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On Tuesday, October 6, senior White House aide Stephen Miller confirmed his positive COVID status. Miller is one of a dozen staffers close to President Trump to have tested positive, but he’s the only one to have generated a lively Twitter conversation on the dos and don’ts of anti-Semitic tropes.
Considering how divisive Trump’s presidency has been, it’s no shocker this news about Miller, who has orchestrated some of the current administrations most controversial policies, including the 2017 “Muslim ban” and the administration’s “zero tolerance” policy toward illegal immigration, was met with some glee by hardcore anti-Trumpers on Twitter.
Stephen Miller has reportedly tested positive for Covid-19. Well, they say it started in bats. Maybe it’s just trying to go to its daddy now?
— bettemidler (@BetteMidler) October 7, 2020
Sources tell me that Stephen Miller is running a fever. He’s up to 34 degrees. 😷
— Danny Zuker (@DannyZuker) October 6, 2020
Obviously it’s funny that Stephen Miller has it but he could have easily infected others. Please please please go get tested if you live in DC and own a Nazi memorabilia shop or a haunted sex doll brothel.
— The Stride Piper (@nomchompsky) October 6, 2020
To everyone out there making jokes about Stephen Miller getting covid19… good job. It’s funny. Fuck that guy.
— The Good Liars (@TheGoodLiars) October 7, 2020
Aside from the expected moral qualms about exhibiting delight in another person’s illness, a backlash against what some tweeters viewed as underlying anti-Semitism emerged.
Stephen Miller is clearly an asshole.
That said, it’s not helpful to criticize him using an anti-Semitic trope that’s been used for a very long time.
It’s also ethically questionable to cheer the medical misfortune of another human being, even a despicable one like Miller.
— Andy Eisen (@andy_eisen) October 7, 2020
Those who took issue with the anti-Miller tweets focused on the repeated comparisons to animals such as bats, lizards and snakes and the oft-expressed notion that Miller is inhuman, or some sort of non-human thing living in a human “host.”
— Antisemitism Cow (@AntisemitismCow) October 7, 2020
I mean, I didn’t see them make this joke about Trump or Christie or any of the non-Jews who got COVID. 🤷 I fucking hate Stephen Miller. I think he is an unredeemable scumbag. But this was still anti-Semitic. It’s of a piece with comparing Black people to primates.
— (((Diplogeek))) (@diplogeek) October 7, 2020
The concern is valid. Depicting Jews as reptilian, non-human or as other sorts of creatures has been an aspect of anti-Semitism for as long as anti-Semitism has existed—that is to say, forever. Nazi propaganda characterized Jews as “vermin” as a method of dehumanizing and justifying Hitler’s plan to “exterminate” the Jewish people. More recently, known anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan has compared Jews to “termites.”
Some followers seemed to take these criticisms to heart, apologizing for their ignorance and deleting tweets or undoing retweets that contain these anti-Semitic tropes.
I didn’t know that! Thanks!
— Djinnaat (@Djinnaat) October 7, 2020
Which is not at all an excuse.
— Megdusa RW (because snakes are scary) (@TricksyRaccoon) October 7, 2020
I did not know this. I said it earlier on Facebook in a livestream. Im glad you shared it and thank you. ❤️
— Dena Mattox Rush 2 (@mattox_2) October 7, 2020
But not everyone agreed on the anti-Semitic nature of these comments, saying that they were more anti-Miller than anything else and that other non-Jewish politicians (the only example I know of being Ted Cruz) are also compared to non-humans by those on the other side of the aisle.
As a fellow Jew, I think you’re looking for anti-Semitic sentiment where it is specifically anti-Stephen Miller sentiment. Let’s pick out battles, please?
— Laura Allen (@the_nermal) October 7, 2020
I’m Jewish. This is to say he’s inhuman for his immoral and evil policy agenda. Just like Ted Cruz, who I often describe as someone who eats live mice and melts in the rain.
— Bess Kalb (@bessbell) October 7, 2020
And National Review writer David Harsanyi pointed out the possible hypocrisy from the left in making a joke about Stephen Miller being a different species after harshly criticizing those who denounce George Soros. Though not everyone agreed about his comparison of the two contentious figures.
Yes. Because Stephen Miller is not used as an anti-Semitic canard or a euphemism of the Jewish people. Nice try.
— Josh Mann (@jmaxmann) October 7, 2020
What seemed to confuse most people about the anti-Semitic nature of the comments was the lack of intentionality. Most (probably not all) of those who used these tropes when joking about Miller and COVID-19 were not doing so to attack him as a Jew or the larger Jewish community.
It’s not tho. Ppl are ragging on him not *because* of his jewishness or heritage, but rather, because he’s a genuinely horrible human. You can be a s**t person & Jewish; they’re mutually exclusive things.
Jeudism is not a shield, and it’s not helpful to use it as one.
— Darrielle Pannos (@DarriellePannos) October 7, 2020
But does it matter? Is it acceptable to say something anti-Semitic about Stephen Miller if you’re not anti-Jewish but just anti-him?
The short answer is no. Using anti-Semitic tropes in any context is, for lack of a better term, bad for the Jews.
I understand it’s not because of his Jewishness.
But when people use anti-Semitic tropes—like calling him less than human—it is still anti-Semitic, even if unintentional.
Was Pence or Kellyanne ever called a bug/lizard/animal? No.
Bc anti-Semitism is so baked into our culture.
— Stephen Black (@stephenablack) October 7, 2020
Thread on Stephen Miller & antisemitic tropes:
We don’t (only) fight tropes because of how they affect the target. We mainly fight them because of how they affect minority groups as a whole.
That’s the biggest thing people miss. They think tropes are ok if someone deserves it.
— Elad Nehorai (@PopChassid) October 7, 2020