Anti-Semitism as Independent Thinking

Say it without quite saying it and then pretend to be outraged when people notice. Michelle  Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times has noticed:

In a sketch on the German comedy show “Browser Ballett,” a man in a Nazi uniform, replete with jackboots and a red swastika armband, is marching down a street in 1933 when another man hisses, “Nazi.” The Nazi, aghast at the insult, confronts him.

“When you’re running out of arguments it’s easy to play the Nazi card,” says the Nazi. He continues, “Just because someone doesn’t share the mainstream opinion he isn’t automatically a Nazi.” Flustered, the other man replies: “But being a Nazi is already mainstream. You National Socialists already have the power.” To which the Nazi, with a condescending grin, says: “Oh, I forgot. In your world everyone is a Nazi.”

It’s a perfect satire of how the modern right operates. The right-winger starts with a bigoted provocation and, when criticized, defaults to aggrieved claims of persecution and accusations of oversensitivity. He revels in the power he’s amassed even as he poses as a victim. This dynamic has been particularly stark since the musician Kanye West, who now goes by Ye, declared his intention to go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE.”

Usually, mainstream conservatives are a bit more nuanced in their antisemitism. They decry the Luciferian puppet master George Soros, or, as Dxxxx Txxxx did in a 2016 campaign ad featuring images of prominent Jews in finance, refer to “those who control the levers of power” and “global special interests.” Marjorie Taylor Greene attributed the 2018 California wildfires to space lasers controlled, in part, by the Rothschild banking family. Doug Mastriano, the Republican candidate for Pennsylvania governor — and not, in general, an opponent of religious education — has recently attacked his Democratic opponent, Josh Shapiro, for sending his kids to an “exclusive, elite” Jewish day school, saying it shows “disdain for people like us.”

Such insinuating rhetoric lets Republicans speak to antisemites and then take umbrage when other people notice. The umbrage itself then becomes part of the political message: Those people won’t let you say anything anymore! Usually, this performance depends on language with at least a shred of ambiguity, allowing the speaker to adopt a posture of put-upon faux naïveté. “Apparently now it’s some kind of racist thing if I talk about the school,” huffed Mastriano.

Ye, however, doesn’t bother with ambiguity. Last week, after Sean Combs, the rapper known as Diddy, criticized him for his “White Lives Matter” T-shirts, Ye posted an exchange on Instagram accusing Combs of being controlled by Jews. That got Ye’s Instagram account frozen, so he went on Twitter, where he was welcomed back by the site’s likely future owner, Elon Musk. There, after announcing his vendetta against the Jewish people, Ye addressed us directly: “You guys have toyed with me and tried to blackball anyone whoever opposes your agenda.”

If Republicans were capable of shame they might have felt some. Ye, who long ago embraced Dxxxx Txxxx, had just given an interview to Tucker Carlson in which he lambasted the media’s “godless agenda” and railed against abortion. Always thirsty for celebrity validation, conservatives ate the interview up. The account for the Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee tweeted, “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” And now here was Ye showing, in a completely unvarnished way, just what his right-wing conversion entails. (As it turns out, Carlson already knew; Vice has since revealed that Ye’s most paranoid and unhinged comments were edited out.)

It’s not surprising that few conservatives are rushing to distance themselves from Ye, committed as they are to defending their right to malign their enemies without consequence. Antisemites, after all, may be the original trolls. As Jean-Paul Sartre wrote in “Anti-Semite and Jew,” first published in English in 1948, antisemites “know that their remarks are frivolous, open to challenge. But they are amusing themselves, for it is their adversary who is obliged to use words responsibly, since he believes in words.” It was antisemites who perfected the pose of just asking questions; the Holocaust denier David Irving famously demanded that Deborah Lipstadt, a scholar of the Holocaust, debate him.

Criticizing Ye requires acknowledging that there’s such a thing as going too far, and values higher than owning the libs. A few conservatives made the pivot; the hosts of “Fox & Friends Weekend,” who’d earlier condemned Ye’s Instagram suspension, called his tweets “ugly” and “unfortunate.” Others, however, stuck to the typical right-wing script.

On Twitter, Todd Rokita, the Indiana attorney general last in the news for attacking a doctor who performed an abortion on a 10-year-old rape victim, accused the media of targeting Ye for his “independent thinking” and for “having opposing thoughts from the norm of Hollywood”. The right-wing media figure Candace Owens — who’d worn a White Lives Matter shirt alongside Ye — [acted] outraged that anyone would interpret a man promising to wage his own personal war on the Jewish people as antisemitic.

“First and foremost, what is ‘death con three?’” she asked…. She added, indignant, “It’s like you cannot even say the word ‘Jewish’ without people getting upset.”

The absurdism here is darkly funny, but it shouldn’t distract us from the serious thing that’s happening. What’s striking about Ye’s naked antisemitism isn’t that he crossed a line but that, for some of his powerful allies, he didn’t….On Monday night, Owens was on Carlson’s show — one of the most-watched cable news shows in the country — praising Ye for standing up for oppressed white people. His tweets about Jews didn’t come up.

The “Caravan” That Made It All the Way to Pittsburgh (8 Days)

If you’re wondering how it happened, Adam Serwer of The Atlantic explains how the president’s hysterical response to a group of Central Americans seeking asylum in the US led to eleven people being murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue. It’s a sad but familiar example of how right-wing nonsense is spread through the usual channels and then poisons the reality-based media as well:

Much of the mainstream press abetted Trump’s effort to make the midterm election a referendum on the caravan. Popular news podcasts devoted entire episodes to the caravan. It remained on the front pages of major media websites. It was an overwhelming topic of conversation on cable news, where Trumpists freely spread disinformation about the threat the migrants posed, while news anchors displayed exasperation over their false claims, only to invite them back on the next day’s newscast to do it all over again.

In reality, the caravan was thousands of miles and weeks away from the U.S. border, shrinking in size, and unlikely to reach the U.S. before the election. If the migrants reach the U.S., they have the right under U.S. law to apply for asylum at a port of entry. If their claims are not accepted, they will be turned away. There is no national emergency, there is no ominous threat. There is only a group of desperate people looking for a better life, who have a right to request asylum in the United States, and have no right to stay if their claims are rejected. Trump is reportedly aware that his claims about the caravan are false. An administration official told the Daily Beast simply, “it doesn’t matter if it’s 100 percent accurate … this is the play.” The “play” was to demonize vulnerable people with falsehoods in order to frighten Trump’s base to the polls.

Nevertheless, some took the claims of the president and his allies seriously. On Saturday morning, Shabbat morning, a gunman walked into  the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and killed 11 people. The massacre capped off a week of terrorism, in which one man mailed bombs to nearly a dozen Trump critics, and another killed two black people in a grocery store after failing to force his way into a black church

Prior to committing the Tree of Life massacre, the shooter, who blamed Jews for the caravan of “invaders” and who raged about it on social media, made it clear that he was furious [with] a Jewish group that helps resettle refugees in the United States. He shared posts on … a social-media site, expressing alarm at the sight of “massive human caravans of young men from Honduras and El Salvador invading America thru our unsecured southern border.” And then he wrote, “[the Jewish group] likes to bring invaders in that kill our people. I can’t sit by and watch my people get slaughtered. Screw your optics, I’m going in”.

Mr. Serwer points out that “the shooter merely followed the logic of the president and his allies: He was willing to do whatever was necessary to prevent an ‘invasion’ of Latinos planned by perfidious Jews, a treasonous attempt to seek ‘the destruction of American society and culture’.” He concludes:

The apparent spark for the worst anti-Semitic massacre in American history was a racist hoax inflamed by a U.S. president seeking to help his party win a midterm election. There is no political gesture, no public statement, and no alteration in rhetoric or behavior that will change this fact. The shooter might have found a different reason to act on a different day. But he chose to act on Saturday, and he apparently chose to act in response to a political fiction that the president himself chose to spread, and that his followers chose to amplify.

As for those who aided the president in his propaganda campaign, who enabled him to prey on racist fears to fabricate a national emergency, those who said to themselves, “This is the play”? Every single one of them bears some responsibility for what followed. Their condemnations of anti-Semitism are meaningless. Their thoughts and prayers are worthless. Their condolences are irrelevant. They can never undo what they have done, and what they have done will never be forgotten.  

Note: Two days after this latest massacre, the same right-wingers are portraying the “caravan” as a major threat to America.

Help put a stop to this. Vote for Democrats up and down the ballot in next week’s election.

Why the Germans and the Jews?

A recent subscribers-only article in the New York Review of Books begins with a joke that’s not supposed to make anybody laugh:

The historian George Mosse liked to tell a hypothetical story: if someone had predicted in 1900 that within fifty years the Jews of Europe would be murdered, one possible response would have been: “Well, I suppose that is possible. Those French or Russians are capable of anything.”

The article’s author, Christopher Browning, continues:

Indeed, the wave of pogroms in Russia in the 1880s and the Dreyfus Affair that consumed France in the 1890s stood in stark contrast to the situation of Jews in Germany, who at that point enjoyed the greatest degree, anywhere in the world, of assimilation, social mobility, and access to preeminent positions in business, the professions, and culture (even if they were still blocked from careers in the military and the higher civil service).

The book being reviewed is Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Envy, Race Hatred, and the Prehistory of the Holocaust by the German historian Götz Aly. It’s an attempt to explain why the Holocaust occurred in 19th century’s “land of golden opportunity for Jews”.

The principal explanation Aly offers is that:

an uneven and incremental process of Jewish emancipation [in Germany] during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries … transformed Jewish life. Armed with a culture of education and freed from past restrictions, Jews quickly seized the economic opportunities offered by modernization, urbanization, and industrialization. Educationally unprepared Germans nostalgically tied to traditional ways of life moved into cities and took up new occupations only reluctantly. Spectacular Jewish advance contrasted with German lethargy, resentment, and disorientation, producing envy of Jewish wealth and success as well as fear and a sense of inferiority vis-à-vis Jewish competition.

Many Germans benefited when jobs once held by Jews were made available and Jewish property was redistributed. But most Germans needed a “new morality” to “justify” their treatment of the Jews:

For those consumed by envy of Jews but ashamed of [the] tawdry motive [of material gain], race theory concealed their embarrassment. For those suffering a deep inferiority complex about Jews, race theory inverted success and failure, turning Jewish accomplishment into evidence of Jewish vice. For those troubled by the large difference between Jews they knew and the Nazi stereotype, race theory allowed individual experience to be ignored.

Above all, race theory turned persecution and murder into self-defense, requiring “pitiless” cleansing in the present to achieve a future Utopian happiness and social harmony. “Pseudoscience,” Aly concludes, “disguised hatred as insight and made one’s own shortcomings seem like virtues. It also provided justification for acts of legal discrimination against others, allowing millions of Germans to delegate their own aggression, born of feelings of inferiority and shame, to their state”. This “passively expressed anti-Semitism gave the German government the latitude it needed to press forward with its murderous campaigns”.