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February 6, 2013 4

House of Cards Uses Anti-Semitism As Plot Line

For us at the Anti-Defamation League, the old Madi­son Avenue line “as long as they spell my name right” par­tially applies to the new mini-series “House of Cards,” being aired on Net­flix.  The series stars Kevin Spacey as the schem­ing and con­niv­ing Demo­c­ra­tic whip of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives.  In two scenes ADL is briefly mentioned.

Credit: Reuters/Melinda Sue Gordon/Neftlix/Handout

In the first, Spacey’s char­ac­ter calls ADL after it is revealed that the president’s choice for Sec­re­tary of State crit­i­cized Israel’s “ille­gal occu­pa­tion” of Pales­tin­ian land in an edi­to­r­ial 30 years ago when he was the edi­tor of his col­lege stu­dent newspaper.

In the sec­ond scene, the fic­tional head of ADL is shown telling a press gag­gle that “he’s an anti-Semite” for say­ing those words.

On one level, we see it as a form of flat­tery that the cre­ators of the pro­gram thought of ADL for such a theme.  This reflects well as to recog­ni­tion of our out­spo­ken­ness regard­ing unjust crit­i­cism of Israel and tes­ti­fies to our wide name recognition.

On the other hand, it plays into an image of ADL which dis­torts who we are. It sug­gests, as some do, that ADL will call any­one who crit­i­cizes Israel an anti-Semite with the con­nected impli­ca­tion that we are try­ing to sti­fle legit­i­mate crit­i­cism of Israel.

The truth is that we would be sharply crit­i­cal of some­one who refers to Israel’s sit­u­a­tion in the West Bank as “ille­gal occu­pa­tion” but would not refer to such an indi­vid­ual as anti-Semite unless there were other things he had said, whether dele­git­imiz­ing Israel or com­par­ing Israel to Nazis or accus­ing Israel of crimes that fall under the cat­e­gory of blood libels and conspiracies.

Crit­i­cism of Israel some­times may be legit­i­mate, some­times not. When it is not, it may or may not rise to the level of anti-Semitism.

We under­stand that “House of Cards” is fic­tion so we have no inter­est in protest­ing.  But the more nuanced view that we have just described is the real ADL, an orga­ni­za­tion to whom cred­i­bil­ity is every­thing and one that makes sure that the term anti-Semitic is used when it is truly warranted.

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