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Weinstein’s Assaults: Misogyny, Not Judaism

Benjy Cannon
October 11, 2017

by Benjy Cannon

CONTRIBUTOR to Tablet Magazine Mark Oppenheimer sparked outrage this week with his article, “The Specifically Jewish Perviness of Harvey Weinstein.” The piece argued that rather than motivated by misogyny, media executive Harvey Weinstein’s alleged assaults were of a specifically Jewish character: "Harvey, sadly, is a deeply Jewish kind of pervert." Openheimer's argument prompted Richard Spencer and David Duke, a neo-nazi and klansman respectively, to both share the piece favorably, with Duke spending an hour extolling its virtues on his radio show. Oppenheimer has since published an apology.

The accusations of sexual assault against Harvey Weinstein by many major Hollywood figures have dominated headlines in the past week. Reacting to these accusations, Oppenheimer's piece argued that Weinstein is different than other accused assaulters. "As despicable as you may find (Roger) Ailes, (Bill) O’Reilly, and the other grabby goyim, you’ll recognize their behavior fits a pattern as old as time itself... Harvey did something unique—no less odious, but different. Harvey performed." What's different, to Oppenheimer, is that Weinstein is Jewish.

The article’s disturbing formulation of Weinstein’s relationship to cultural Judaism misunderstands and bizarrely essentializes “Jewish misogyny.” Oppenheimer describes Harvey Weinstein as a figure out of a Philip Roth novel, a wealthy Jewish man enchanted by his newfound status and motivated by fantasies of assaulting non-Jewish women. Oppenheimer gives no reasons to believe that Judaism has anything to do with Weinstein’s conduct other than the fact that Weinstein reminds Oppenheimer of the central character from Philip Roth's Portnoy's Complaint. Moreover, by blaming Weinstein’s Judaism, the piece simultaneously bolsters an antisemitic stereotype and sidesteps the rampant misogyny that exists in both the Jewish and non-Jewish worlds.

It’s worth unpacking how a piece printed in a Jewish publication is making such waves among white supremacists. But much of the conversation I’ve witnessed so far about that phenomenon aren’t engaging with the related, subtle, and sinister sexism in Oppenheimer’s piece. And while Oppenheimer has issued a sparse apology, I've heard the themes within the piece repeated in too many ways to let the issue go unexamined.

Blaming Judaism obscures the misogynistic core of sexual assault. Workplace sexual harassment is widespread, including in Jewish non-profits. I’ve witnessed and even taken part in disturbingly sexist conversation everywhere from High Holiday services at my synagogue to the high school locker room at my Jewish day school. If you’re a Jewish man, chances are you have had a similar experience. And even if you weren’t involved directly, you, like me, probably didn’t do nearly enough to intercede at the time.

Our misogyny isn’t about our Jewishness; it’s about toxic masculinity. Workplace sexual harassment (and sexual violence generally) is an epidemic worldwide. Trump won an election on the back of his “locker room” talk. We can't sideline a conversation about gender based violence for any reason -- and blaming Judaism is an especially bad way to do so.

Therein lies the danger when men reduce Weinstein’s reign of harassment to a literary allusion, or think there’s anything fundamentally Jewish in what he did. Both approaches paint Weinstein’s conduct as different or exceptional rather than commonplace. Neither forces men, whatever their background, to take responsibility for the inescapable toxic masculinity we consciously and unconsciously reinforce.

I think Oppenheimer’s piece deserves criticism for its peddling of tropes that appeal to antisemites. But we do a disservice not just to Weinstein’s victims, but also to the women in our lives, if our outrage at the problems of sexism and toxic masculinity stop there.

Benjy Cannon is a writer working in political advocacy based in Washington, DC. He has been featured in Haaretz, the Jewish Forward and elsewhere.