If Trump Loses, Then What?

For the magazine of the UK anti-extremism group Hope Not Hate, I co-wrote a piece on the state of the U.S. far-right in the 2020 presidential election, alongside PRA colleague Steven Gardiner.

“In the months and years following a Trump loss in November, the American far right will find ample opportunities for growth, recruitment, and propagation of their ideology.”

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. 

‘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. 

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.

Where Did The Past Go?

Check out my feature article for the summer 2019 issue of Jewish Currents, ‘Where Did The Past Go?’, on current progressive Jewish debates about the nature of antisemitism, and the ongoing legacy of April Rosenblum’s influential zine ‘The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere’.

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Are Jews ‘middle agents’, caught between ruling elites and oppressed peoples, from America to Israel/Palestine? Is antisemitism ‘cyclical’? How do we make sense of Jews as both oppressors and oppressed? I try to unpack these live and vital debates animating Jewish progressive movements today.

Things have moved quickly since I finished this article back in January. Back then, the weaponization of antisemitism charges by Trump and the Right against Ilhan Omar and ‘the Squad’ hadn’t yet erupted so glaringly onto the national stage. Today, it’s clear to many that a middle-agent framing can help us understand these attacks. By slamming ‘the Squad’ repeatedly as antisemitic and anti-American, the Right positions Jews as a cudgel, shield and buffer with one hand- claiming to protect us, like feudal lords, while in fact isolating us from our natural allies- while deploying antisemitic rhetoric to inflame their base with the other hand, putting us in danger (tirades targeting Soros and ‘globalists’, accusations of ‘disloyalty’, etc). While this situation contains many novel elements, in other ways, it’s not so new- American Jews end up wedged in the ambiguous middle, a setup that ultimately positions us for scapegoating, and benefits the white Christian elite.

I also regret that, solely for reasons of space, I wasn’t really able to address Israel/Palestine. Many claim that the state of Israel is another middle-agent setup- positioning Jews as a front-line buffer for the West in its ‘clash of civilizations’ against its global enemies, situating the Jewish state between the primarily white Christian elites of the world-system and its restless masses, absorbing the rage of the latter while shielding the former from view. Others think this is deeply problematic, deploying the same criticisms listed in the article for the American context. It’s a really complex question that deserves its own article, and I hope others write about it.

In case it isn’t clear from the article, I ultimately like ‘middle agent theory’ (if we can even speak of it as a single unified theory), and for that reason I gave voice to its valid criticisms. It’s one among many frameworks we can inherit from our Jewish pasts, to understand antisemitism today. No one schema we inherit is sufficient, all have shortcomings if we try to understand the present solely through one lens. (And ‘middle agent theory’ is itself a hodgepodge, assembled from bits and pieces of the Jewish past, from the Central European Middle Ages to 19th-century eastern Europe to 20th-century Algeria.) But at its best, when used carefully and critically, seeing Jews as middle agents can help us understand antisemitism by grounding Jewish positionality in concrete and particular structures of race, class and colonial relations. There are clear patterns there that we need to trace, to understand the complex phenomenon which is antisemitism.

Veha’ikar- the main thing is, it’s possible to hold our people accountable for active complicity in oppression, while also acknowledging middle-agent dynamics at play that ultimately oppress us, too (for some this is obvious; it took me awhile to internalize!). We can combat our communal embrace of race and class privilege in America, while *also* seeing how this embrace ends up trapping us as the moving target of ‘punching up’ scapegoating in the era of Trump and white nationalism. We can hold similar nuance when acknowledging Israel’s complex positionality at the volatile fault lines of world imperialism, while calling for Palestinian freedom and return. We can see these contradictions as moments of dialectical tension, and we can be compassionate towards our people. I’m as little interested in a liberal discourse which sees antisemitism as ‘always cyclical’ because Jews will always and forever be victims, as I am in an ultra-left discourse which anxiously disavows any notion that antisemitism may be structural, out of a myopic fixation on *only* chastising our communal complicity in systems of oppression.

Today the American Jewish community is positioned to understand our middle agent setup and to interrupt it, in a way that our ancestors weren’t. May we continue to build the grounded understanding of antisemitism, within our communities and in broader movements, that can fuel our action and help get all of us free.

 

The Resurgence of Right-wing Antisemitic Conspiracism Endangers all Justice Movements

Days after the synagogue shooting outside of San Diego, I wrote in Religion Dispatches about the antisemitic ideology that helped motivate the shooter. Conspiracy theories about George Soros, ‘globalists’ and ‘cultural Marxists’ are on the rise in today’s far-right movements, imagining Jews as the hidden engineers of white dispossession, the arch-enemies of white nationalism. Progressives need to understand this resurgence of antisemitism in order to show up for Jews, protect all our movements from attack and stamp out the steady rise of white nationalism in America.

“We’ve seen this before. Throughout the 20th century, insurgent far-right movements deployed conspiracy theories about shadowy socialists, cosmopolitan financiers, and covert culture-manipulators in order to win support for their authoritarian agendas. Most of the time, these theories were overtly anti-Semitic, with Nazi Germany and its obsession with “Judeo-Bolshevism” serving as the starkest example of the consequences of these theories—for Jews and for the world.

Today, it is can no longer be doubted that from San Diego and Pittsburgh to Charlottesville, Virginia, and the pages of Breitbart, anti-Semitism is resurgent in the Trump era. But how it operates—and why it’s on the rise—can be unmasked. What role do these conspiracy theories play in right-wing ideology? How are they related to discourses and policies that target other marginalized groups? How do they endanger Jews—and harm other justice movements?…

Anti-Semitic conspiracy theories substitute an imagined revolt against illusory oppressors for a clear analysis of who really profits from societal structures of exploitation. While other racist tropes tend to “punch down” at an allegedly inferior target group, anti-Semitic conspiracism “punches up” at a target it imagines as inordinately powerful, seemingly standing above or behind social movements and political forces, pulling the strings.

In a world of dizzying social and political change, these conspiracy theories furnish a meta-explanation—for confused and alienated individuals such as Earnest and Pittsburgh shooter Robert Bowers, but also for right-wing media figures, politicians and other influential players—of how the world got this way and for who is responsible. In Europe and the United States, virtually any conspiracy narrative acts as an antisemitic dog whistle (or fog horn), even when Jews are not directly named.

This is why anti-Semitism is so dangerous, not only for Jews but for all movements for social change; because it’s such a powerful tool in the right-wing ideological arsenal, providing a scaffolding for sweeping attacks against progressive movements and perhaps sending some of the most vulnerable, who might otherwise benefit from those movements, down the dead end of conspiracism.”

Four reasons why I love Purim- on vulnerability and resilience, diasporism, and fighting white supremacy

I really love Purim. In this post, I’ll explain four reasons why.

Purim tells us that holiness can be found in our world, not only in the lofty striving of the soul towards immaterial realms of transcendence, but right here, in the thick grit of our social, political, historical being-together. Purim tells us that we can find strength in times of darkness, when the face of G-d is hidden from us, when life is bleak and redemption seems most remote. Purim is a fleshy tale of diaspora struggle and resilience, that concerns itself, finally, with the eradication of white supremacy and Empire from the face of the earth. How, you ask? Read on…

1. G-d is in the struggle

The Talmud, in Shabbat 88a, tells a curious tale that connects the seemingly disparate events of Sinai and Purim. When the Jewish people, wandering in the desert, gathered at Mt. Sinai to receive the Torah, Hashem held the mountain menacingly above our heads and said to us, ‘If you accept my Torah, great! If not, here is your burial place!’ The rabbis voice a concern- this sounds pretty coercive! Was our acceptance of the covenant at Sinai truly genuine, if performed under compulsion? Nonetheless, answer the Rabbis, in the age of Achashverosh we again accepted the covenant, this time willingly. Facing the genocidal decree of Haman, we recommitted ourselves, defiantly, to our peoplehood and faith; we ‘ordained what we had already taken upon ourselves’ at Sinai. 

At Sinai, the very essence of G-d was revealed to the Jewish people in an utterly transcendent, mystical, even psychedelic experience of theological and moral enlightenment and revelation. Purim is the dialectical opposite of this. In Purim times, the First Temple lay in ruins, and many doubted if return and rebuilding was still possible. The era of prophecy was drawing to a close, and the Jewish people, through a series of political twists and turns, narrowly escaped genocide under an oppressive regime.

At Sinai, we saw G-d face-to-face; in the Book of Esther, G-d’s name is not even mentioned. What a strange assertion, then, that the exalted heights of Sinai are bound intimately to the ‘mundane’ events of Purim, occurring 1000 years in the future!

Purim is the ultimate secular, materialist holiday. The Book of Esther (which, again, never mentions G-d) is wholly concerned, not with transcendent matters of the soul, but with the gritty, precarious survival of the Jewish people in history. Its narrative unfolds wholly in the realm of realpolitik, a tale strung along by palace intrigue, political calculation, human decisions, and sheer luck. On the surface of things, divine miracles are nowhere to be found; redemption Seemingly comes to the Jewish people solely through natural means. 

One may assume that, since it deals with ‘political’ as opposed to ‘spiritual’ matters, Purim is held as a lesser holiday by the Rabbis. But quite the opposite- Purim, as Shabbat 88a tells us, is the foundation-stone of our very covenant with Hashem. For the sages, Purim is the happiest day of the year, comparable in importance to Rosh Hashanah- and its mandated merry-making carries a redemptive power equivalent to fasting on Yom Kippur. Tradition teaches that after the Messiah arrives, Purim is the only holiday Jews will continue to celebrate, and the Book of Esther is the only holy book, outside of the Five Books of Moses, that will not be nullified. 

We can see why Purim is accorded this special status when we understand that concepts such as ‘G-d’, ‘holiness’ and ‘faith’ reign, for the Jewish people, not only in exalted spiritual realms, but also in the concrete, material worlds of politics and history. The Western dichotomy between the ‘spiritual’ and ‘material’ is foreign to us. Just as the Jewish ‘faith’ does not rest in the heart’s interior but concerns itself, as halacha, with the immanent details of our lives, so does the spiritual heart of our people beat for this world, in all its vexing complexity.

The activists and organizers among us can be energized by this materialist strain of Jewish peoplehood and theology. The struggle to stay alive and avoid persecution; the shifting relations between social forces; the day-to-day work of politics and relationship-building; the desire to get safe and free right here, in the immanent unfolding of our social being-together- this, too, is holy

2. Diaspora

Forty years after Sinai, the Jewish people entered the Land of Israel, formed a civilization, built a Temple, and established a Davidic kingdom. Why did the rabbis in Shabbat 88a not link these momentous events to Sinai, as proof and embodiment of G-d’s covenant with the Jewish people? Why, when looking for a post-Sinai moment in Jewish history when we ‘ordained what we had already taken upon ourselves’, did the rabbis ‘pass over’ our epic saga of self-empowerment in the Land of Israel, to focus instead 1000 years into the future, when we huddled vulnerable and precarious under a foreign king in Persia? 

Purim is the quintessential holiday of diaspora, the only holiday that takes, as its chief concern, the saga of the Jewish people facing persecution and choosing resilience in a foreign land. (While Passover echoes similar themes, I hold that Purim holds greater resonance as a direct commentary on the complexities of post-Temple diasporic Jewish life).

For centuries, the narrative arc of Purim has reflected back, into the eyes and hearts of generations of Jews, all the concentrated hopes, anxieties, promises and travails of our diaspora experience. The communal re-telling of the Purim story in shul- the only public recitation whose attendance is halachically binding upon every Jew- becomes, for each diaspora community that bears witness, an opportunity to wrestle with intimate and lived questions of our power and powerlessness, our relationship to the ruling elite, the peril of our vulnerability and the promise of empowerment, and more.

Jewish tradition contains many deep teachings insisting that galut, exile, is intimately related to hitgalut, revelation. It is only when we are dispersed throughout the world, that we can truly make visible to all humanity that Hashem’s kingdom is indeed everywhere. Our ‘descent’ into exile is, in fact, part of a grand cosmic process of tikkun, unification or repair, which is necessary for the unfolding ‘ascent’, the completion and redemption of all Creation.

Tradition is ripe with such teachings emphasizing the generative, redemptive qualities of diaspora. These teachings did not serve simply to comfort Jews during the long, cold centuries of subjugation- rather, they formed the real backbone of a rich diasporic Jewish consciousness, cosmology and worldview, one often overlooked in prevalent modern Israel-centric conceptions of Jewish identity.  

In this light, we can understand the rabbis’ linkage, in Shabbat 88a, of the revelation at Sinai- which itself occurred outside the land of Israel, in the in-between space of the desert- to the diasporic events of Purim. Perhaps, living in Babylonian exile centuries after the destruction of the Second Temple, this linkage of Sinai and Purim helped the Rabbis orient themselves in Jewish history, and imbue their condition with meaning and purpose.

This linkage carries an ethical message for our resilient people, as well. The covenant we make collectively with G-d, affirmed the rabbis, is concretized most primordially not when we exult in the empowerment of a Temple or a Davidic Kingdom, but rather, when we face our vulnerability in a time of precarity, when we place our trust in the redemptive power of a holy force beyond any earthly kingship. 

We do not highlight this diasporist ethos in our own time, in order to score a hurried, oversimplistic political point against Israel and Zionism. Yesterday and today, dynamics of power and powerlessness, questions of exile and return remain complex for the Jewish people, and the stakes are high. We unearth subterranean strands of diasporism in order to remain attentive to all our tradition teaches us about our peoplehood, as we renew our task of being in the world, being with others, and being ourselves.

3. Personal resilience

This model of covenant as vulnerability carries resonance, not only for our peoplehood, but in our personal lives as well. As mentioned before, G-d’s name is absent from the Book of Esther, and any ‘divine’ or ‘miraculous’ import to the events of Purim is hidden behind a text which seems to depict a completely natural sequence of political events. Even the name ‘Esther’ evokes ‘hester’ or ‘hiddenness’, as in ‘hester panim’, the hiddenness of G-d’s face. The Purim story depicts a time when the Jewish people are vulnerable, frightened and on the brink of destruction- and yet here, in these very depths, we ‘ordain [the covenant] we had already taken upon ourselves’, here we are redeemed! 

To be sure, we each have our ‘Sinai moments’- profound experiences of connection with the Oneness of the universe and the Source of all life, moments when we feel we have come face-to-face with an exalted, trippy Truth which has revealed itself to us. These moments surely are an important part of spiritual life- but perhaps, they aren’t the deepest part. Perhaps, like any relationship, our covenant with G-d- that is to say, our experience of the holy in our lives- is truly tested, deepened and concretized when things get hard, during times of darkness, when it seems like G-d is absent, when redemption from our travails feels farthest from view.

The words ‘Megillat Esther’, the Book of Esther, can be creatively translated as ‘the revelation of hiddenness’. Purim tells us that it is only here, in the dark night of the soul, when G-d is most radically absent, that we can truly ground an unbreakable covenant, can hold an eternal flame to the deepest darkness and affirm, in raw, unshakeable faith, that this, too, is holy 

4. Fighting white supremacy

Finally, I love Purim because, with a little digging, it can be read as a rallying cry to fight white supremacy, fascism and Empire. The archenemy of the Purim story, Haman, is identified by Rabbinic commentators as an embodiment of Amalek. The ‘eternal enemy of the Jewish people’, Amalek is described, by commentators, sometimes as an actual tribe of people sworn to attack the Jews in every generation, and more often as a spiritual force of corruption, sinfulness and degeneracy that plagues the world, standing diametrically opposed to Judaism’s holy light and purpose.

The original ancestor of Amalek was the grandson of the Biblical character of Esau, hunter, man of the flesh, pursuer of strength, celebrant of brute force. In medieval and rabbinic thought, Amalek was often conflated with Edom, another descendant of Esau, representing the spiritual force of materialism, corruption, extravagant wealth, decadence and state violence. From within the belly of the beast, the rabbinic critique of Edom/Amalek came to symbolize, over the centuries, a polemic against not only the Roman Empire- highly distrusted by the rabbis as the paradigm of human greed and moral bankruptcy- but, later, the oppressive forces of European Christianity and the larger Western world.

Amalek was sometimes theorized as the most ‘self-conscious’, ‘vanguard’ expression of Edom. Today, putting on our political theory hats, we understand that movements of fascism and white nationalism- which, from New Zealand and Pittsburgh to the White House, threaten to consume our world- represent the most concentrated, ‘vanguard’ expressions of larger structures of white supremacy, rooted in the legacy of capitalism in Christian Europe, that have fueled the Western world from the beginning. Today, we call Amalek and Edom by a different name- white supremacy, Christian hegemony, and Empire. 

There are only two passages of Torah of which, each year, every Jewish man, woman, and child is halachically required to hear the recitation- the Book of Esther on Purim, and, on the Shabbat before Purim, a separate Torah passage announcing our obligation to destroy Amalek. In recent decades, right-wing Jewish movements have identified Islam and the Left as Amalek- a frightening inversion, with deadly results. To combat this chillul Hashem, some seek to do away with the traditions of Amalek entirely, or to ‘spiritualize’ Amalek to refer to principles of hate and intolerance more broadly.

I believe we owe it to our ancestors, who suffered under centuries of European Christian persecution culminating in fascism, to remain specific. The obligation to destroy Amalek is an obligation to eradicate systems and forces of white supremacy, Empire, greed-driven capitalism, and right-wing Christian fundamentalism plaguing our planet.

This Purim, may we rededicate ourselves to bringing the holy deep into every level of our lives and our worlds; may we recommit ourselves to fighting white supremacy, wherever it stands; may we reattach ourselves to all that which sparks light, even in thick darkness.

Chag Purim Sameach!

Lessons on Anti-Semitism From Growing up in Rural America

by Benjamin Balthaser

Originally published on Jewschool, November 19, 2016

The electoral college victory of Donald Trump sent the progressive Jewish community reeling, not least because of his campaign’s naked deployment of anti-Semitic imagery and rhetoric.  Just days before the election, a Trump ad linked Clinton to “global structures of power” that featured the faces of Janet Yellen, George Soros, and Lloyd Blankfein; another meme featured piles of money with a six-pointed Star of David; he told a group of Jewish GOP supporters that he “doesn’t want your money.” Steve Bannon, a well-known anti-Semite, is now Trump’s chief policy adviser. 

After two decades of both major parties courting Jewish voters with support for Israel and appointing Jews within top cabinet positions, it was tempting to believe, along with Max Blumenthal and many others, that anti-Semitism as an organizing force in American life and politics was over.  Surely, there may be a small neo-Nazi group holed up in the mountains of Idaho and occasional blowhards from the UFO wing of the Aryan Nation, but nothing like what our parents or grandparents experienced with the rise of Father Coughlin and the anti-Semitic Gotterdammerung of the red scare and Rosenberg trial.  And after years of hearing Likudniks, even liberals, wielding anti-Semitism as a crude political weapon against Jewish critics of Israel, rolling one’s eyes at the yearly Yom Kippur handwringing about the rise of anti-Semitism and the precarious position of global Jewry became a kind of left-wing right-of-passage.  Leave the shtetl horror stories to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL); we have real work to do fighting injustice.

While I’ve never counted myself among the Jews who see Cossacks riding down from every hilltop, I’ve also never been very sanguine about friends’ frequent assurances that all is fine in our American Zion.  Unlike the majority of my progressive Jewish friends and family, I did not grow up in the city or even in the suburbs.  My small town in rural California was at the time (transformed now utterly by the wine industry and California real estate speculation) white, lower middle-class, evangelical.  My friends’ parents and neighbors worked construction, drove busses, climbed utility poles, sold used cars.  Many were prison guards. 

Structural racism was the built architecture of my hometown. I remember the one row of “slums” off the main street – ramshackle houses and trailer parks – where Mexican-American and Filipino farmworkers lived.  The college twenty miles away was planned as a “sundown town,” in which African Americans were expected to leave by dark, right up until the 1970s.  Yet anti-Semitism was also part of the texture of town life –  if not the chorus, at least the melody.  It was common for my school chums to talk about “Jewing someone down” on price; if you cheated someone or stole something, friends would ask if you’d “like a bagel with that”; a swastika was carved into my locker in high school, and swastikas were regularly spray-painted on the Central Coasts’ sole temple.  One of my first girlfriends asked me blankly why Jews were so greedy, and there was of course the annual ritual humiliation, as the only Jew in my classroom, to explain both Chanukah and the Holocaust.  When my right-wing social studies teacher forced us to listen to free-market lectures by Alan Greenspan, he prefaced them by saying “now that’s a smart Jew.”  A white nationalist spat in my face; another chased after me with a baseball bat (although I was never certain if the Nazi chased after me because I was known to be Jewish, or frequently assumed to be queer). 

My first inkling that the anti-Semitism of my hometown had an origin point was the day my older brother came home from a friend’s evangelical church to announce that the Jews deserved the Holocaust for rejecting Jesus.  My bother’s announcement prefigured what was my mother’s strange twenty-year odyssey as the only Jewish church organist in town — maybe any town — playing in a dozen churches before she retired. How she came to be a Jewish church organist is, as they say, a long story – put simply, she liked baroque organ music, it was a small town, and churches pay.  She had a choir loft seat to small town American religious life that few outside that world have.  And she experienced that world as a Jewish woman, one with a particularly well-tuned ear for anti-Semitism, having grown up in the conservative sunbelt of the outer San Fernando Valley in the 1950s.

She related to me a Sunday-after-Sunday barrage of anti-Semitic sermons.  The sermons did not relate the Jews’ rejection of Jesus as simply a debatable historical fact; rather the rejection was something essential to Jewishness. A Catholic priest said we must “pray for the perfidious Jews”; “Jews were bind and stupid for rejecting Jesus” a Lutheran pastor argued; another Lutheran day school repeatedly sung the verse “the Jews are the Pharisees and the Pharisees are hypocrites;” my mother was asked by a priest if “Jewish fingers” could play “Christian hymns.”  The sermons were “week after week” she said. When she asked one parishioner why the pastor repeated the same sermon about the Jews, the parishioner responded, “it brings in converts.” 

Quickly she learned to keep quiet about her ethno-cultural identity.  When pressed, she would give a sly smile, a side-eye, and respond that she was a “lapsed Zoroastrian.”

As April Rosenblum writes in her influential pamphlet “The Past Didn’t Go Anywhere,” anti-Semitism can be hard to spot and talk about, as it doesn’t look like other forms of racial and religious oppression.  Eighty to ninety percent of the U.S.’s six million Jews are Ashkenazi; many members of this community are white, middle class and do not face the forms of state violence, environmental racism, underemployment, displacement, and incarceration faced by people of color and the poor. There is a palpable confusion one faces as both an object of discrimination and an object of privilege.  Anti-Semitism often describes Jews as clever, even powerful. Yet as insightful as Rosenblum’s pamphlet is, it doesn’t help much to describe the sudden rise of Trump’s anti-Semitism; indeed, she treats it as a kind of transhistorical fact.

As racial theorists Michael Omi and Howard Winant propose in their classic Racial Formation in the United States, racism is the product of institutions and political coalitions, from the state violence of ethnic cleansing to legal regimes of Jim Crow to segregated labor markets.  Using the work of Italian Marxist theorist Antonio Gramsci, “racial formations” are hegemonic blocs that seek to take power through racial projects, whether progressive in the name of affirmative action and antiracism, or reactionary, in the name of white supremacy and mass incarceration.  In other words, racism is not primary a psychological issue as it’s often discussed, a question of hate or fear (the phase “Islamophobia” has always bothered me, as if anti-Muslim acts are a primarily a question of affect). The production of race is a question of shifting power blocs and political projects that allow such fears, feelings, affects, to harden into public acts and legal codes as a means of and a cause for seizing power.

Many of my friends who grew up in “blue America,” in big cities or central suburbs, have told me they’ve never experienced an anti-Semitic slur. Growing up in rural America, I experienced them constantly.  I have no animus against Christianity, and applaud the many churches that have been on the frontlines of the struggle for racial justice since America’s violent foundation.  Yet my experience with conservative Christianity in rural America was to observe an institutional site of anti-Semitic thought, or at least a space in which such thought is considered normal and acceptable.  This extends to other institutions in which right-wing Christianity holds hegemonic power.  In what Stephen Glade refers to as the “Christianization of the army,” specifically the officer corps, Christian anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bias pervades the military, affecting everything from performance reviews, promotion, and assignments.  To paraphrase a recent internet meme, anti-Semitism may not explain Trump voters, for evangelicals, who were a major part of Trump’s electoral coalition, it wasn’t a dealbreaker, either.

Which is to say, right-wing anti-Semitism never went anywhere.  It may have been buried under a consensus between traditional liberal and conservative parties that support Israel; it was quieted by the always-louder voices of anti-black racism; dampened by the sheer architectural terror of border fences, prison walls, and police sirens. And yet it should be understand as a central part of Trump’s message. 

Amid the economic populism that fueled the campaign, the image of the Jewish financier, on piles of money, chairing the Fed, as CEO of Goldman-Sachs became not only a nod to the prejudices of Trump’s right-wing base, it served as part of its affective infrastructure. Lacking a critique of capitalism, anti-Semitism serves, the pre-War German left was fond of saying, as the socialism of fools.  That Steven Bannon is both the Trump administration’s most vocal critic of the U.S. financial sector and it’s most visible anti-Semite should come as no surprise; indeed, it’s almost a wonder it’s taken this long for anyone to notice. 

If there is any silver lining to the Trump campaign’s naked anti-Semitism, my hope is that it may help to disentangle many of myths around anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism.  For the last twenty years it’s been taken as an article of faith in both liberal and conservative circles that the strongest currents of anti-Semitic thought and action in the U.S. are part of the campaign to boycott, divest, and sanction (BDS) Israel for its ongoing occupation of Palestinian land and blockade of Gaza.  In Hillary Clinton’s most recent speech before AIPAC, combatting anti-Semitism was synonymous with combatting the BDS movement and other critics of Israel.  As Roger Cohen wrote in the New York Times, it is the internationalist left that is currently responsible for the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe and an imagined scourge of anti-Semitism on college campuses.  For the last two decades, the image of the anti-Semite has not been a right-wing evangelical or an “alt-right” white nationalist; it has been a campus anti-Zionist activist wearing a Keffiyeh. 

As a long-time veteran of progressive social movements and also of the BDS movement, I have never experienced the kind of anti-Semitism there that I experienced in my hometown.  Are there sometimes crazy conspiracy theories about Israel?  Yes.  Do people say insensitive things?  Of course.  However, whatever anti-Semitism I experienced in my years in Students for Justice in Palestine did not compare to the many years of verbal, and sometimes quite literal, violence I experienced as one of the few Jews in a rural, conservative, evangelical community. SJP is a human rights organization dedicated to the liberation of all peoples.  There is no comparison between it and the political project of white nationalism or Christian supremacy.

For progressive Jews, reconnecting anti-Semitism to the intellectual and political infrastructure of global white supremacy is one the many tasks ahead.  There are ample examples of directions not to take.  As pro-Israel critics and organizations refuse to attack to Trump over his selection of Bannon, we are beginning to witness a real split in the Jewish community, as it decides whether its support for Israel will outweigh its resistance to white supremacy.  Even as the ADL lashes out at Trump’s anti-Semitism, it recently ruptured its ties with African American activists over their stance on Israel  – condemning the Movement for Black Lives’ embrace of Palestinian rights and their critique of Israeli policy.  As one African American Jewish writer noted, “I naively assumed that…a civil rights organization which presses for equal treatment under the law would have problems with a nearly 50 year illegal occupation in defiance of UN resolutions. ”

Rather than side with Israel over our allies of color in the U.S., it is Jewish alliances with activists of color that will defeat white supremacy in all its forms — whether in the U.S., or in Israel and Palestine.  Linking Jewish fate with a racial state that engages in what looks like apartheid to most of the world does more than corrode “Jewish values,” it isolates us from our natural allies in the U.S.  The decision to support a democratic state in the lands west of the Jordan River is not anti-Semitic – it is quite the opposite.  It is to recognize that it is in long-term Jewish interest to defeat forms of racist power wherever they may exist.  It is not a question of progressive Jewish tradition or Tikkun Olam, it is a question of long-term continued survival.   As Israel is itself born out of a racially defined nationalist project, it seems there is a little question which direction AIPAC and other groups like it will take.  Their ongoing support for Israel is not only reactionary and unethical, we need to understand it as short-sighted and dangerous as well.

In that sense, Jews need to rethink the passive politics of “allyship,” which assumes that Euro-American Jews should align with the struggles of people of color out of a desire for justice, perhaps the goodness of our hearts.  As one activist said to me, “that’s fine if you’re a good person, but I want to know what skin you have in the game.” To fight anti-Semitism we are going to need an intersectional analysis.  Intersectionality often sounds easy on paper but in practice it is difficult and complicated.  Not all oppressions look the same, feel the same, have the same structural and institutional features.  To many in movements for racial justice, Jews with European ancestry will be understood, quite rightly, as white people with all the social and legal benefits that go with it.  It may be difficult and even embarrassing to insist on including an analysis of anti-Semitism when hate crimes are being committed against Muslims on the street and undocumented immigrants are threatened with deportation.  But anti-Semitism is part of the cultural and political formations of white supremacy, and we need to acknowledge that defeating it is in our self-interest as well.   It is also in the self-interest of any group fighting injustice.  Anti-Semitism obscures the real sources of economic and political power.  The Rothschilds are not the reason the banking sector collapsed in 2008; “New York values” do not explain a skyrocketing divorce rate; Israel is not the puppet-master guiding the strings of U.S. imperial policy in the Middle East, however much their interests may align.  Unless we can address these twin facts openly and honestly, we will neither be able to defeat a Trump presidency – or bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians.