Anti-Semitism in Trump’s America – ‘wake up call’ or disturbing?

New York Times journalist Jonathan Weisman recently ignited a firestorm of controversy for writing that the American-Jewish establishment is too preoccupied with Israel and ignores anti-Semitism at home.

“There’s been a lot of pushback and I’ve had this weird pushback that I did not expect,” Weisman said during a panel discussion, featuring Stanford historian Steven Zipperstein and NYTimes opinion editor Bari Weiss, at the Cooper Union on Tuesday. “I expected pushback from conservative Jews that I didn’t talk enough about anti-Semitism of the left. I did talk about it. But I had an odd pushback from liberal, kind of social justice Jewish organizations who were just angry that I didn’t give them enough credit. ‘We’re doing wonderful things! Why aren’t you giving us credit?’ Well, my book is something of a wake up call.”

Weisman became the target of neo-Nazi trolls on Twitter during the 2016 presidential election. His new book, “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish In America In The Age Of Trump,” recounts the moment he was defined as a Jew and how he was barraged by anti-Semitic tweets after linking to an article that criticized Donald Trump.

“In May 2016, there was a time when Donald Trump was coming marauding through the Republican primaries. There was this notion that some deus ex machina was going to swoop down and keep him from the nomination but of course that never happened,” Weisman recalled the moment that “changed his life,” in his own words. “And a Washington Post columnist, Robert Kagan, wrote a piece, This is How Fascism Comes to America, and as I do often, I just took a snippet of it put it on Twitter with a link, sent it out and I got a response back that just said, ‘Hello, Weisman.’ That was it. But Weisman was in three parentheses. I never really thought about my name being very Jewish-ish, but in that context, I kind of intuited that it had something to do with the Jewishness of my name. And I said, ‘Care to explain?’ And he said back, ‘Whoa ho ho, the vaunted Ashkenazi intelligence, I am belling the cat from my fellow goy.’ And then this onslaught of anti-Semitic hatred just started flowing to me and it turned out that ‘belling the cat’ is a literal term that there’s a software out there that we didn’t know about called the coincidence indicator that search out Jews with the three parentheses around their names for these kinds of search and destroy attacks on social media.”

Weisman acknowledged that writing the book changed his view of Judaism. “I talked to this rabbi who said, ‘If you look at the Torah, it says, ‘Where the Jew sees injustice, the Jew is supposed to stand up against injustice.’ And it was an embarrassing moment for me because it had never occurred to me to think about my religion and look to my religion for answers. I started thinking about Judaism as a religion and not as an identity, and not as a political persuasion. I think that’s the most important thing that happened in the whole process of this book.”

According to Weisman, there are two ways to look at how the Trump presidency has impacted the fate of the Jewish community in America. “The tribalists view everything through the prism of, ‘What is going to be good for the state of Israel and empower and strengthen Israel,’” and therefore point to Trump’s strong pro-Israel record, he explained. The Internationalists, however, view the rise of nationalism in so many forms as usually bad for the Jews. Weisman went to claim that the security of Israel would be in jeopardy if the United States becomes a hostile nation to Jews, while noting, “I’m not saying that we’re there.”

Zipperstein countered Weisman’s assertion that American Jews might not be safe in the future. “The kinds of forces that you’ve encountered, which are unbelievably unpleasant, they’ve risen beyond the shadows in the wake of the last election, and that’s disturbing. But to the extent to which people in the United States are truly threatened, they’re not us,” he stated. “America’s not going to become overly anti-Semitic.”

The historian also described anti-Semitism as “hating Jews more than is necessary” and when that goes beyond the point of the rational, especially in wake of negative stories about prominent Jews and people with common Jewish surnames. Zipperstein joked that “half the Cohens in this goddamn city are on the news every single night,” referencing to the widely reported FBI raids of the home and offices of Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen. “I think it’s once you actually cross that line and begin to conceptualize, that one identifies anti-Semitism.”

Weisman concluded the evening’s discussion by saying that the way to fight anti-Semitism is by banding together with Latinos, Muslims, and African-Americans to stand up against all bigotry “because if you stand up in a coalition against bigotry, it’s not self-serving, it’s not liberal, it’s not conservative. It is standing up for something that we should all agree on.”

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