James Oglethorpe meets Creek Indians in 1733 in what became Georgia. Although Oglethorpe has a reputation as a humanitarian man (he abhorred slavery) either he, or the artist, could not help but assume he held the authority in such a meeting. Picture from Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries
By Rabbi Sharon Brous, Jewish Journal
August 16, 2017
What happened in Charlottesville this past weekend is devastating, but not surprising. Over the past three years, white supremacists have been invited back to the streets, to the airwaves, into the White House.
White supremacy is our country’s original sin. The legacy of slavery, the genocide of Native Americans and the exploitation of immigrants remain unresolved and largely unacknowledged. But in my lifetime, over the past 40 years, while racism festered in the back rooms, behind bars in the prison industrial complex, in discriminatory hiring practices, in segregated schools and neighborhoods and among internet trolls, it was generally sanitized in public discourse.
And then a presidential candidate launched his campaign with an unconscionable attack on Mexican Americans, a verbal assault that should have marked the end of his public career. Instead, it was only the beginning. Attacks against Muslims, Blacks and immigrants followed, along with a refusal to disavow endorsements from known anti-Semites and white nationalists (“I don’t know anything about David Duke. I don’t know what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacist. I don’t know. I don’t know…”).
Good people whispered their discomfort and went along for the ride. Cast votes ignoring what was clear as day, wilfully ignored, justified and excused. Clergy were scolded when they entered the fray: let’s not get too political! Journalists faced full frontal attack for pointing out what was clear to anyone willing to pay attention. This was a dangerous and deliberate fuelling of white supremacist ideology, which-once uncovered, promised to wreak havoc on our already deeply fractured nation.
So how can we be surprised when Nazis now march—armed and angry—through the streets of a college town chanting “Jews will not replace us”? The murder of Heather Heyer is tragic and horrific, but even that ought not surprise us. Charlottesville represents exactly what happens when hatred is met with anything short of explicit and unequivocal condemnation.
G. H. Andrews, “A Slave Auction in Virginia”, in Illustrated London News, February 16, 1861. Collection of Maurie McInnis
Domestic terrorism is the logical outcome of an atmosphere of racialized tension that now receives daily ammunition from the highest offices.
There’s a reason the white supremacists didn’t wear hoods to march in the streets this time; they didn’t feel they had anything to hide.
Thoughts and prayers for the victims—even expressions of outrage and disgust—are grossly insufficient. It takes generations to heal racial wounds and divisions. It takes a few casual dog-whistles to reignite them. It’s long past time for white Americans to stand up and acknowledge that a culture of racism is a culture of violence. It’s long past time for Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists—people of all faiths and none—for immigrant and Native Americans, men, women and LGBT Americans to come together to manifest a political and social reality that reflects American ideals of freedom, dignity and justice for all.
We must come together today, not only to offer words of condemnation and consolation, but to do the hard work to heal our country before we slide further into the abyss.
Members of Vanguard, a white nationalist group, marched away from Emancipation Park behind shields after police tried to clear the park because of the violence. Photo by Pat Jarrett
August 26, 2017
My great uncle, Alex Maguy, was a truly remarkable man. Born in 1905 in a Polish ghetto, so poor he forever associated hunger with his childhood, by the time he died in 1999, he was a highly successful gallery owner in France, who lived in a flat filled with paintings by Picasso, Matisse, Monet and Chagall.
Pres. de Gaulle described the Jews as “elite people, sure of themselves and domineering”
His brother was murdered in Auschwitz. When Alex himself was captured and sent to the camps, he literally clawed his way out of the train, walked back to France and joined the underground resistance. He also fought in various military campaigns and was decorated by the French, British and Norwegians. Although he stayed in France until the end of his life, he never entirely trusted the French government again; and when, in 1967, Charles de Gaulle described the Jews as “elite people, sure of themselves and domineering”, Alex furiously returned his French military awards to the Élysée Palace. For all of these reasons and more, Alex saw Israel, he wrote in the 1990s in an unpublished memoir, “as the realisation of all of my dreams”.
I wish I’d had longer to get to know Alex, but I’m glad he is not alive now to see how the realisation of his dreams has betrayed its roots. Last week, Israel’s communications minister, Ayoub Kara, who calls Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “close friend”, told the Jerusalem Post that staying on the right side of President Trump was more important than condemning the neo-Nazis marching in Charlottesville, Virginia. In other words, for Israel, Trump trumps Nazis, because that’s where we are in 2017.
“Trump is the best US leader Israel has ever had”
“Due to terrific relations with the US, we need to put the declarations about the Nazis in the proper proportion,” Kara told the Post. “We need to condemn antisemitism and any trace of Nazism… but Trump is the best US leader Israel has ever had… and we must not accept anyone harming him.”
So Israel will do what it can to stop the spread of Nazism, except criticise a man who insisted there were some “very fine people” marching with neo-Nazis earlier this month. Whoa, don’t strain a muscle, Israel, you’re doing some pretty extreme backwards bends there!
These are strange times for liberal Jews who, like me, were born in America only because their grandparents ran there to escape fascism. Now we find ourselves citizens of a country where the president prefers to attack the press than actual Nazis. Women wearing knitted pussy hats on the women’s march in January provoked an irritable “Why didn’t these people vote?” from Trump, but goons shouting, “Jews will not replace us!” are defended by the president, who insists, “Not all of those people were neo-Nazis, believe me.” What, did some people get lost looking for a Starbucks and end up on a racist march? As TV host Jon Stewart said last weekend, “I don’t think everybody who likes him is a Nazi, but everybody who is a Nazi sure does seem to like him.”
During the election, a certain trope took hold, that to criticise Trump supporters was snobbery, the blithe stance of coastal elites who don’t understand the fears of real (white) Americans, and some are sticking to that line now. I still haven’t yet figured out how criticism of a billionaire who bagged the support of America’s highest earners by promising them lower taxes represents “snobbery”, so maybe I’m just slow, but here is what I think of this argument: I think it’s disgusting. There is a word for people who support and normalise Nazis and Nazi defenders, and that word is “appeasers”, and that now includes, shockingly, Israel, as well as the conservative Jews in Trump’s circle such as Jared Kushner – like me, a grandchild of a Holocaust survivor. But a heads up to those groups: this tactic generally does not work out well for you. A Vice documentary from Charlottesville, in which a white supremacist gripes about how Donald Trump “gave his daughter to a Jew, that bastard Kushner”, gives a hint as to why.
Alex knew that De Gaulle’s words would embolden antisemites in France, and he was proven right. His speech marked the moment attacks on the character of the Jews became part of anti-Israel rhetoric. That Trump has encouraged antisemites and racists in America is proven every day: just this month, former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke thanked Trump for suggesting that those who fight against racists are morally equivalent to racists.
Alex didn’t want to leave France, but he felt alienated from the country he called home. Right now, a lot of American liberal Jews are feeling exactly the same way.