Personal blog of Alicia Fowler, aka @aliciaef, senior strategist at FutureBrand. Topics covered include brands, branding, technology, and space, and more!

That time I learned about white nationalism and anti-Semitism

Activist and scholar Eric Ward, of Western States Center, spoke this past Friday night at my synagogue, CBST. His focus? White nationalism in the USA. So what does anti-Semitism have to do with it? A lot, he suggested. You can watch a video of the discussion in the link at the bottom of this post.

Ward argues that as the civil rights movement wins in the USA, the logic of white supremacy cannot handle such a loss to an inferior group, so it finds a supranatural enemy who has aided such a loss: the Jews. He says leaders of white nationalism posit the Jews as a buffer; the Jews become both punching bag and rallying cry for hatred. What's more, this encouragement of hatred—which in and of itself is vile—is not the only villainous goal, but political power. Ward says one leader of white nationalism suggests, "first let us handle the federal government; then we will handle the question of the Jews".

(Note, I'm attempting to not give free publicity to these individuals, so I will try to avoid naming specific people or groups -- you can Google them yourself -- but let me say, they are not Christian in my mind despite the names of their organizations.)

So the goal of such organizing is political in nature: to convince more people, to collect more votes, to concentrate more power. This should trouble you. This should scare you.

Because white nationalism isn't a movement of white monsters easily identifiable with their white robes and burning crosses; it's a collection of well educated, well off white folks undermining our democratic institutions, and possibly democratic institutions around the world.

One thing that struck me in Ward's discussion was the changing perspective in culture(s) on the "whiteness" of Jews, and really many Europeans and even Mexicans within the US, and around the world. He posits that as the Jewish identity is most assimilated, problems occur and they begin to be blamed, as happened in Russia and Germany. Why this struck me is the gamble that Israel's president is making in aligning himself with American evangelicals, whose support helped move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem last week. Just this morning the NY Times wrote about this political gamble and tenuous alliance. It's striking theologically of course as this alliance feels like a moral stain on all, particularly as these actions undoubtedly enflamed already high tensions with the eve of the March of Return and directly or indirectly caused the death of 60 humans, b'tzelem Elohim, made in the image of God. But this alliance is also striking as it's risky as hell for Israel and the Jews. While these particular evangelicals thankfully do not go as far as others to claim Jews are the literal descendents of Satan, but their theology damns anyone who hasn't processed faith in Jesus Christ. (Sidebar, yes, I know this is a common belief within Christianity but many Christians struggle with it or do not believe it at all and I plan to diver more deeply into this while I'm at Yale Divinity.)

So why is this Christian strain of chosenness troubling, particularly when paired with the Israeli government's inconsistent hard line on anti-semitism? Because this normalizes anti-semitism, even within the Jewish state of Israel. No, this Hungarian ad isn't bald faced anti-Semitism, but it relies on long encoded anti-Semitic semiotics (and indeed spurred anti-Semitic graffiti) in order to challenge frustration and direct attention elsewhere. These are tactics of diversion in authoritarian regimes, designed to secure power and direct people's frustration thus insulating authoritarian governments from critique. Like Hungary today. Like Germany before. (We can have a discussion about the master of diversions, the US President, but I'll leave that for another time.)

Eric Ward, photo from Ford Foundation's website

Eric Ward, photo from Ford Foundation's website

As Ward goes on to say, Jews are not the only nor the last group to face bigotry, particularly that designed to gain or maintain power. Just ask Blacks, queers, Muslims, refugees, or women. In fact, read Kate Manne's Down Girl to learn more on the pernicious and pervasive logic of misogyny for more. It's righteous and holy work for everyone to stand up against the forces that seek to normalize bigotry. 

Thank you to Eric Ward and CBST for a truly eye opening discussion.

Further reading: