Lisa Marie Mendez, a University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) student and employee at the UCLA Medical Center, has made her extreme distaste for “fucking Zionist pigs” crystal clear this past month in her rant against Jews on Facebook.
Given how disgusting and abhorrent as this angry rant is, I am as tempted as many others who have read it to visit personal retribution on the individual who spewed forth these anti-Semitic sentiments. (And let us be clear – while the words may be couched in anti-Israel rhetoric, they quickly become anti-Semitic.) But I believe to do would be a bad idea for three reasons.
First, the more I read her words, I am stunned that they come from the hand of an apparently intelligent young woman who has earned the right to study at one of the world’s foremost institutions of higher learning, and work at one of the nation’s best medical facilities. The only conclusion I can reach is that Ms. Mendez is a deeply angry, deeply wounded young woman. A retributive campaign against her would only make her more aggrieved. It would neither heal her nor make her reconsider the error of her beliefs. What is worse, trying to get this young lady fired or expelled flies in the face of the core values of Torah that compel us to the mercy, justice, and compassion of Hashem. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Jews.
Second, the young lady has the right guaranteed under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to express her beliefs, irrespective of how hateful and stupid they are. What is more, she is a student at a major public university, and we should always work to ensure that those venues remain an especially open and free marketplace of ideas. As neanderthal and rodent-level as anti-Semitism and Jew-baiting are, they are laid most bare as foolish in an open community of scholars. As Jews, we must look to history and recognize that we have thrived in the Diaspora primarily in those places where intellectual expression was least constrained. We cannot defend the right of the talented and learned Mayim Bialik if we do not defend the rights of her detractor, Ms. Mendez. In pursuing personal retribution against her, we would fail as Americans.
Third, the righteous fight against defamation must never sink to the level of a witch-hunt. The most effective approach to anti-Semitism is outreach and discussion first and foremost. In fact, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL,) in its response to this specific situation, sought assurances from both the university Ms. Mendez attended and the hospital for which she worked that they did not share her sentiments, and in fact sought to distance themselves from them. They ascertained that the student did not allow her beliefs to infect her work and devolve into discrimination or hateful acts. We should take it no further.
This is not to say that we should moderate or cease or active opposition to anti-Semitisim in all of its forms. It is, rather, to say that we must do so with compassion, with a respect for free speech, and an unyielding determination to draw a line between seething hatred and acts of discrimination or violence.
Ms. Mendes should be ashamed of the words she has written, and I suspect that the day will come when she regrets her words as importune or even unjust. But that is a very different thing than saying that she should be shamed. Public shaming only stokes the fires of hatred and resentment.