Sunday’s Unite the Right Rally in Washington was a virtual no-show for the white supremacists who sought a reprise of the torch-and weapons-carrying march that sparked violence one year ago in Charlottesville, Va. That rally, capped by the death of counter protester Heather Heyer, stunned and sickened the nation. On Sunday, the fewer than 40 who turned up in the nation’s capital were drowned out — literally and figuratively — by the thousands who took to the streets in opposition and by the rain which dispersed the crowds.
Jews and Jewish organizations were well represented at the counter demonstration. The organized Jewish community also co-sponsored a teach-in on nonviolence, an interfaith Shabbat service and candlelight vigil at Washington Hebrew Congregation.
The argument could be made that all this was overkill for the puny numbers the white supremacist community managed to turn out. But the mass opposition, largely peaceful, and the gatherings of likeminded people upholding the causes of inclusion and nonviolence was reassuring, even uplifting. So too was the organized and professional way the District of Columbia went about maintaining public safety.
Jews who count themselves part of this coalition do so because they, in principle, stand against the injustice and racism of white supremacists and neo-Nazis, and also because they are among the targets of these hate groups. Jews “control the currency” and are “over-represented in Congress and the Supreme Court,” rally organizer Jason Kessler told The Washington Post.
Yet there is a disconcerting stream of thought on the left that would remove hatred of Jews from the umbrella of racism. Why? Because, as former Bernie Sanders campaign aide Symone Sanders said on CNN last week, racism is only “prejudice plus power” — implying that only those in positions of power over others can be racist.
Sanders wasn’t speaking about Jews, but about New York Times technology writer Sarah Jeong, who made anti-white tweets. According to Sanders, Jeong isn’t a racist because she is a Korean American and, as a minority, is not part of the white power structure.
That argument is worse than silly. Arguing, for example, that the Rev. Louis Farrakhan isn’t a bigot because he’s black and wields little power ignores the decades of hate and anti-Semitism that Farrakhan has spewed, and simultaneously denigrates African American leaders who have worked to lift up their people without attacking and degrading others.
It wasn’t so long ago that Jews were the despised “other.” But Jews’ relative success in the United States and absorption into the white community does not mean that anti-Semitism should be tolerated. Haters like Kessler and his fellow racists need to be confronted, called out and shouted down.
Kessler and his white supremacist friends were looking to make noise last weekend. Their rally barely managed a whimper. And that’s a good thing.