As a Jew, I Do Not Feel Safe

As the husband of a Muslim woman and the father of a son whose name marks him as foreign even though he was born in the United States, I have been reading with care, gratitude, and a welcome sense of solidarity the posts in my Facebook feed about how important it is not to despair now that Trump has been elected president; and I have been thinking about the role I might play in helping to make sure, as much as possible, that all of those targeted by the hatred at the heart of Trump’s campaign nonetheless feel their presence in this country to be welcomed and safe and respected and valued.

I have also been heartened and affirmed by how many of the posts I’ve read make a point of naming the specific groups in need of our support, because each of them is the object of a hatred directed specifically at it, and that hatred needs to be understood and opposed on its own terms. I have, however, also noticed the conspicuous absence of the group to which I belong, the Jews, from most of those lists-of-the-vulnerable. (Here is one example.) We may be the one group (as far as I can tell) that Trump himself did not name specifically, but his alt-right and KKK and neo-Nazi and white supremacist supporters sure as hell named us when they attacked Jewish journalists who criticized Trump; and the classically antisemitic, right-out-of-The-Protocols-of-the-Elders-of-Zion, “global-conspiracy-that’s-bleeding-us-dry” rhetoric that he embraced towards the end of his campaign, in his speeches and perhaps especially in his final campaign video (complete with images of the prominent and wealthy Jews who are doing “the bleeding”), was sure as hell a way of naming us without naming us:

Do I think, therefore, that the rounding up of Jews is imminent? No. Do I think the people who would support and participate in the rounding up of Jews have been inspired, empowered, and legitimized by Trump’s campaign? Absolutely. The image at the top of this post, for example, of antisemitic graffiti written on a storefront in Philadelphia the day after the election, is from the Anti-Defamation League’s Twitter feed:

It’s worth noting that it almost certainly was not lost on the people who put that graffiti on storefronts that they were doing so on the anniversary of Kristallnacht. To put it another way, I think it is to be willfully blind not to see parallels between the dynamics of Trump’s campaign and the dynamics at play at the beginning of Hitler’s Germany, or of any of the other periods in history when the Jews have been targeted as some version of “the global conspiracy.”

Back in July, a woman named Carly Pildis wrote an essay that, if you care about the integrity of what it means to be anti-racist/anti-oppression, you should read. It’s called “I Am Woke: Why I Am Finally Raising My Voice Against Jewish Erasure in the Anti-Racism Movement.” (The link takes you to a recent repost of the article in Tablet.) The following paragraph struck me in particular. It appears after a section in the essay where Pildis quotes examples of some particularly offensive tweets she received for pushing back ever so gently against what she saw as a simplistic #BlackLivesMatters portrayal of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.

I am not asking the anti-racism movement to join AIPAC. I am asking that it apply the same values to Jews as it does other marginalized or oppressed groups. I am asking that the movement put a parenthesis around its twitter handles and stand in solidarity with me and my family. I am saying that if the rule of this community is that those with lived experience should be heard the loudest, then hear the Jews among you.  If those who have experienced oppression should never be doubted in their experience, then stop saying I am a not a real minority, or that anti-Semitism isn’t real. If anti-oppression work must be intersectional, then that intersectionality can no longer end when the word Jewish is uttered. If communities that are affected by policy must always be consulted and in the forefront of policy discussions, stop telling Jewish Americans we have no right to be included in your conversations about Israel, or that our views on the physical safety of our families are not welcome to be discussed, struggled with or even acknowledged.

When I started this post, I thought of it as an expression of how vulnerable the antisemitism in Trump’s campaign has made me feel. I did not imagine I would also be writing about how what Pildis called “Jewish erasure” among progressives—a term I had not heard till I read her piece—makes me feel perhaps even more at risk. But it does. I know what to expect, and to expect no better, from the people who spray painted those swastikas. Their actions do not constitute a betrayal. Failing to include the fight against antisemitism in a response to Trump’s presidency, however—especially given its explicit expression during his campaign and, now, after his victory—most certainly does.

So I guess I have come to see this post as a challenge. If you are one of the people or organizations talking about how we need to organize not just against the hatreds Trump’s campaign stood for, but also affirmatively in support of the specific groups that were—and are still being—targeted, have you done, are you willing to do, the work of including antisemitism in your analysis? To paraphrase Pildis, intersectionality is either fully intersectional or it isn’t. If it is, then it must include antisemitism among the oppressions it confronts. If it isn’t, if it doesn’t, then why should I see it as anything other than good-old-fashioned, left-wing antisemitism using the fight against other oppressions as camouflage?


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16 Responses to As a Jew, I Do Not Feel Safe

  1. 1
    RonF says:

    Carly’s right. It’ll be interesting to see who else agrees, and who does not.

  2. 2
    Ampersand says:

    Thanks for posting this, Richard.

  3. 3
    MJJ says:

    Has it occurred to anyone that this same fear Richard has is the fear that working-class and middle-class whites have when we hear people celebrating whites’ impending minority status in the United States (as some have done in the comments in the previous post?) Maybe that’s why Trump won?

  4. MJJ,

    While there may be something worth discussing in your comment, I’m going to ask you—if you want to have that discussion—to take it to an open thread, or back to the previous post, since it seems you are responding primarily to what people said there. What you’ve written is, at best, a remote tangent to what the original post is trying to address. Thanks.

  5. 5
    desipis says:

    If it isn’t, if it doesn’t, then why should I see it as anything other than good-old-fashioned, left-wing antisemitism using the fight against other oppressions as camouflage?

    From what I’ve read, the exclusion of Jews from left-wing anti-racism campaigns comes down theories of oppression hierarchy. Essentially, in the current social and political climate they see (Arab) Muslims as being more oppressed than Jews. These same Muslims see themselves as being oppressed by Jews (i.e. Israel/Palestine divide). Hence, Jews get categorised as an oppressor class and any of their concerns dismissed (like the concerns of white ethnicities).

  6. Desipis:

    I wonder if you realize that the explanation you have summarized—and I am making no assumption about whether you agree or disagree with it—not only does not answer my question, but in fact demonstrates, in its conflation of Israel and Jews worldwide, that it is antisemitic in itself?

  7. 7
    Silverfeather says:

    Until this election, and I guess also because I don’t frequent Stormfront or Breitbart, I did not see Jews as being an oppressed minority (in the US) any longer. I did not see a systemic oppression for sure. Looks like that is changing. To me, the attacks on Jews came out of left field, but I see them now, and I have to conclude that they never really went away. Now they will be amplified and legitimized. I will not hesitate to decry the wave of anti-Semitism that is underway along with the other racism and misogyny.
    Also, to Desipis, my understanding is a bit different than yours. Within each culture, it is entirely possible for a group of people to be oppressed on one axis and to be advantaged over another group on another. The current thinking on this is that systemic oppression is more like a web than a hierarchy, and it would be not just morally wrong but factually incorrect to say that because one minority group has advantage over another minority group in some areas, they cannot themselves be victimized.
    It’s my opinion that we need to pull together here, listen to each other, and use what advantages we may have to help and defend each other.

  8. 8
    desipis says:

    I don’t support that argument, and yes, I realise that it could be described as antisemitic.

  9. Thanks, Silverfeather. I appreciate your words.

    Desipis, thanks for the clarification.

  10. 10
    hf says:

    I do think that until maybe a decade ago I was underestimating antisemitism in the US, and this blog helped me see that.

    I do not believe for a second in any “exclusion of Jews from left-wing anti-racism campaigns,” except maybe where Israel is a campaign topic. I expect them to be over-represented relative to the population, probably even the left-wing population. Show me the numbers.

  11. 11
    Harlequin says:

    One of my relatives from the non-Jewish side of the family–a young man who seems very mainstream Republican by most standards, a typical Evangelical Christian GWB supporter–posted a link on Facebook last night to a page describing a global banking conspiracy orchestrated by the Rothschilds.

    I’m assuming, based on what I know of his education and experience, that he had no idea of the history of claim, so I tried to be very calm in my reply. I simply told him (with citations) that was an antisemitic conspiracy theory. But what I really wanted to do was scream in terror that it was possible for someone like him to have run across something like that, let alone that he apparently believed it.

    Which is just to say, I guess, that I agree that the forces of antisemitism have been emboldened by Trump whether he named them specifically or not. (And to say this somewhere that people will actually understand how horrified I was.)

  12. Harlequin,

    In my experience, what is often most terrifying about situations like that is the calm, matter-of-fact way people will cite those theories to your face, as if you will of course understand what they are saying, because why wouldn’t you own up to being part of the “global Zionist network.” It means you’re powerful; you might as well be proud of it.


    I do not believe for a second in any “exclusion of Jews from left-wing anti-racism campaigns,” except maybe where Israel is a campaign topic. I expect them to be over-represented relative to the population, probably even the left-wing population. Show me the numbers.

    I’m not sure who this is addressed to, since it wasn’t the point of my post. I was not writing about the numbers of Jews involved in such campaigns, but in the tendency for such campaigns—and this is often true whether Jews are involved or not—to dismiss or otherwise trivialize antisemitism as a form of discrimination/oppression.

    Also, I am about to go to sleep, but I need to say something that has been eating away at me all night. Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as his “senior counselor and chief West Wing strategist”—which, to my ears, sounds like one of those invented positions for someone who isn’t really qualified for a regular position—looks like the beginning of almost every Holocaust-doomsday scenario the rebbes would paint for us when I was a high school yeshiva student. I always took them seriously, but part of me also resented what came across, given our relative comfort at the time, as fear-mongering. No more. To draw a direct line between Bannon and the Nazis—whether he personally would stop short of a Final Solution or not—is merely to take him at his word. It is terrifying that this man actually has an official role in government. I am scared, and I am angry, and I am, have been, ready to fight for all the people Trump has made vulnerable, but I find myself wanting more and more to know who my, our, the Jews’, allies are in this. It is not a comfortable question to ask.

  13. 13
    Charles S says:

    I agree that Jews definitely need to be included in the list of groups that need to be defended from the Trump regime.

  14. 15
    S says:

    Hi Richard,

    I’m planning a series of posts about The Orange One, the first of which is here – I’m trying to foreground the anti-Semitism and would welcome any comments or suggestions you have. Of course, I understand this is exhausting for everyone and that we all have a limit of time and emotional forbearance which we are prepared to dedicate, so you are equally welcome to ignore :) Thank you for the writing that you do.

    PS. Right on cue someone injects a random reference to Israel in the comments. If anyone doubts that the exclusion Richard’s talking about is real… please don’t.

  15. 16
    closetpuritan says:

    I agree that Jews are one of the groups that need solidarity during a Trump presidency. I have thought for a while that left-wing people tend to underestimate antisemitism. In that it has some parallels to the way that, on the left, antipathy and prejudice towards fat people and towards atheists and nonreligious people is often dismissed as trivial. I don’t want to overemphasize the parallel–I think the specific ways prejudice plays out is fairly different between groups. But I think that with the alt-right taking the place of the Christian right in a position of special influence in the Trump vs. Bush administration, Jews will take the place of atheists as 2nd-most-hated religious group–Muslims will still have the top spot.