots of black people” and so forth.

The way the game is often played nowadays, moreover, the anti-Semitic, racist or homophobic rant is no longer even required for diagnosis; this is no longer about the syndrome of the undoubted anti-Semite who attempts to deny or excuse his prejudice by appealing to the existence of probably fictitious Jewish best friends. The mere statement that some of one’s best friends are Jews is now held to fill in for the missing anti-Semitic rant or in itself to constitute an anti-Semitic remark. It appears to be axiomatic that there is no innocent reason to mention a Jewish best or good friend at all.

This is a most peculiar situation, because in an ideal world, friendships would be made between individuals rather than categories, and so any given white gentile heterosexual would have friends who happened to be Jewish, black and gay. If he does, however, he had better keep it to himself, for it might seem as if those who are determined to see prejudice and discrimination everywhere would prefer him not to have any. Except that “I don’t have any Jewish (black, gay) friends” doesn’t work either, as he will then be asked why not, and will have the various isms and phobias imputed to him. Either way, he loses. It is an irony that would probably have amused Kafka that The Trial can now be read as symbolising the hopelessness of a gentile’s being acquitted of a random charge of anti-Semitism.

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