Back in 2008 it finally dawned on me that the popular phrases “white guilt” and “Jewish guilt” have functionally opposite meanings:
In other words, in the classic example of Jewish guilt, [Philip Roth's] Portnoy’s Complaint, Jewish guilt is the opposite of white guilt: Portnoy’s feelings of Jewish guilt stem not from his ancestors being too ethnocentric (as in “white guilt”) but from himself not being ethnocentric enough to please his ancestors. His parents make him feel guilty because he’s individualistically ignoring his racial duty to settle down and propagate the Jewish race.Orwell’s 1984 emphasizes the difficulties humans have in thinking about phenomena for which they lack names, and the usefulness to power of constricted vocabularies. For example, Orwell explains that in the future The Party will have eradicated all the ideological terms in Thomas Jefferson’s vocabulary and replaced them with one word: “crimethink.”
That got me thinking about the virtual non-existence of the mirror image term to “anti-Semitism:” “anti-Gentilism.”
I used the New York Times’ search engine to discover that the last time the Times ever used the term “anti-Gentilism” was before I was born, in a review of a 1958 novel by the hard-working author Jerome Weidman, The Enemy Camp:
New York Times Book ReviewAs this sentence suggests, the existence of “anti-Gentilism” seems logically inevitable, given the much publicized existence of “anti-Semitism.” And yet the phrase hasn’t appeared in the New York Times in 57 years.
June 15, 1958
The Enemy Camp, By Jerome Weidman, 561 pp. New York: Random House. $4.95
Reviewed by John Brooks
One of the most familiar starting-points of the great American success story is the lower East Side of New York City. From it have come a disproportionate number of our most illustrious citizens in business, finance, entertainment, the arts, science, politics — almost every field imaginable. A compelling aspect of the irresistible old story in this particular setting is that there is so often a special twist. The twist, of course, is the issue of religious prejudice: specifically, anti-Semitism and its opposite, anti-Gentilism.
“The Enemy Camp,” a Book-of-the-Month Club selection for July, is a large, rich novel about anti-Gentilism, done in broad strokes, full of plot and exaggeration, and infused with considerable passion held in fine restraint. In much of Jerome Weidman’s earlier writing about young men on the make (like his memorable first novel, “I Can Get It for You Wholesale”), his heroes have seemed to be only fleetingly concerned with moral or ethical questions: the reader’s interest in them derived chiefly from their appalling singleness of purpose and the intricate techniques they use to advances themselves. In “The Enemy Camp” the situation is more complex. The hero has been divided into two men — one by nature moral, the other amoral. The clash between the two keeps the pot boiling.This seems like a pretty reasonable book review, and it demonstrates that “anti-Gentilism” is a useful term for a public intellectual to have in his conceptual toolkit for describing the world, especially the part of the world centering on New York City.
The good boy is George Hurst, adopted from a Houston Street orphanage at the age of 3 by the proprietor of a tailor shop on East Fourth Street, a woman he comes call Aunt Tessie. … The bad boy is Danny Schoor (later Shaw), George’s childhood neighbor, pal and idol. The battle line of the neighborhood is all too clearly drawn: on one side of the street is Gerrity’s saloon, patronized by the Gentiles, the shutzkim — the enemy camp. On the other side, in a world of bagels and lox, live two kinds of Jews: those who, like Aunt Tessie, hate the shutzkim out of nothing less than a sense of mission, and those who, like Danny, make a vocation of currying the enemy’s favor in the interest of getting ahead.
… When Mr. Weidman’s largely bitter tale comes to its provisionally happy end, it is George, the good boy who would not traffic with shutzkim, who is happily married to one of the them and occupying a firm position in a relatively prejudice-free world; while Danny, the unscrupulous shutzkim-lover, is, for all his riches, still an outcast clawing for respectability. Does Mr. Weidman intend this as the final cosmic jest. He leaves it for us to judge.
But June 15, 1958 was the last time “anti-Gentilism” appeared in the New York Times. So I guess not. Perhaps I’ve forgotten the anti-Semitic pogroms of June 16, 1958 staged by readers brandishing copies of the New York Times Book Review.
From Mel Gussow’s 1995 obituary for novelist Weidman in the NYT:
Jerome Weidman, the prolific and popular novelist who wrote ”I Can Get It for You Wholesale” and also won a Pulitzer Prize as the author (with George Abbott) of the Broadway musical ”Fiorello!,” died yesterday at his home in Manhattan. He was 85.
In his two prosperous careers as novelist and playwright, Mr. Weidman often wrote about the rough underside of business and politics — and daily life — in New York, the city in which he was born. His first novel, ”I Can Get It for You Wholesale,” published in 1937 when he was 24, teemed with the life in Manhattan’s garment center, telling about the rise of the ragingly ambitious Harry Bogen. Along with the title character in Budd Schulberg’s ”What Makes Sammy Run?,” Harry became an archetypal figure in American literature: the abrasive young man who would do anything to get ahead.Is the phrase “self-hating” ever used to discourage Gentile artists from criticizing Gentile businessmen? Is Orson Welles denounced as self-hating for parodying William Randolph Hearst in Citizen Kane?
… The novel made his reputation and became his longest running success. Transformed into a Broadway musical in 1962 (with a score by Harold Rome), it starred Elliott Gould as Harry Bogen, and was the show in which Barbra Streisand made her Broadway debut (as the secretary Miss Marmelstein). …
Mr. Weidman’s first novel became the hallmark of his career, and also a subject of controversy. There were those like Meyer Levin who thought of him, along with Mr. Schulberg, as examples of ”the self-hating period in writing,” as novelists who wrote too negatively about their Jewish backgrounds.