The Centrality Of Anti-Semitism To The Alt-Right

In the immediate aftermath of Charlottesville murder, I noted the following:

One thing to keep in mind regarding the specific racists in Charlottesville: they hate Jews. While Il Trumpe has used white supremacy to gain political power, anti-Semitism is as central, if not more so, as racism to Neo-Nazis (apparently, we give the other mud people their marching orders or something).

So I was glad to read this from The Atlantic (boldface mine):

It’s certainly true that structural racism in the U.S. does not primarily target Jews, and to focus only on anti-Semitism would be myopic. But it’s a stretch to say that Jews responding in a personal way to a neo-Nazi rally are centering themselves, and it’s untenable in the context of Charlottesville to discuss white Jews simply as white people in need of etiquette instruction from fellow-progressives. While we should defend groups we’re not part of, we are also part of a group currently under attack.

Progressives in America pride themselves on being hyperaware of the persecution of minority groups of all kinds—blacks, women, LGBT people, immigrants—but they have a blind spot. The left first needs to recognize the very real, immediate threat of anti-Semitism in Trump’s America, and to acknowledge anti-Semitism as its own axis of oppression.

…despite this preponderance of evidence [of anti-Semitism], there was a certain silence surrounding anti-Semitism over the weekend. “In addition to the horror of watching those hateful humans march in broad daylight without fearing any consequences,” Lily Herman wrote at Refinery29, “I found it disturbing that many people, including liberals and progressives, didn’t acknowledge the hateful anti-Semitic comments made by these Nazis. In some cases, they tried to argue that they didn’t happen.” She pointed out that Senator Bernie Sanders tweeted about the “provocative effort by Neo-Nazis to foment racism” without mentioning anti-Semitism. “This strange in-between of calling out Nazis without directly acknowledging their hate towards Jews made me heave a very, very long sigh.”

Recognizing that anti-Semitism exists is, in a sense, the simple part. Recognizing anti-Semitism for what it is—a specific form of bigotry, rooted less in a sense of Jewish inferiority, than in just-as-warped beliefs of Jewish superiority—gets more challenging. It requires a rethinking of terms on a fairly profound level. The common progressive framework, in which white people and people of color are binary categories, makes sense in many contexts. But in the case of Charlottesville and the “alt-right,” this approach erases a demographic who are white but also despised by white supremacists: white Jews, which is to say, most American Jews

Anti-Semitism must be fought, but on its own terms. This means not trying to fit anti-Semitism into the framework of other forms of bigotry. It’s not racism. It’s not classism. Treating anti-Semitism as its own axis of oppression—intersecting with others, but still distinct—allows for precision, and avoids over- or understating the case.

The left also needs to understand that neither socioeconomic privilege nor white privilege guard against anti-Semitism. In fact, the perceived privilege of Jews is precisely why many anti-Semites despise them—consider the conspiracy theory that Jews control the media and Wall Street—and why many progressives are incapable of classifying Jews as a marginalized minority. It’s true that in material terms, on the whole, Jews in America are doing fine. But the consider the psychological terror of being a Jew in Charlottesville last weekend. Consider feeling trapped in your house of worship while being watched by extremely well-armed people who want you dead. Consider the rise in anti-Semitism in 2017, no doubt encouraged by a president who—his Jewish relatives and advisors be damned—sees “many sides” to neo-Nazism.

Scapegoating Jews has long been a way to avoid holding society’s most powerful actors to account. So when Jews react viscerally to anti-Semitism—even white Jews, even privileged Jews, even internet-famous Jews—don’t take them to task for centering themselves in a conversation about bigotry. Just listen.

There’s no doubting that ‘traditional’ racism is a key component of Trump’s support. And to consider U.S. history without realizing how racism is the warp and woof of our national experience is absurd. Politically, racism has driven and still drives much of our politics. But when we consider the Tiki Torch Brigade and many of the follow-on protestors on Saturday, what is central to their bigotry is anti-Semitism, not racism. For them, anti-Semitism is the lodestone, the organizing principle.

In Charlottesville, the evening rally focused on Jews: “Jews will not replace us.”

They issued specific threats towards and intimidated a Jewish congregation.

The rally posters barely mentioned–or failed to mention at all–the Confederate statues.

This is not to say these assholes wouldn’t (and don’t) hurt or kill Blacks, Asians, Latinos, and other minorities (not to mention LGBT). These bigoted bastards would do so with glee. But this small, noticeable–and much more directly violent–part of the far-right is more akin to the militias of the 1990s, which were obsessed with Jewish-led global conspiracies, along the lines of The Turner Diaries. It played a role in motivating the Oklahoma City bombings, and it winds it way through the ‘sovereign citizens’ movement.

In this ideology, Jews are controlling other minorities and use them as their shock troops and servants (as laughable as that is to everyone supposedly involved in the conspiracy). Admittedly, the typical bigotry towards minorities and immigrants is a critical part of it–they use this as a ‘gateway drug’ for recruiting (and they are quite willing to have more ‘traditional’ racists as allies). But, at the core, is a Jewish conspiracy: break the Jews, and it all falls apart.

In this they are much more akin to the European far-right, than traditional U.S. racists and segregationists. They are a related, but different problem, separate from the foundational scourge of racism, even as they use it as a ‘gateway drug’ to build their strength and find allies. If we wish to defeat them, we must understand them.

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One Response to The Centrality Of Anti-Semitism To The Alt-Right

  1. kpd sayle says:

    I think you mean The New Republic, not Atlantic.

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