Understanding White Nationalism and Antisemitism in the Era of COVID-19

This is a transcript of a talk I gave at Bend the Arc’s 2020 Conference, Pursuing Justice, on rising white nationalism and antisemitism in the era of COVID-19.

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I’m going to tell you a story about white nationalism in the era of COVID-19.

On Saturday, April 18, one of the first protests against coronavirus public health measures was held in front of the state house in Columbus, Ohio. 

The protests attracted many demonstrators, including white nationalists. 

One white nationalist held an openly antisemitic sign with an offensive caricature, saying that Jews are “the real plague”.

A journalist later identified the white nationalist as 36-year old Matt Slatzer of Canton, Ohio, from the organization National Socialist Movement. The N.S.M leads the Nationalist Front, an umbrella organization that consists of neo-Nazis, traditional white supremacists, and racist skinheads.

Slatzer told journalist Nate Thayer that “The Jews are responsible for the Corona virus” and continued with a series of conspiracy theories blaming Jews for forcing political leaders, from behind the scenes, to enforce the shut down and quarantine. He claimed all COVID vaccines are a Jewish conspiracy to poison people. 

He complained that even as he and many Ohioans were unable to work, the federal government was spending $2 trillion to bail out the rich and powerful. In Slatzer’s antisemitic interpretation: “Why are these Jewish controlled corporations getting all the money and those of us who work for a living getting nothing? How much are the CEO’s of the big companies being paid? We are both not allowed to go to work and getting no support from the government.”

How much sympathy was he able to generate from others at the rally by framing his antisemitism in language that taps into the widespread misery of working people and anger at corporate greed in this moment? Why did nobody at the rally stop him? And how many other white nationalists like him were out there spreading antisemitism, racism, and twenty-first century civil war narratives? 

As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, white nationalists are increasing their recruitment and radicalization efforts, hoping to tap into suffering, resentment and uncertainty to build their movements. 

Online, far-right social media leans into anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. In their groups and forums, Jews “invented” the coronavirus to secure world domination and financial profit. They claim that the virus is a bioweapon funded by Jewish philanthropist George Soros, who has become the target of choice for right-wing conspiracy theories in the U.S. and Europe.

Nor is far-right bigotry limited to sign-making and spreading offensive memes. Earlier in April, a white nationalist was arrested on suspicions of planning an attack on a Missouri hospital. He also had plans to attack a mosque and a synagogue. His justification: the federal government was using the pandemic as an “excuse to destroy our people”, meaning the white race. For him, the pandemic is a “Jewish power grab”.  Words and ideas have consequences. We can only be thankful that the call by white nationalist groups to intentionally try to spread the coronavirus to Jews has, so far it seems, gone unanswered. 

Nor is antisemitism in the time of the pandemic limited to internet provocateurs and would-be mass murderers.  Mainstream right-wing leaders are drawing on the familiar language of conspiracy and scapegoating, to deflect blame from their anti-science, anti-human policies and pet causes. 

Trump’s newly appointed spokesman for the Department of Health and Human Services, among others, has claimed George Soros is behind the COVID pandemic in some form. Trump himself, along with right-wing politicians like Florida Representative Matt Gaetz, and popular Fox News anchors like Tucker Carlson have blamed ‘globalists’, another antisemitic dog whistle, for the unfolding crisis. Pastor Rick Wiles, whose TruNews network still holds White House press credentials, said God is spreading COVID in synagogues to punish “those who oppose his son, Jesus Christ”.

This rise in white nationalism and antisemitism is occurring alongside a rise in anti-Asian racism and anti-immigrant xenophobia, which we’ll discuss. 

White nationalists have been waiting for a crisis like this to organize, and right-wing politicians are adept at using a crisis like this to advance rhetoric and policies of bigotry and exclusion. But we can use this crisis as well, to advance our own transformative vision of a better world. 


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So today, WNs are organizing in the streets and online, and committing mass shootings- 

We remember the 11 Jews martyred at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, the one Jewish victim at a synagogue in Poway California, the 23 members of the Latinx community murdered in El Paso Texas, the 51 Muslims murdered in Christchurch, the 9 black worshippers killed in a Charleston SC church in 2015, the at least 28 people murdered by misogynst anti-feminist and incel shooters since 2014, and more. 

Now, white nationalists are not just a marginal, exotic movement. They’re a well-organized political force that played a critical role in the election of President Trump in 2016. 

From 2017 to 2019, SPLC reported a 50% increase in white nationalist groups. 

The movement is growing, even as many movement leaders have been driven underground due to deplatforming, doxxing, lawsuits, infighting and more.

White nationalism enjoys an expanding potential base of support across the U.S. landscape. Studies indicate that millions of White Americans hold a strong attachment to a sense of White identity and grievance politics, and millions also fear that the effects of the country becoming majority non-White by 2045 will be mostly negative.

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White nationalism is on the rise. 

And when we say white nationalism, we’re not just talking about online trolls, white power groups and mass shooters, terrible as those things are. Today, in the Trump era, we’re seeing white nationalism spread from the periphery to the center of mainstream right-wing politics in America. White nationalists are part of the Republican coalition, alongside the Christian Right. This gives them a pipeline into national politics and leadership positions.

  • We’ve seen many white nationalists run for elected office and attempt to embed themselves in local Republican party infrastructures, and campus conservative groups, across the country. 
  • Often they rebrand themselves as good old patriotic, Christian “American Nationalists”, selectively downplaying their extreme views on antisemitism and white pride, as part of a strategy to influence movement conservatism from within.
  • White nationalists have been exposed as employees of prominent conservative think tanks and policy outfits, journals, newspapers and other institutions.
  • For them, this is part of a long-term strategy of social transformation, trying to shift the boundaries of acceptable discourse further to the Right, and gradually transform the basic common-sense worldview held by millions of Americans. 

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At the same time, prominent conservative leaders are meeting them halfway- dancing further to the Right, and increasingly sounding like white nationalists. 

The core belief of white nationalism is that the ‘white race’ in America and Europe is undergoing a gradual extinction, through massive non-white immigration. White nationalists call this the great replacement or white genocide.  They’re opposed to any and all immigration of non-whites, as a demographic threat which spells in their eyes the physical, biological survival of the white race, is core to their worldview.  

Prominent right-wing pundits like Fox News’ Tucker Carlson and Laura Ingraham, who command nightly audiences of millions of people, increasingly adopt “great replacement” rhetoric to claim that ‘real Americans’ are being ‘replaced’ by an “invasion…of illegal immigrants”. This brings white nationalist ideas about immigration and demographics smack dab into the middle of public discourse. 

Mainstream right-wing pundits on Fox and elsewhere also provide cover for white nationalists, downplaying the threat they pose or even their existence while retweeting them, protesting their ‘censorship’ when social media platforms remove their accounts, and even sometimes inviting them on their shows. 

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White nationalism is shaping anti-immigrant policy, as well. 

Throughout the four years of the Trump administration, White House staffers with affinities for white nationalism, from Steve Bannon to Stephen Miller- who, by the way, is a shonda- have pushed draconian anti-immigrant policies- from concentration camps at the border to family separations, rewriting asylum law, continued attempts at a Muslim ban, and moving to suspend immigration entirely in the era of COVID-19.

In public and in private, they mount their anti-immigrant crusade using the white nationalist language of demographic change. 

These policies are being pushed by radical anti-immigrant organizations closely aligned with white nationalists, like the Federation for American Immigration Reform and Center for Immigration Studies, who echo white nationalist talking points of demographic change. For years these think tanks were considered fringe, but they now enjoy a direct pipeline to the White House and mainstream politicians and media outlets. 

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White nationalist antisemitism is moving mainstream, as well. Trump and other right-wing politicians like Matt Gaetz, Josh Hawley, Kevin McCarthy, Louie Gohmert and more, as well as media outlets like Fox News, use dog-whistle antisemitic conspiracy theories, scapegoating liberal Jewish philanthropist George Soros or “globalist elites” as the hidden puppeteers of left-wing causes. 

In the past few years, they’ve claimed Soros is the hidden puppeteer of so many liberal causes- like non-white immigration into the U.S.; protests against the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh; black lives matter; antifa; the impeachment proceedings against Trump; and more. 

This all creates a call-and-response type of feedback loop, between mainstream right-wing leaders and white nationalists. 

Right-wing leaders like Trump and Fox News use white nationalist conspiracies about Jews, immigration and demographics as a powerful tool, helping them consolidate support for their racist and nationalist policy agenda.

White nationalists are thrilled, because their ideas are granted legitimacy and a massive public forum, giving them more opportunities to win new recruits and pull mainstream discourse even further to the Right. 

They become inspired to commit more attacks against Jews, immigrants and other minorities, as Dove explained earlier in the Pittsburgh example.  

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So what about today, in the era of COVID-19?

To quote veteran antifascist researcher and organizer Scot Nakagawa- “For white nationalists, this pandemic may be right on time. Because when it comes to sheltering in place, white nationalists are the experts.” 

In this moment, our political and economic systems are being exposed as fragile and unsustainable, and the future feels radically uncertain. White nationalists are intent on capitalizing on this uncertainty, hoping to tap into widespread suffering and resentment to build their movement. 

Many white nationalists dream of using this crisis to further their accelerationist vision of collapsing government, inciting a civil war, and fomenting revolution (not the good kind). 

Others hope to further their goal of transforming mainstream conservatism, pulling it even further in the direction of exclusion, expulsion and a drastically constricted sense of who is rightfully part of the nation–who is the “We.” 

As I discussed earlier, white nationalists are increasing their recruitment and radicalization efforts in online spaces, and spreading antisemitic conspiracy theories. They’re helping organize anti-lockdown protests across the country, and showing up, alongside adjacent movements like the Patriot and militia movements. 

Much like Trump rallies, they see these anti-lockdown protests as prime spaces to win new recruits and spread their messaging. 

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Right-wing leaders like President Trump, meanwhile, are staring down a mounting groundswell of popular unrest, as we’re entering the worst economic collapse since the Great Depression. They know that millions of people facing widespread immiseration will be looking for someone to blame, and they’re eager to provide scapegoats, in order to distract blame from themselves. 

They’re doubling down on anti-China scapegoating, spreading racist rhetoric, like ‘Chinese coronavirus’ or ‘Wuhan flu’, to scapegoat China as a ‘backwards’ primitive country, and a menacing, powerful rival, uniquely responsible for the spread of coronavirus around the world. 

Across the country, mounting anti-China rhetoric has driven a spike in harassment and physical attack against Asian American-Pacific Islander communities. Since its launch on March 19, the Stop AAPI Hate Reporting Center has received almost 1500 reports of verbal harassment, shunning and physical assault from Asian Americans. 

Right wing leaders also are using the crisis to bolster the scapegoating of immigrants, the closing of borders and a broader America First nationalist agenda. Channeling fascist impulses, Trump places himself above science and expertise, deploying motifs of the cult of a leader and the myth of national greatness- a greatness that has supposedly been ‘compromised’ by internationalism and liberalism. 

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As things get worse, the Right will also need an image of the ‘elites’ to blame. They will need to point the finger at a caricature of a powerful, subversive internal enemy who is responsible, from behind the scenes, for what went wrong. Otherwise, who else are people going to blame for what went wrong at the top- Trump?!? 

This is where antisemitism comes in. We’re already seeing Tucker Carlson, Trump and other right-wing leaders scapegoat ‘globalists’ for the mounting public health crisis, and economic fallout, brought on by COVID. 

We know this is how antisemitism functions- getting people to blame a familiar stereotype of a shadowy, powerful elite conspiracy operating behind the scenes, in order to deflect blame from the failed systems, policies and leaders responsible for widespread suffering. 

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As many others have said, we can’t hope to block the rising climate of bigotry and intolerance by wishing for a return to ‘normal’. We’re living through a moment of profound transformation. The center cannot hold, and a political realignment is inevitable. 

An influential right-wing economist named Milton Friedman once said that “only a crisis produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around.”

It’s up to us to use this coronavirus crisis to advance our powerful, transformative vision of a better and more just world, a multiracial democracy where everyone can thrive. For the radical right, too, has their own ideas lying around. 

‘Primitive, Diseased Invaders’ Threatening America: How Scapegoating ultra-Orthodox Jews for Coronavirus Mirrors Islamophobia

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My latest at Haaretz.

“On April 29, New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio claimed “the Jewish community” is disobeying social distancing orders enforced during the coronavirus lockdown, condemning a crowded Jewish funeral, in a Satmar Hasidic community of Williamsburg, in a tweet many have since derided as anti-Semitic.

De Blasio’s tweet is the latest chapter of a persistent mainstream narrative that disproportionately focuses on Haredi Jews as carriers of disease, uniquely responsible, due to presumed cultural deficiencies, for recklessly spreading COVID-19 to the broader public.

Select instances of noncompliance in Haredi communities, while certainly real, are given outsized attention in news media and internet discourse, creating a sensationalist public discourse that falsely suggests that Haredim, as a homogenous bloc, refuse to practice social distancing.

The scapegoating of Haredim is increasing alongside parallel rhetoric against Asian-American, immigrant and other marginalized communities in our tense and volatile political moment.

For Haredim in the NYC region, this troubling discourse isn’t new. Long before the COVID crisis, Haredi communities in Brooklyn and Long Island, and across the Hudson Valley and Ocean County suburbs, have faced escalating anti-Semitic rhetoric. Facebook pages like Rise Up Ocean County, banned twice from Facebook since January 2020, have reconfigured their longstanding litany of inflammatory accusations, to deploy anew during the COVID crisis.

What are the specific tropes being levied against Haredi Jews, and where did they come from? I’ve spent countless hours studying white nationalist anti-Semitism, as a researcher with Political Research Associates, a think tank that studies right-wing movements. I’ve also spent months tracking the rhetoric of anti-Haredi pages like Rise Up Ocean County, and tracing its evolution before and during the COVID crisis.

I’ve found that anti-Haredi anti-Semitism often looks different than the white nationalist anti-Semitic conspiracy theories, and rightwing scapegoating of “globalists” and George Soros, that many are used to encountering. In many ways, the tropes that, time and again, demonize Haredim as backwards invaders, are similar to the xenophobia and Islamophobia we see on the rise across America, in the era of Trump.”

Read more at Haaretz.  

 

‘Murder Most Foul’: Bob Dylan, Walter Benjamin, and Radical Remembrance in the Era of COVID-19

The events surrounding the historian, and in which he himself takes part, will underlie his presentation in the form of a text written in invisible ink. The history which he lays before the reader comprises, as it were, the citations occurring in this text, and it is only these citations that occur in a manner legible to all. To write history thus means to cite history…

We have to wake up from the existence of our parents. In that awakening, we have to give an account of the nearness of that existence.

– Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project

If you wanna remember, you gotta write down the names

– Bob Dylan, ‘Murder Most Foul’

At midnight on March 27, Bob Dylan suddenly released a new song to the world. ’Murder Most Foul’- his first original song in 8 years and, at 17 minutes, his longest song ever recorded- is ostensibly about the assassination of President Kennedy, ceaselessly probing the details of that event with the urgency of a conspiracy theorist. Along the way, Dylan unfolds before the listener a dizzying array of references to popular musicians, films and other cultural artifacts, stretching across the 20th-century and beyond- from Nat King Cole to the Beatles, Stevie Nicks to Nightmare on Elm Street, Charlie Parker to Harry Houdini, the Dead Kennedys to 1880s gospel classics, and more.

But ‘Murder Most Foul’ isn’t only about the JFK assassination, and it isn’t just a trip down memory lane. As the U.S. reels from the mounting public health and economic crisis brought on by coronavirus, Dylan released this song with the cryptic message that his listeners “may find [it] interesting…stay safe, stay observant and may God be with you.” He seems to signal to us that his decision to release the track at this moment of world-historical chaos was, as he says of JFK’s assassination in the opening verse, “a matter of timing, and the timing was right”. He seems to hope that we interpret its winding verses closely, in light of present conditions. 

Like JFK’s assassination, the coronavirus has shocked the U.S., plunging us, seemingly overnight, into an uncharted future. Now as then, as Dylan croons in the opening verse, “thousands were watching, no one saw a thing/ it happened so quickly, so quick, by surprise/right there in front of everyone’s eyes”. In a flash, our world has changed irrevocably. Now as then, history has polarized itself into a ‘before’ and ‘after’; our lives will never be the same.  

Most reviews of ‘Murder Most Foul’ have suggested that Dylan assembled the vast montage of 20th-century American culture in order to suggest that this legacy may provide “comfort in troubled times”. But I’m not convinced it’s that simple. 

While Dylan’s voice is born aloft by gentle, airy swirls of piano and violin tracing pleasant major chords in the air, his evocation hardly feels light and sweet. Interspersed with morbid details of JFK’s murder, what may have been pleasant reminiscence of 20th-century popular culture feels instead unsettled, rife with tension, brewing with threat of decay, political urgency lingering beneath the surface. “Put your head out the window, let the good times roll/there’s a party going on behind the Grassy Knoll”, Dylan croons, merging, in a single breath, the youthful abandon of ‘60s idealism with an ominous JFK conspiracy theory. “I’m going to Woodstock, it’s the Aquarian Age/then I’ll go over to Altamont and sit near the stage”, he sings, juxtaposing the ecstatic highs, and violent lows, of ‘60s counterculture. 

In 1940, the Jewish philosopher Walter Benjamin wrote his final work, Theses on the Philosophy of History, while fleeing fascism in Nazi-occupied France. “A Klee painting named ‘Angelus Novus’,” he described,

shows an angel looking as though he is about to move away from something he is fixedly contemplating. His eyes are staring, his mouth is open, his wings are spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage and hurls it in front of his feet. The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed. But a storm is blowing in from Paradise; it has got caught in his wings with such a violence that the angel can no longer close them. The storm irresistibly propels him into the future to which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.  

Why is Dylan inviting us to reminisce about the Who and the Beatles, Woodstock and Altamont, as a deadly plague sweeps the land, bodies pile at under-resourced hospitals, and millions more suffer from an economic system reeling towards collapse? Dylan sings, “the day they killed him, someone said to me, ‘Son, the age of the Antichrist has just only begun… the soul of a nation’s been torn away, and it’s beginning to go into a slow decay.… It’s 36 hours past judgement day.” Perhaps Dylan invites us to bear witness, like Benjamin’s angel of history, to the past 50 years as a kind of wreckage, piling before our gaze in a present of political emergency. 

“For the last fifty years” since JFK’s murder, Dylan cryptically croons, we’ve “been searching for” his soul, which Dylan seems at times to identify with the civil rights movement, the “new frontier” of hope and possibility represented by the 1960s, and more. It is tempting to conclude that Dylan performs a kind of liberal boomer nostalgia, suggesting that a certain strain of 20th-century optimism and progress, embodied by Kennedy, ultimately failed to deliver on the change it had promised, with Trump and Trump’s coronavirus crisis as the result. But it seems a deeper work of mourning is also at play. 

Like the Angel of History, Dylan seems to watch helplessly as the events, not only of JFK’s assassination, but the 20th century itself unfold inexorably before his eyes. In both cases, a hidden truth seems to lurk beneath the surface; justice waits to be delivered. Walter Benjamin hoped that a certain kind of remembrance could ‘rescue’ the phenomena of our past from a kind of entrapment. “What are phenomena rescued from?” he asked. 

Not only, and not in the main, from the discredit and neglect into which they have fallen, but from the catastrophe represented very often by a certain strain in their dissemination, their “enshrinement as heritage”. They are saved through the exhibition of the fissure within them. There is a tradition that is catastrophe.

Perhaps Dylan is subverting the mainstream enshrinement of ‘60s counterculture as ‘timeless heritage’, suggesting that beneath the glossy, commodified surface of ‘The Sixties’ as our culture remembers it, a catastrophe was long brewing— one that flared up briefly in Kennedy’s murder and has erupted, in full force, in our present moment. Rather than inviting the listener to derive comfort from 60s nostalgia, perhaps he’s throwing the rose-colored glasses aside, imploring us to awaken to the realization that, as Benjamin puts it, “the ‘state of emergency’ in which we live is not the exception but the rule.”

As the ghost of Hamlet’s father returns to cry ‘murder most foul’, revealing to his son the true circumstances of his untimely death and asking for revenge, Dylan seems to warn us that our entire society has blood on its hands, and is due for a reckoning. The coronavirus crisis deepens in our midst- a crisis, not only of microbes, but of mass unemployment, lack of health care, a social safety net in tatters, rampant structural inequality, administrative incompetence, xenophobia and fearmongering, and myriad other contradictions of neoliberal capitalism. In this moment, Dylan parades the names and faces of 20th century music, film and radio stars before our eyes, and one almost feels a sense of vertigo, as if what-has-been careens, with its full, crushing weight, toward the abyss of the now. 

In what Benjamin calls “the prophetic gaze that catches fire from the summits of the past”, these historical figures seem to haunt us, implore us, call us to account for the moral crisis unfolding in our midst, awakening us to the barbarism of our condition. Dylan, meanwhile, delivers lines like ‘don’t worry Mr. President, help’s on the way’ with a sneer, suggesting to our ears President Trump’s ‘murder most foul’, the mounting death of thousands due to his administration’s mismanagement of the crisis. Elsewhere, Dylan’s lines evoke the injustices of slavery, Jim Crow segregation, and racism more broadly, while lines like “don’t ask what your country can do for you” and “business is business, it’s a murder most foul” seem to criticize an entire economic system that puts profit over people.

In the 17 minutes of ‘Murder Most Foul’, one senses that Dylan is both assembling evidence in the trial to convict JFK’s true assassin, and putting our civilizational history itself on trial for the barbarism unfolding in our midst. But all is not necessarily doom and gloom, either. In the song’s final minutes, Dylan implores the ghost of a popular 60s DJ to ‘play, play, play’ the songs of the 20th century, in what amounts to an incantation, a requiem for the treasured artifacts of a civilizational heritage, rhapsodized in the dark days of its decay. Even as we bear witness to the wreckage, he seems to suggest, we must not despair, but rather play, play the beauty of this imperfect world.

“Pick up the pieces and lower the flags,” he tells us, inviting us to perform mourning itself as a redemptive act, to hold with resolve the immensity of the past, in all its beauty, pain, and promise- and concluding, in the song’s final line, with the affirming hope that ‘Murder Most Foul’ itself may be inscribed within the ragged fabric of our stubborn inheritance. 

A New Mishkan in a New Desert: Coronavirus and Community

This is the first Shabbat since, idk, the Black Plague (??!!) when Jews all around the world are not gathering together in synagogue or for Shabbos meals (hopefully), but are engaging in the massive collective effort of staying-home.

It’s remarkable that this week’s Torah portion is devoted to detailing another massive collective effort- when wandering in the desert, we all pooled our resources to build the Mishkan, the portable sanctuary that would serve as our spiritual core throughout those rough years. וַיָּבֹ֕אוּ כָּל־אִ֖ישׁ אֲשֶׁר־נְשָׂא֣וֹ לִבּ֑וֹ וְכֹ֡ל אֲשֶׁר֩ נָֽדְבָ֨ה רוּח֜וֹ אֹת֗וֹ- “everyone whose heart uplifted them came, everyone whose spirit inspired them to generosity” brought their own offering to support the work. The parsha laboriously details the different goods each Jew had to offer- silver and copper; wool, linen and goat hair for spinning; spice and oil for lighting and incense…

Ironically enough, this gigantic in-person work party holds up a poignant mirror to our own moment of social distancing. Now, as then, “everyone whose heart lifted them up to approach the work to do it” is taking action- setting up mutual aid networks; devising new ways to build virtual community; holding each other close, even and especially across distance; taking care of the home, and the inner work of the soul.

In this unprecedented time, we are building a new Mishkan in a new desert- each of us recommitting, in our own way, to the work of reaching out, showing up, reaffirming being-together, co-creating the collective spiritual anchor that will guide us through this tough time.

וִיהִ֚י נֹ֨עַם | אֲדֹנָ֥י אֱלֹהֵ֗ינוּ עָ֫לֵ֥ינוּ וּמַֽעֲשֵׂ֣ה יָ֖דֵינוּ כּֽוֹנְנָ֣ה עָלֵ֑ינוּ וּמַֽ֘עֲשֵׂ֥ה יָ֜דֵ֗ינוּ כּֽוֹנְנֵֽהוּ: May the pleasantness of my Lord our G-d be upon us- may he establish our handiwork for us; our handiwork, may he establish!!

The Right Wants to Keep Jewish and Black Non-Jewish Communities Divided. We Can’t Let That Happen.

Written at Political Research Associates, with Leo Ferguson and Dove Kent

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“Jews and allies have drawn thousands to demonstrations following separate antisemitic attacks by members of Black communities against orthodox Jews in Jersey City, Crown Heights, and Monsey. The White nationalist movement, meanwhile, has applied antisemitism and racism to strategically exploit tensions between Jewish and non-Jewish Black communities in service of their broader goal of White racial dominance. By examining these developments, we can gain insight into the endurance of antisemitism as a political ideology that harnesses popular grievances for reactionary ends, and we can understand its increasing appeal, in our volatile era, to far-right nationalist movements and aggrieved individuals across different communities.”

Read more at Political Research Associates.

Taking Aim at Multiracial Democracy: Antisemitism, White Nationalism, and Anti-Immigrant Racism in the Era of Trump

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My report on antisemitism and white nationalism in America, with Political Research Associates.

“The last thing White nationalist Robert Bowers posted to social media before his deadly attack on the Tree of Life synagogue was, “I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in.” That was October 27, 2018. Bowers’ killing of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Pittsburgh synagogue sent shock waves through both the U.S. Jewish community and all those concerned with the violence of bigoted politics. As shocking as it was, it is important to understand that Bowers’ attack was driven by an explicitly White nationalist ideology—an ideology that imagines that U.S. Jews are manipulating policy to use non-White immigrants as a weapon against White people.

As this extremist ideology moves from the fringes to increasingly influence the Republican Party, all the way up to the White House, it is important to understand how antisemitism and anti-immigrant racism are core mobilizing strategies of the Right in the Trump era. Make no mistake, it is the White nationalists and their dog-whistling allies in the Trump camp who pose the principal threat to U.S. Jews, alongside a nationalist policy agenda that targets immigrants and communities of color with bigotry and exclusion.”

See more at Political Research Associates.

‘May Memories Rise’: On the Meaning of ‘Yaaleh Ve-Yavo’

A year ago I had occasion to write on Torah themes. I recently got my drash published on the site Lehrhaus- ‘May Memories Rise’: On the Meaning of ‘Yaaleh Ve-Yavo’. It’s about Rosh Hashanah and the power of remembrance, collective memory charged full to bursting with the fierce hope of redemption- a theme that first drew me back to Yiddishkeit, a theme that for me is also deeply political. I ended with a Walter Benjamin quote (of course), to gesture towards this.

“On Yamim Tovim, High Holidays, and Rosh Chodesh, we include the Ya’aleh ve-Yavo prayer in our davening. Commentators suggest that this prayer was added to the liturgy as a substitute for the Temple sacrifices once offered to Hashem during these hagim. In this prayer, evoking our ancestral virtues and Messianic aspirations, we ask God to have mercy upon us, save us, and treat us with compassion and lovingkindness.

But what exactly do we mean when we ask God, in Ya’aleh ve-Yavo, to “remember” us and our ancestors, Jerusalem, and Messiah? Why not simply pray for God to “save us,” “redeem us,” etc? What is added by evoking, in flourishing detail, the uprising of memories before God’s consciousness?…

“As flowers turn toward the sun,” wrote Jewish Marxist philosopher Walter Benjamin in his Theses on the Philosophy of History, “so, by dint of a secret heliotropism, the past strives to turn toward that sun which is rising in the sky of history.” Ken yehi ratzon!”

L’shanah tovah!