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Antisemitism is Rising because Bigotry is Rising

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Our guest for this Friday’s Zoom call will be New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, arguably the most influential American commentator on Israel-Palestine of the last four decades. After Israel’s election last month, he wrote a much-discussed column entitled, “The Israel We Knew is Gone.” Tom and I hold somewhat different views but that’s part of why I invited him. I learn from respectfully probing the views of people with whom I’m disagree. Whether your perspective on Israel-Palestine resembles mine or Tom’s or neither of ours, I hope you’ll learn something from the conversation too.

As always, paid subscribers will get the Zoom link this Wednesday and the video next week.

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Sources Cited in this Video

How Kanye West went from wearing a “White Lives Matter” t-shirt to praising Nazis.

Things to Read

In Jewish Currents (subscribe!), Mari Cohen interviews journalist Sam Kestenbaum on the Black Hebrew Israelite tradition that has influenced Kyrie Irving and Kanye West.

Last week I talked about Kanye West, Donald Trump, and antisemitism on MSNBC with Mehdi Hasan and Lawrence O’Donnell.

On Monday December 5, I’ll be speaking via Zoom to Temple Beth Jacob in Concord, New Hampshire.

On December 13, I’ll be taking part in an online panel about “New York Jews and Democracy” sponsored by Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.

A devastating ad against Herschel Walker in Georgia.

Martin Indyk declares the two state solution dead—then two hours later declares “there is no alternative to the two-state solution.”

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See you on Friday,

Peter


VIDEO TRANSCRIPT:

Hi. Our guest this Friday is going to be New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, someone I’ve been reading since I was a kid, since his famous book Beirut to Jerusalem. Tom Friedman and I don’t agree on certain aspects of Israel-Palestine, but part of the whole point of these Friday conversations for me is to bring people that I don’t agree with necessarily, including those that I do. And there’s been no person who has been more influential, I think, no journalist in the US conversation about Israel-Palestine for the last really four decades than Tom Friedman. So, I’m really excited to talk to him about how his views have changed, and why he still feels that the two-state paradigm is the right one for understanding how both Israeli Jews and Palestinians can have justice.

I wanted to say something about antisemitism, which is as you know in the wake of the Kanye West story that becomes ever more grotesque and ever more, frankly, absurd—I don’t know how many people saw his encounter with Alex Jones but really last week it was hard to know whether to laugh or cry, because Alex Jones turns to Kanye West and says, ‘they’re making you out to be a Nazi!’ And Kanye West says, well, essentially, ‘you know, I mean the Nazis weren’t that bad,’ right. So even Alex Jones—I mean when you’re scandalizing Alex Jones, you really reached some new height of kind of awfulness, and also just kind of absurdity. But I’m a little concerned that the conversation about antisemitism has had a tendency to exceptionalize antisemitism and disassociate it from other questions of bigotry against other people. Not to center the question that the point that antisemitism is wrong, because bigotry—to deny the dignity and humanity and equality of any group of people—is wrong. Instead, what happens I think often is antisemitism is discussed in isolation.

So, for instance, when Donald Trump has Kanye West and blatant anti-Semite Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago, all of the sudden these Republicans are all suddenly asked, ‘are you going to denounce Donald Trump’s antisemitism,’ as if anyone should be surprised that Donald Trump is hanging around with bigots. Donald Trump is himself a bigot. How much evidence do we need to know? From when he called Mexican immigrants ‘rapists,’ when he said Islam hates us and tried to ban all Muslims from coming to the United States, during the campaign from when he said a Mexican judge couldn’t be honest because he was biased by virtue of being Mexican. I mean, there’s so many examples. And it seems to me by saying, ‘now that by implicitly suggesting that Donald Trump is now past some line, that now puts him in the category of bigotry,’ you essentially imply that all these other things were not bigotry, rather than recognizing that, fundamentally, these things are interwoven with one another.

I think the central lesson that we need to understand from the major incidents of antisemitism that have taken place in recent years in the United States is that most of the time antisemitism comes as part of a package of bigotry, a package of hatred, a package of fundamental worldview that denies the basic humanity and equality of different groups. That’s not to say antisemitism doesn’t exist on the Left where people claim to support equality. It does. It always has. The Soviet Union trafficked in antisemitism, of course. But the dominant and most powerful and most dangerous form of antisemitism is an antisemitism that is bundled with a vision that denies the equality and humanity of a whole series of historically discriminated groups. And I think, often times, in telling the story of particular incidents of antisemitism, we forget that.

So, now everyone’s so focused on Kanye West’s latest insane anti-Jewish statement, but if you think about how this recent set of episodes began, it began when he wore a ‘White Lives Matter’ t-shirt and hung out with Candace Owens, right. And so, ‘White Lives Matter’ t-shirt was essentially a kind of White Nationalist slogan in response to Black Lives Matter. And when he was challenged on that slogan by the rapper Sean Combs, it’s then when he started to say, essentially, ‘you’re controlled by the Jews. I’m gonna take on the Jews.’ So, the antisemitism was connected just to his essentially anti-Black politics, his anti-Black rhetoric, his White Nationalist rhetoric. It didn’t come out of nowhere.

If you think about Charlottesville—which we now think about the tiki torch neo-Nazis marching and Donald Trump saying, ‘there were fine people on both sides’—that march occurred in the context of an effort by Charlottesville to take down a Confederate monument. So, it wasn’t only about antisemitism. That march, that neo-Nazi march, was about the intersection of antisemitism and Confederate White Nationalists’ anti-Black politics. Or if you think about the shooting in Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh, the man who went in and murdered those Jewish worshippers in synagogue on Shabbat was radicalized by his belief that there were caravans of migrants coming from Central America to quote unquote ‘invade the United States’ because he saw this on Fox News and other places again and again and again. And then he decided that the Jews were behind this—people like George Soros—because he basically believed that, he was so much of a racist that he didn’t believe these Central Americans could organize their own trip north into the United States. And then he decided the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society was behind it. And then because this synagogue in Pittsburgh was working with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, that ultimately led him to this act of mass murder.

So, we see again and again the way in which antisemitism doesn’t arise in isolation. Antisemitism arises as part of a larger stew of bigotries based on a fundamental disrespect for the humanity and equality of a whole range of groups that are seen as threatening White male Christian straight dominance. It’s always been that way, right. The Nazis were not only genocidal antisemites, they were also viciously anti-Black. One of the things that Nazis used to rise to power was their claim that French African soldiers, who have been stationed on the Rhine after WWI, were a threat to White women. They were, of course, genocidally against the Roma and against the handicapped.

So, this is an old story, but it’s a story I think it seems to me, we tended to forget. And I think it’s important to remember this story because it ultimately leads us also to recognize that a struggle against antisemitism must be connected to a struggle against anti-Palestinian bigotry. And, in a certain way, in the United States, the struggle against anti-Palestinian bigotry is the last frontier because it’s the kind of bigotry that doesn’t even have a name in the United States. That it’s so invisible that we can’t even talk essentially about it as a form of bigotry. And so, I think that the goal of this moment should be to recognize the rising danger of antisemitism, which really has shocked me in its incarnations repeatedly during the Trump era, but to recognize that struggle has to be part of a larger struggle. That if it’s not part of a larger struggle, we won’t understand what we’re dealing with, and we won’t understand how to keep Jews safe and to keep other people safe as well. Again, this Friday, we’ll be talking to Tom Friedman. The paid subscribers will get the link on Wednesday. I hope you’ll consider subscribing and you’ll join us. Take care.

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The Beinart Notebook
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