If you grew up in the inner city in the 1970s and 1980s and were a hippie, black or latino–never mind a hippie who spent most of his time with blacks and latinos–chances are you had occasion to call a police officer a “pig.” Real pigs are actually kind of nice, as Charlotte’s Web, the movieBabeand the fact that people keep them as pets attests.

But at least in places like Paterson, NJ, Harlem or the Lower East Side, cops seemed to behave with regularity the way people generally imagine pigs to be: dirty–as in corrupt, gluttonous–as in often overweight and also corrupt, sniffing into people’s business, and often running amok in the communities they were supposed to “protect and serve.”

Sadly, the rise of Black Lives Matter and the ongoing police brutality and corruption it’s brought to light reminds us that things haven’t changed too much. Is calling a cop a pig today a sign of bigotry or prejudice? Or can the insult, however crude, reflect a reality that needs to be highlighted?

I raise these questions because at its last meeting the Regents of the University of California approved a new Principles of Intolerance which, despite the ongoing epidemic of sexual assaults on UC campuses, decreasing of our pensions, weakening of health care benefits, lowering of educational quality and rise in tuition, focuses on the alleged plight of one of the least vulnerable groups at UC by most measures (including UC’s own “Campus Climate” report) – Jewish students.

As word leaked of the language being considered for the final version of the Principles, which would have explicitly equated anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism an international uproar ensued that condemned the equation as historically ill-informed and empirically wrong much if not most of the time (to cite the most obvious problem, Jews themselves have been and continue to be anti-Zionist).

Despite all the well-deserved derision the report received, the Regents in their infinite wisdom decided to keep the identification of anti-Zionism as potentially anti-Semitic; the final version of thePrinciplesincludes “anti-Semitic forms of anti-Zionism” as the new official red line which the University of California is supposed to police.

How UC administrators are supposed to decide what kind of anti-Zionist speech crosses into anti-Semitism is anyone’s guess, but Regent Norman Pattiz put us all on notice after the vote that he and other Regents would be “monitoring” campuses’ responses to anti-Semitism. No doubt hoping to be helpful, he offered two examples of what such speech would encompass: using the phrase “Zionist pigs” or calling for Zionists to be sent to gas chambers.

We can all agree that calling for anyone to be sent to gas chambers is disgusting and bigoted. But what about calling someone a pig? Let’s set aside the fact that “Zionist pig” is not one of the most common phrases in the anti-Semitic lexicon today (“Zio-Nazi” would have been a better choice). Why is the phrase “Zionist pig” inherently anti-Semitic or even anti-Zionist?

Certainly the use of the word “pig” as an epithet against law enforcement has a very long provenance, going back as far as the 17thcentury. “Capitalist,” Fascist” and “imperialist” have also all been attached to “pig” as epithets in the last century, particularly by those of various leftist and/or anti-authoritarian persuasions.

What all these variations of the “pig” epithet have in common is that they evoke behaviors involving greed, abuses of power, harming local communities and corruption that define the groups against whom the insult is being used. That is precisely why the epithet “pig,” like the animal, is so versatile and useful.

But what of Regent Paddiz’s “Zionist pig”? There is no doubt that anti-Semites can and have used the term with anti-Semitic intent. Yet by definition any word or term anti-Semites use to describe Jews is anti-Semitic, so that tells us little about its inherent denotation or connotation. Is it possible for the term to be used without being anti-Semitic? Let’s look at the behavior associated with Zionism, and specifically the state of Israel and Israeli settlers during the half century of the Occupation.

Who can argue with a straight face that Zionism and Israeli state policy haven’t been defined by precisely the behaviors that we associate with the term “pig”? Israel’s rapacious and insatiable greed for territory is undeniable; not a week goes by in which more land, resources and even homes are expropriated, stolen, destroyed and occupied either officially or by settlers protected and even encouraged by the government. How about sowing chaos and destruction across the Occupied Territories? Let’s not even go there. Corruption and abuses of power? Pretty much describes the Occupation and even Israelilocalandnationalpolitics more broadly, as anyone who peruses the Hebrew press can confirm.

In other words, there are many reasons one could use the term “Zionist pig” and not be an anti-Semite, or even necessarily anti-Zionist. After all, Israel has systematically behaved in a piggish manner for decades. Nor does the fact that pigs are treif (non-kosher) mean the use of pig with Zionism is anti-Semitic; the well knownlove affairof secular Jews withbaconand other pork products, puts the lie to such an automatic equation. One can even find Zionists who have adopted the term “Zionist pig” as a positive term, as at leastone twitter accountdemonstrates. If the owner of that account applied to UC, would Pattiz like us to reject him?

If the UC Regents have a problem with equating Zionists with pigs, or the use of any other intense and even indelicate characterization of Israeli behavior, their time would be better spent helping to change Israel’s behavior – say, by disinvesting from companies that profit from the Occupation – than sniffing out anti-Semites among the growing number of UC students and faculty, including many Jews, who have grown tired of Israel’s brutal Occupation and greed for territory and will no longer stay silent.

As Passover approaches it might be a good idea for Paddiz to avoid reading the Bible; the epithets launched by the Prophets against Israel in response to immoral behavior by its leaders and people are enough to make even an anti-Semite blush. Tell me Norman, should we stop teaching the Prophets?

Mark LeVine is acontributingeditor of Tikkun. He is musician and professor of history at the University of California Irvine and author of numerous books, most recently Impossible Peace: Israel/Palestine Since 1989 (Zed Books, 2009).


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