Sunday, March 17, 2019

Antisemitism in American Politics at the time of the New Zealand Massacre

Anti-Semitism in the American Political World Today
Rabbi Robert Tobin
Parshat Amalek, 5779
B’nai Shalom, West Orange NJ

Can a common enemy convince anti-Semites that they are wrong?

"Antisemitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.  Rhetorical and physical manifestations of antisemitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities."  (U.S. Department of State, Diplomacy in Action, Defining Anti-Semitism)

"Accusing Jews as a people of being responsible for real or imagined wrongdoing committed by a single Jewish person or group, or even for acts committed non non-Jews."

Republicans and Democrats are both facing a challenge.  Anti-Semites are attracted to their messages.  On the left, it is in the form of anti-Zionism and anti-capitalism, both accused of being Jewish conspiracies. On the right, it is in the form of white nationalism, seeing the Jew as both a mongrel and a manipulator of immigration and the destruction of the white race.  No, The Republican and Democratic parties are not Anti-Semitic, and no national leader of either party is Anti-Semitic.  But Anti-Semites are finding that their messages are welcome at the grass roots level, and they are resonating with the rhetoric of each party.

But these two forms of Anti-Semitism are themselves enemies of each other. The anti-Zionist anti-corporate left which is pro-civil rights and pro-immigration is embodied by Representative Ilhan Omar from Minnesota.  The anti-immigrant, white nationalist anti-Semite on the right includes Robert Bowers, the Pittsburgh murderer, and the Richard Spencers and Christopher Cantwells of the unite the right movement that I talked about on the High Holy Days.  But these two groups themselves hate each other. 

AS Richard Cohen of the Southern Poverty Law Center has written, “The atrocity in New Zealand shows us, once again, that we’re dealing with an international terrorist movement linked by a dangerous white supremacist ideology that’s metastasizing in the echo chambers of internet chat rooms and on social media networks.

The killer’s manifesto bears the unmistakable fingerprints of the so-called alt-right, both in tone and reference. It celebrates the Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik as well as Charleston terrorist Dylann Roof. It speaks of “invaders” who will “replace” white people. This is the very same kind of language used by Roof and numerous other white supremacists who have committed or attempted acts of terror.

On his weapon, the killer wrote the white supremacist slogan known as the 14 words – “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” – coined by the infamous neo-Nazi terrorist David Lane.

In this case, a killer attacked Muslims worshiping at two mosques. In November, a killer massacred Jews at a synagogue in Pittsburgh. Though the victims were different, and the attacks came in different parts of the world, the terrorists shared the same ideology of white supremacist hate.”

Can their rabid hatred of immigrants, muslims and minorities that are becoming majorities teach those communities in America that Jews are allies in the fight for civil rights?  Can our common victimhood open channels of communication between us? 

Right now, the greatest challenge to that is the form of anti-Semitism that is anti-Zionism.  And that combination of classical anti-Semitism with anti-Zionism is exactly what Representative Ilhan Omar has been engaging in.

When she demonizes Israel as a whole, she denies national identity to the Jewish people.  Freedom of speech and the democratic principles shared by America and Israel encourage and welcome debate and critique of policies, but rejection of the national identity and aspiration of the Jewish people for homeland is prejudice. That is anti-Semitism.  When she accuses Jewish money of buying representatives in Congress to vote for Israel, denying that they vote for Israel because of shared values and common cause, she falls prey to theories of Jewish conspiracy, what Hitler called International Financial Jewry. That Jews use money to corrupt politicians to do their will against the national interest of the country.  That is anti-Semitism.  When she accuses Jews and congress of pushing for allegiance to a foreign power over their alleigience to America, she uses the language of the Dreyfuss trial, denying that a Jew of a Zionist can be a trusted American.  She uses the language of Pharoah, Haman and Amalek to raise the spector of the International Jew who will undermine the society that they live within but can never be a faithful part of. She makes the Jew and the Zionist enemy and other in the Democracy.  That is anti-Semitism.

The truth is that the new, young, progressive wing of the Democratic party stands for several dynamic issues, but is still seeking its spokesperson.  It was Bernie Sanders.  We’ll see who it might be in the cacophony of candidates that have arisen.  But the emphasis on monetary justice and civil rights needs a straw man to beat up to make their point.  They may say Amazon, or they may say AIPAC.  They may say the banks, and they may say the Jews.  Populist rhetoric in this country has often contained anti-Semitism, from the Father Coughlin speeches and Charles Lindberg in the 1930’s to Representative Ilhan Omar today.

If any good comes from the horror of the slaughter of our own in Pittsburgh or of Muslims in New Zealand, it will have to be a recognition that the manifesto world of white supremacy is an international threat against all of us, and that in opposing it we have common cause.  The Muslim Political Action Committee recognized this immediately in decrying anti-Semitism and Islamophobia, and that was encouraging.  Can we get to a place where policy debates can do the same?
Remember Amalek, and what he did to you along the way.  The Amalek that is still alive is the Amalek of Haman, whispering in the ear of the king: The Jews are disloyal.  The Jews are your enemy.  I hear those words alive and well today, and it should scare you into action in whichever party you find yourself.

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