There probably isn’t a world in which a Washington Post essay called “I am tired of being a Jewish man’s rebellion” wouldn’t inspire ridicule and humorous derision.
As its title implies, Carey Purcell’s essay – which has rapidly become Twitter-infamous – is the lament of a non-Jewish woman bemoaning circumstances under which Judaism “has contributed to two of my biggest heartbreaks.” She dated young men who at first had no problem with her Christian religion and Waspy persona, which she describes as: “Blond, often wear pearls and can mix an excellent, and very strong, martini. Manners and etiquette are important to me, and when I’m stressed, I often cope by cleaning.”
She complains that, down the line, after she has fallen in love with them, the men’s overbearing mothers win out and religion is “suddenly a problem when it never had been before” – leading them to conclude she’s not the girl for them, settling down shortly afterward with one of their own kind.
Her conclusion: “I guess dating me had been their last act of defiance against cultural or familial expectations before finding someone who warranted their parents’ approval.” She resolves not to get fooled by these falsely tolerant Jewish men again and whimsically concludes, Carrie Bradshaw-style, that she plans to dedicate a cocktail to herself called “A Jewish Man’s Rebellion,” with “a bourbon base and garnished with a slice of bacon.”
As expected, there was a huge social media backlash – and more than one scathing satire piece – sneering comically at her millennial solipsism and the fact that in a world where intermarriage is rampant, she could be so blind to the fact that these guys were just not that into her. There were plenty of jokes to that end, and also many referring to the decision to publish the piece on Passover, picking on Jews at a time when they’re deprived of their favorite comfort cuisine.
But the red-hot intensity and anger sparked by the essay was unique to 2018 – a time in which Jews are attuned to anti-Semitism at a higher level than they have been in decades.
They have good reason. For two years, over the course of the Trump campaign and presidency, a newly empowered alt-right movement of white nationalists has relentlessly flooded social media with its racist, anti-Semitic bile. And following the Harvey Weinstein scandal and other #MeToo cases involving Jewish men, numerous memes depicted ugly, white supremacist stereotypes of Jewish men defiling, abusing and discarding innocent white, Christian women. Beyond the internet, young men marched chanting the Nazi slogan “Blood and soil” and “Jews will not replace us!” in Charlottesville; an actual Nazi is the Republican nominee for an Illinois congressional seat; and there has been a spike in anti-Semitic attacks in the United States.
And so, Purcell’s decision to take the failure of two relationships that she admits ended for reasons other than religion, and then turn their Jewishness into their defining characteristic and the rejection of her into a racial/religious act, was remarkably badly timed.
Unwittingly or not, she struck an unusually sensitive nerve with a sledgehammer.
She didn’t directly invoke the racist archetype of the opportunistic and lustful Jewish man preying on innocent “shiksas,” just as she didn’t overtly state that, unlike herself, Jewish women are rude, messy and don’t know how to mix martinis.
But neither did the existence of such anti-Semitic imagery – and the charged atmosphere of the moment – stop her from writing an article that portrayed her as the hapless blond, Christian, disposable plaything of callous Jewish men.
One imagines that she (and her editors at the Post) may have thought twice before publishing a rant implying her mistreatment at the hands of nonwhite ex-boyfriends and their black, Latino or Muslim families.
Purcell’s essay, which she clearly intended to be charming and sparkling, has instead turned her into a symbol of increased tolerance for Jew-bashing, which has accompanied the global rise in anti-Semitism. It exists not only in the pro-Trump blogosphere, but in leftist circles too – the recent display of solidarity for Louis Farrakhan by Women’s March leaders; in Great Britain by the Labour Party; and in France, Germany and other European cities.
The result: Purcell and the Washington Post were treated to a Twitterstorm schooling them, with various degrees of harshness, about why now is not the time to be lighthearted about racially charged generalizations about Jews.
Ultimately realizing what she had triggered, Purcell issued an apology Tuesday night on her own website, writing that she was "truly sorry" she "offended so many."
She wrote: "It was never my intention to disrespect the Jewish faith or anyone who engages in Jewish customs, traditions or religious beliefs, and my editor and I spoke about that at length while putting the piece together. I realize now that I touched upon serious issues for Jewish people in America and worldwide, for which I sincerely apologize."
As the explosive fallout to the piece begins to dissipate, a search for silver linings has begun.
Some are saying the controversy has been educational, pointing out that there can be nothing cute or charming about collectively blaming Jews for your problems – even romantic ones. The general scorn aimed at the Washington Post’s decision to commission and publish the piece has served the purpose of uniting the normally fractured Jewish people behind one opinion. As one observer exclaimed on Twitter: “It’s a Pesach miracle!”
And while the essay may have supported anti-Semitic stereotyping, its publication actually smashed one of the most commonplace anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Because if Jews really held the reins of the press as tightly as those who hate and fear them believe, an essay that offended so many of them could never have been published.