By Saul Golubcow
Black-shirted and boot-legged, churlish and threatening, eyes filled with hate, and voices shouting menacing threats of “Jews will not replace us,” those white supremacist and Nazi agitators in the midst of the Charlottesville confrontation froze our blood. Politicians and pundits from the left to the right, clergy of all stripes, cultural figures and media entities from the largest in the nation to the smallest circulation weeklies all responded with repugnance and outraged condemnation. Clearly we experienced odious anti-Semitism in its brazen and most violent form, and we were determined to fight back.
Photogenic, well-spoken, a celebrated heroine for many stretching from the New York Times to Vanity Fair to Hollywood which made a movie of her “exploits” against the Bush Administration and Iraq war, Valerie Plame last month retweeted an article entitled “America’s Jews are Driving America’s Wars” by Philip Giraldi, an anti-Semite of the David Duke ilk, who wrote: “For those American Jews who lack any shred of integrity, the media should be required to label them at the bottom of the television screen whenever they pop up, e.g. Bill Kristol is ‘Jewish and an outspoken supporter of the state of Israel.’ That would be kind-of-like a warning label on a bottle of rat poison — translating roughly as ‘ingest even the tiniest little dosage of the nonsense spewed by Bill Kristol at your own peril.’”
The reaction to Plame’s anti-Semitic retweet can only be termed as muted. Politicians were silent, clergy mostly not heard and the media when responding at all were more interested in boosting Plame’s faux-apologetic explanation of not having read the article (forgetting that she had previously tweeted other equally anti-Semitic pieces by Giraldi). One CNN “analyst” concluded that the lesson learned was how careful one must be on social media. Molly Roberts of The Washington Post labeled the retweet as “vile,” but accepted its underlying canard as “casual, careless anti-Semitism in the service of critiques that might otherwise hold merit.”
Two overtly anti-Semitic events with two very different responses, which brings up a critical question: How do we recognize and assess anti-Semitism so that we can operate from a shared understanding to mobilize and respond firmly and accurately?
This critical challenge has become increasingly difficult over the last several years as self-inflicted distractions have arisen which blur and complicate reasoned and determined responses. We are becoming a hair-trigger nation where a singular event is inflated in association with a larger intent or evil and placed at the feet of those whom we reflexively oppose culturally or politically. Spurious and damaging arraignments have been thrown out in the self-service of ongoing cultural and political clashes. Thus, terms such as “Nazis” or “Gestapo tactics,” which explicitly should be associated with the historical march of genocidal anti-Semitism from the Crusades through pogroms and culminating with the Holocaust, are now bandied about and conflated with policies or ideologies of the other person or party with whom one disagrees.
Consequently, we are falling victim to Pogo’s searing societal insight of the enemy turning out to be ourselves, endangering the fight against true anti-Semitism. The Nazi provocations in Charlottesville, a punch in the nose by alien-appearing thugs, were easy to identify as anti-Semitic even within our unfocused state, and, as we have seen, a consensus response was also easily forthcoming.
But as opposed to Charlottesville, the Plame re-tweet may be so much more dangerous in its residence within our body politic, institutions and cultural frames. How many others, unspoken, share Plame’s feelings or are distressingly willing to accept “casual” anti-Semitism? How close are we to expressions of church-, state- or group-led anti-Semitism that has at its core, to quote the eminent historian of the Holocaust, Lucy Dawidowicz, “a war against the Jews?”
Let’s recall that Hitler’s National Socialist Party immediately after World War I was a ragtag collection of hoodlums scrapping for recognition along with a host of other groups. Why did they succeed?
Within a bitterly conflicted society, fermenting among various factors that gave rise to the Nazis, were the acceptance in German mainstream society of anti-Semitism with its accusatory deceits of Jewish world domination, Jewish complicity in Germany’s losing the war, and depictions of Jews in wide circulation newspapers as vultures, vermin or rapacious beasts.
Today in our country we don’t seem to be near the anti-Semitic level of early Nazi Germany. But some similarities abound — and danger lurks. We must pay attention to the insinuations of fifth columnist behavior through expressions such as “moneyed interests,” “neo-cons” and “Israel supporters” standing in for “Jews” which had emanated from the State Department, executive branch and the media during the opposition to the Iraq War and through the debate over the Iran deal; to those in the societal mainstream who have no qualms in decrying the influence of the “Jewish lobby”; to a 2015 survey showing that 50 percent of Jewish college students reported being victims of anti-Semitism, not by white supremacists but rather by groups railing against moneyed “privilege” and support of Israel; to segments within respected church groups associating deicide with Jewish/Israeli oppression of Palestinians; to anti-globalist sentiments surrounding Jewish control of the World Bank or World Trade Organization; and to dehumanizing depictions of Jews as vermin in broadsides such as the Plame re-tweet.
As with Charlottesville, we must denounce and respond to all anti-Semitic screeds regardless of their source and particularly so from within government, religious bodies, lofty institutions or media darlings.
Our party affiliations, political ideologies or cultural affinities must come secondary in this larger battle as internecine hatreds dull the senses to outside threats.
If we are warring against each other, we will misdirect our focus and misapply our energies in recognizing those early forms of anti-Semitism seeping beneath the surface.
And if any of our various mainstreams is adulterated with expressions of anti-Semitism — as with the Plame re-tweet — and we, because of indifference or falling prey to exterior identifications in determining what forms of anti-Semitism we choose or do not choose to oppose, then we open the door to an anti-Semitic union of convenience for the hooligans and “polite society” to join, particularly in the event of wars, economic depressions or climate crises.
The days of Jews hesitating in the unending fight against anti-Semitism due to feelings of intimidation, fear of making matters worse or concerns about appearing insular must be over. And so must placing narrow political, ideological and cultural self-interests above the long-term welfare of the Jewish community.
On the contrary, if we as a united people across our various Jewish divides wage full war against anti-Semitism, if we always proclaim with courage and dignity that Jewish voices are legitimately to be heard and not maligned, if we pursue justice both for ourselves and for others, then we will not only safeguard our Jewish future but also transmit our treasured ideals, values and principles to the larger political and societal structures creating a better country for all Americans.
Saul Golubcow lives in Potomac.
Spot-on and timely article!
I’ve learned (and I suspect many other Jews have) to listen for “dogwhistles”…and steel myself for whatever spews out next…. I always thought (and still do) that there is a primitive core in America that is Puritan-based, a muffled xenophobia compared to the German/Austrian extroverted kind, and I was (and still am!) concerned that one day it would spill-over and become dominant and open.
That day has arrived, with a helpful assist from our current president. He has a lot to answer for, not the least is slipping the leash on these “deplorables”.
It’s amazing that we fell from being a first-rate nation (with major issues), to being a third-rate (or worse) banana republic in less than a year. If Open Carry becomes law, will we see “fan justice” at our football and baseball games, when a referee or umpire makes a call that someone disagrees with? Just like in South America….