“(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump” by Jonathan Weisman— Looking at Jewish Identity

Weisman, Jonathan. “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump”, St. Martin’s, 2018.

Looking at Jewish Identity

Amos Lassen

“(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump” is Jonathan Weisman’s exploration of the disconnect between his own sense of Jewish identity and the expectations of his detractors and supporters. He looks at the rise of the alt-right, their roots in older anti-Semitic organizations, the odd antiquity of their grievances and their aims to spread hate through a political structure that has so suddenly become tolerant of their views. This is a powerful contemplation on how Jews are viewed in America since the election of Donald J. Trump, and how we can move forward to fight anti-Semitism. Lest we forget; Anti-Semitism has always been present in American culture and we feel it now with the rise of the Alt Right and the number of threats to Jewish communities since Trump took office.

When Weisman was attacked on Twitter by a group of neo-Nazis and anti-Semites, “witnessing tropes such as the Jew as a leftist anarchist; as a rapacious, Wall Street profiteer; and as a money-bags financier orchestrating war for Israel”, he began wondering if and how the Jewish experience changed, especially under a leader like Donald Trump. We now must look at anti-Semitism as part of more stressing threats while still understanding the viciousness of hate. Weisman proposes a unification of American Judaism around the defense of self and of others who are even more vulnerable than Jews, to wit— undocumented immigrants, refugees, Muslim Americans, and black activists who have been directly targeted, not just by the tolerated Alt Right, but also by the Trump White House itself.

The American Jewish experience and Weisman who was raised Reform says that he like many Jews of his generation drifted away (partly because Jews had become entirely comfortable in a pluralistic, liberal democracy that seemed to be progressing toward tolerance and acceptance and that the idea of anti-Semitism was an issue of the past). Then came the Trump campaign and the emergence of white nationalists who worked hard for Mr. Trump’s election. Jews became a target of the alt-right’s attack, forcing us to reconsider our identities in light of how we were being identified by bigots. We had the choice—we could either embrace Judaism or shun it but it was no longer something that could be ignored. There are too many Jews who have managed to have rationalize away the threat of white nationalist hate to justify political and social views that were formed before the emergence of this new reality.

We do not know whether we are living in a temporary era of intolerance or whether the progress made after the war is real or not. New democracies such as Russia and Hungary have fallen back into authoritarianism. Intolerant nationalism is on the rise around the world. As Americans, we love our institutions and traditions, and these we want to save.

Racism and anti-Semitism have always been normal in certain areas of American society. However, when the president of the United States says “very fine people” marched in Charlottesville on both sides, we see his fear of condemning the bigots who love and elected him. Today expressions of intolerance are more tolerated now than they were two years ago. Pluralism and diversity are no longer as valued as we once thought. How do we deal with the chants of “Jews will not replace us” that were heard in Charlottesville and the bigoted violence of the alt-Weisman tough on American Jews. He sees that too many of have subverted the interests of the Jewish community and the broader nation for the comfort of their present

Weisman says that the main audience of the book s the complacent Jew who has not reflected on the Jewish community’s place in America and the importance of democratic pluralism to the security of Judaism itself. But this is not a book for just Jews, it is for all Americans to be vigilant about the erosion of democratic institutions and the rise of intolerance. Weisman fears that we are moving in the direction of an American authoritarianism and that voters will overlook the affronts to the Constitution and democratic principles and decide against a change of course.

Even Democrats today have been unable to articulate a principled stand for pluralistic democracy. Now it is up to the American people to stand firm. Weisman shows us how hatred can slowly and quietly erode the moral fabric of society. Today bigotry and oppression longer hide and do not fear reproach. Weisman gives us a manifesto that outlines the dangers of marginalization and demonization of minority groups, not just Jews.

The “new anti-Semitism” is hundreds of years old and what distinguishes the alt-right from its predecessors is its method of organization, its technological knowledge, “its sarcasm and irony, and its ability to at least seem ubiquitous.” By spreading its ideology on the Internet and through social media, the alt-right has become unavoidable. It is no longer an invisible subculture. It is now disseminating its ideology and while many reject it. Most young people reject it, there will always be those who will be drawn to the instruments of hate. Weisman shares his own Jewish identity and about the rise of anti-Semitism and he calls upon American Jews “to unite around the defense of self and others.”

“A chilling look at anti-Semitism in America in the wake of Donald Trump’s political ascendancy…a thoughtful and deeply personal account.” ―Publisher’s Weekly

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