Over years of speaking about White nationalism in the 1990s and early 2000s in the Northwest and then the Midwest and South, I found that audiences—whether white or of color, at synagogues or churches, universities or police trainings—generally had a relationship to white nationalism that, at least in one basic sense, was like my own. They knew the scope and seriousness of the movement from personal experience, and—if they didn’t take this for granted to begin with—they were not shocked to discover its antisemitic emphasis. The resistance I have encountered when I address antisemitism has primarily come since I moved to the Northeast seven years ago, and from the most established progressive antiracist leaders, organizations, coalitions, and foundations around the country. It is here that a well-meaning, but counterproductive, thicket of discourse has grown up insisting that Jews—of Ashkenazi descent, at least—are uncontestably White, and that, to challenge this, is to deny the workings of White privilege. In other words, when I’m asked, “Where is the antisemitism?,” what I am often really being asked is, “Why should we be talking about antisemitism?”
And indeed—why? Why, when the president of the United States appears bent on removing as many dark-skinned immigrants from the U.S. as he can, and when men who look like me are shot in the street or tortured to death in prison with impunity? Why, when the leadership of some mainstream Jewish communal organizations level false charges of antisemitism in order to silence critique—whether by Jews or non-Jews—of Israeli government policies? Why, after decades of soul-searching by Jewish antiracists has established a seeming consensus that Jews—with Mizrahi and Sephardi Jews posited as an exception—should regard themselves as White allies of people of color, eschewing any identity as a racialized people with their own skins at risk in the fight against White supremacy? Why, when Jews are safe and claims to the contrary serve to justify rather than to challenge racial and other oppressions, like conservative commentator Alan Dershowitz’s cynical recent attempt to discredit antiracist and anticolonial struggles by declaring intersectionality an antisemitic concept? Why, when Jews of European descent are supposedly “White,” have long been, will ever be?
I can answer this question as I have been doing and will continue to do: antisemitism fuels White nationalism, a genocidal movement now enthroned in the highest seats of American power, and fighting antisemitism cuts off that fuel for the sake of all marginalized communities under siege from the Trump regime and the social movement that helped raise it up. To refuse to deal with any ideology of domination, moreover, is to abet it. Contemporary social justice movements are quite clear that to refuse antiracism is an act of racism; to refuse feminism is an act of sexism. To refuse opposition to antisemitism, likewise, is an act of antisemitism. Arguably, not much more should need to be said than that. But I suspect that much more does need to be said. To the hovering question, why should we be talking about antisemitism, I reply, what is it we are afraid we will find out if we do? What historic and contemporary conflicts will be laid bare? And, if we recognize that White privilege really is privilege, what will it mean for Jewish antiracists to give up the fantasy that they ever really had it to begin with?
And yet this impasse seems finally to be breaking down. It has long been the case that, at moments when the left has suffered another devastating and seemingly inexplicable political loss, my phone rings more often; now that the White nationalist movement has come to national power, it is ringing off the hook. The public and private discussions I’ve had just in the past month suggest a hunger to understand antisemitism—within and outside the Jewish community—the likes of which I have never witnessed before.
Eric K. Ward, “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism”, Political Research Associates (29 June 2017) [http://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/06/29/skin-in-the-game-how-antisemitism-animates-white-nationalism/]