When Crying Hate Is Hate Speech

The acting career of Jussie Smollett has come to an abrupt halt—at least for a while—after what appears have been one of his best, most compelling, and convincing performances, using a script he wrote himself. He convinced the nation that he had been targeted due to his race and sexual preference, and had his casting and directing met the same high standard as his acting, we might never have been the wiser.

Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson condemned the actor, saying, “Smollett took advantage of the pain and anger of racism to promote his career. This publicity stunt was a scar that Chicago didn’t earn, and certainly didn’t deserve.” One gets the sense that Johnson, who is black, is doubly offended by Smollett’s lie.

Johnson’s statement, sentiments, and obvious taking of personal offense were all legitimate, of course, but Smollett’s lie wasn’t just about Chicago. He contrived an attack he wanted people to believe was based upon his race and his sexual preference, from attackers who yelled, “This is MAGA country!” He was certain that these choices would ensure that the media lapped up his tale, as indeed it did. Sadly—for him—the police were not so credulous.

In the aftermath, the president asked on Twitter: “what about MAGA and the tens of millions of people you insulted with your racist and dangerous comments!?”

Double punctuation aside, every aspect of this tweet is correct. Smollett’s accusation was racist. It was dangerous. And it slandered anyone who supports the president or his slogan—along with the slogan and the president himself.

We are blessed to live in a society where hate is condemned rather than glorified. There are many places around the world where a person can assault another for being a foreigner, for being of a different race, for being gay, for being a Jew—and receive honors and accolades for their hate.

But our blessing comes with an important caveat. In a society where hate speech is condemned, calling someone hateful, when it is false, can be a potent expression of hate. And Smollett’s slander clearly falls into this category.

The Art of Hateful Accusations
Smollett is hardly alone. Just a month earlier, the media relentlessly and maliciously targeted a group of high school boys, and one 16-year-old in particular, using a false narrative utterly contradicted by video of the full incident.

Why would they defame a teenager in this way? Once again, because he was wearing a MAGA hat. And he attended a Catholic school. And he attended the March for Life. To the media, these were three excellent reasons to pronounce the boy a hateful bigot, rather than a half-child stuck halfway up a stone staircase with a leftist activist banging a drum in his face.

It is difficult to imagine how the Washington Post is going to weasel out of the massive lawsuit it has brought upon itself; if this isn’t a demonstration of a “reckless disregard for the truth,” what is? And when the suit was publicized, Twitter lit up with claims that Sandmann truly was a hater, and in any case had “white privilege” and thus deserves no sympathy—as if to help his lawyers prove lasting harm.

The Left has raised the use of hate as hateful accusation to a fine art. This is why every Republican candidate and president in recent memory has been denounced as a racist, despite the abundance of evidence that each such accusation was false. That the left lauded Donald Trump’s insistence upon integration prior to his run for president is well-documented online, but hate proved far too effective a tool to be abandoned for some.

As a Jew and a rabbi, it truly hurts and offends me to hear leftists denounce President Trump as an anti-Semite, as he proves the opposite by the day.

A New Vocabulary of Hate
Of course, all of this encourages hate. Because Smollett falsely claimed that he was attacked by men yelling about MAGA country, millions of people had a new reason to hate MAGA supporters—and with his lie revealed, millions of MAGA supporters have a new reason to hate LGBT activists. Because Nick Sandmann was falsely reviled as a racist, millions of people had a new reason to hate pro-life Catholics, and now millions have yet another reason to hate the media as the “enemy of the people.”

And when leftist Jews thumb their noses at the president’s friendship, neutral MAGA supporters get a new reason to have a distaste for Jews. There, I said it.

Along the way, they have manufactured an entirely new vocabulary of hate, to be used to demonize and inspire hatred of those who oppose their views. If you believe the Bible is the Word of God, much less that it offers a definition of what constitutes a marriage, you’re not a religious person motivated by sincere conviction, you are a “homophobe.”

Sorry, but those who believe the Bible authentic are not “frightened” by gays. The same Law that teaches Jews should eat kosher and observe the Sabbath also says that marriage is between a man and a woman. Strangely, no one, even among Jews who regularly enjoy pork and shellfish, calls us hateful over Kashrus.

Similarly, if you regard Muslim terrorism as dangerous, you are now “Islamophobic.” This lie built to a thundering crescendo as the president announced a “Muslim ban” on travel to the United States which, in reality, affected less than 10 percent of the world’s Muslims—just a handful of countries identified by the Obama Administration as cultivating terror.

In marked contrast to anti-Semitism, I have never encountered a person with a unique distaste for Muslims as compared to Sikhs, Hindus, and others (xenophobia is, of course, an issue for some) . . . until Islamic terrorism is taken into account. That there are several dozen terrorist organizations that believe it a religious duty to slaughter us in the name of Allah, and who collectively are responsible for roughly three-quarters of terror fatalities around the world, is not a phobia. Fear of dismemberment is neither imaginary nor hateful.

The true Islamophobia of our day is the fear of criticizing Muslims, lest one be labeled a bigot. How else can we explain Democrats placing a person who likens a (Jewish-majority) democracy to a totalitarian dictatorship onto the Foreign Affairs committee of the House of Representatives, ostensibly to help decide foreign aid, combat terrorism and promote human rights?

There is plenty of real hate in the world, even here in America. But it is not hateful to believe in traditional values. It is not even hateful to believe in American greatness. And if we are going to get rid of hate, we will have to include false, hateful accusations of hatred.

Photo Credit: Nuccio DiNuzzo/Getty Images

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About Rabbi Yaakov Menken

Rabbi Yaakov Menken is the Managing Director of the Coalition for Jewish Values, the largest Rabbinic public policy organization in America.