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Borderline cases

There’s a right way and a wrong way to apologize.

First, the wrong way: Actor Charlie Sheen, in an angry rant against his employers at the TV sitcom Two and a Half Men, found it cute or clever to refer to his boss Chuck Lorre as “Chaim Levine.” Granted, Levine is Lorre’s real name, and he once suggested his Hebrew name is Chaim. But as the Anti-Defamation League reasonably pointed out, it’s “borderline anti-Semitism” when someone, in the midst of a tirade, dwells on these irrelevant facts.

Now it is Sheen demanding an apology — from the ADL! Sheen said he was “referring to Chuck by his real name because I wanted to address the man, not the [false] TV persona.” After all, says Sheen, his own real name is Carlos Estevez. “So you’re telling me,” he continued, “anytime someone calls me Carlos Estevez, I can claim they are anti-Latino?” Well, no, not every time. But if they did so in the context of also calling him a “contaminated little maggot,” as Sheen did Lorre, then one might catch a whiff of borderline bigotry.

Glenn Beck had a much better response after a much more troubling statement. On his Fox show Feb. 22, he compared Reform rabbis to practitioners of “radicalized Islam,” suggesting both put politics above religion. As Beck himself said in his apology on his radio program Feb. 24, it was “one of the worst analogies of all time.” Added Beck: “I made a mistake on Tuesday, and I want to make sure that you understand that I was wrong on this and I also apologize for it.”

Apology accepted. The irony, however, is that while Sheen’s original remarks were odious, they were also largely irrelevant; Beck’s remarks, meanwhile, were of a piece with his disturbing habit of conflating contemporary liberalism with current and historical evils like radical Islam and Nazism. Charlie Sheen is off the air — for now — while Beck commands a wide audience for his often inappropriate analogies. We hope he’ll seize this opportunity to examine the ways he often dances along the borderline between tough political rhetoric and demagoguery.

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