By Wayne Price, Anarchist Library
A Jewish joke from World War II: A Nazi officer stopped an old Jewish man and demanded that he answer, “Who started the war?!” Knowing what was good for him, the old man answered, “The Jews!” The Nazi nodded, but the old Jew continued, “…and the bicycle riders.” Puzzled, the officer asked, “Why the bicycle riders?” The Jew shrugged. “Why the Jews?”
There has recently been an increase in anti-semitic actions in the U.S., as well as in other Western countries. From 2017 to 2018, according to the Anti-Defamation League, attacks on Jews more than doubled, to 39. All “anti-semitic acts” in this period totaled 1,879. (While recognizing that Arabs may also be called “semites,” I use “anti-semitic” to mean “anti-Jewish.”)
On April 27th, 2019, a shooter opened fire on a synagogue during a passover service, in San Diego County, California. He shot four people, killing one. Previously he had posted an online statement about how he wanted to kill Jews. This followed the earlier shoot-up of the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, which killed 11 Jewish worshippers. And the 2017 torch-lit march of U.S. Nazis and Klanspeople in Charlotte, Virginia, chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”—which resulted in one murder and several injured. (NY Times, 5/1/19; p. A22)
This has been surprising to many. In the aftermath of the Nazi genocide of about 6 million Jews, Jews have done well in U.S. society. Most have made it into the “middle class,” which is to say have mainly become upper working class (“white collar” workers and “professionals”) or small businesspeople. Some have made it into the highest levels of corporate wealth and power, as well as political power. Through intermarriage and cultural assimilation, Jews have been dissolving into white America—much to the dismay of Jewish religious leaders. (I am myself a humanistic, secular, Jew, married to someone who is only partly Jewish, and our nonreligious son married a non-Jew.) The U.S. establishment right (Republican party, evangelical churches, etc.) speaks of “America’s Judeo-Christian heritage.” Evangelical Christians are among the strongest supporters of Israel.
This is why it was so astonishing when the President of the United States, Donald J. Trump, would not denounce the U.S. Nazis for their Charlotte manifestation. (Instead, he said there were “good people on both sides”—fascists and anti-fascists—as well as “bad people on both sides.”) In horrified reaction, the Nazis were denounced by leading right wing politicians, religious leaders, the biggest of the corporate rich, and top military officers. As a whole, the U.S. ruling class was not prepared to endorse anti-semitic fascism—at this time anyway.
The rise in anti-semitism is connected to the general rise in racism, nativism, homophobia, misogyny, and overall hate-filled political “tribalism,” of which Trump is both a symptom and an encourager. U.S. (and world) society has been roiled by economic crises, long-term stagnation, spreading areas of poverty, environmental crises, the looming threat of climate catastrophe, wars around the world, and a massive increase in the migration of people from nation to nation. These tensions have increased political stalemate in the governments of the U.S. and other states. (Why these problems have arisen and increased in this period is another question. See Price 2012.) There is massive discontent in all sectors of U.S. society. There has been a political polarization, with Nazis marching on one hand, while alternately there has been an increase in acceptance of various minorities (sexual, religious, cultural, etc.), opposition to racism and nativism, the #MeToo movement, and the growth of an openly “socialist” movement. The “middle” falls away and extremism grows on the Right and the Left (speaking as an extremist of the anarchist Left).
The man who assaulted the San Diego synagogue claimed that he had set a fire at a neighboring mosque. He was inspired, he wrote, by the gunman who attacked two New Zealand mosques in March. The murderer who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue wrote that he was enraged because a Jewish agency helped Latinx asylum seekers. “White nationalists” do not limit their mad hatred to Jews. (President Trump, who would not denounce the Nazis at Charlotte, has focused his racist hostility on Muslims and on Latinx people.)