by Zachary Benjamin
Jewish Federation of New Mexico
Note: This column appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of the New Mexico Jewish Link as well as in the September 18 issue of the Santa Fe New Mexican.
Like much of the country, New Mexico’s Jewish community watched with concern and more than a little horror as Nazis terrorized the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia, in a violent demonstration that left three dead—including two law enforcement officers—scores wounded, and millions more emotionally scarred. This is far from the first time in recent decades that white supremacists have taken to American streets. However, the loss of life and the images accompanying the tragedy have turned what would, at best, have been a display of the country’s ugliest political underbelly into a potentially seminal American moment in which the darkest recesses of our national soul were laid bare, leaving us no choice but to confront difficult realities.
One of those realities is evident not in what has been said since the Charlottesville tragedy, but indeed in what has been left out of the narrative. The official name of the march on Charlottesville was “Unite the Right to End Jewish Influence in America”. Those who perpetuate Hitlerian ideology are a threat to all of us, and certainly to minorities and vulnerable communities of all stripes. In this particular case, Jews were among the primary stated targets of the perpetrators’ hate.
Ask most Americans, however, and they are unaware of this reality. They may be vaguely familiar with the “Unite the Right” branding of the riot, and certainly with the fact the riots were fueled by abject bigotry, but the second half of the neo-Nazis’ phraseology—“…to End Jewish Influence in America”—has been largely ignored. Despite the fact that Jews were specifically targeted, anti-Semitism been excluded to a significant degree from the narratives emerging in response to events in Charlottesville.
This is the latest evidence that American Jews are increasingly, unwillingly politically isolated. All too often, the principles of intersectionality are used to both exclude Jews from the socially responsible movements they wish to join, as well as to replace a necessary confrontation of anti-Semitism with misplaced conversations about Israeli geopolitics and Jewish privilege. Neither our socio-economic status nor our community’s feelings of connection with Israel preclude us from being subject to deep-seated, violent, and dangerous persecution, both in this country and across the globe. Thus, it is imperative that we be welcome unconditionally in efforts to fight persecution, bigotry, and bias of all kinds.
The minimizing of anti-Semitism as part of the post-Charlottesville narrative follows an unsettling pattern of hostility toward Jews from some of the social justice movements in which many among us believe so deeply. Reports of Jews being told that they are unwelcome in the activities of Black Lives Matter, especially on college campuses, followed the inclusion of anti-Israel rhetoric in the charter of the Movement for Black Lives. This year, participants carrying rainbow flags emblazoned with stars of David in the Dyke March—an offshoot of the annual Chicago Pride Parade—were told to leave, citing “Zionist symbolism” that was deemed offensive to other marchers.
Jews are the only minority group on which conditions appear to be placed for inclusion in social movements. To be incidentally and quietly Jewish is acceptable. To be proudly so, or to be pro-Israel in any respect often is not. This is bigotry in its own right, and it must end.
In the massive Venn diagram of political and social perspectives that exist among decent people, social justice movements must focus on the common ground shared by all of us who reject bias in all its forms. In the same spirit, anti-Semitism must be included—not above other forms of bigotry, but alongside them—in the narrative against hate. Only once we cease to dwell in those areas where our perspectives differ, and only once we focus instead on those areas where we share common vision, will the broad fight for social justice have a chance at success.
Shortly following Charlottesville, I attended Mayor Javier Gonzales’s “Rally Against Racism” in Santa Fe Plaza. It was a civic conversation about love and a categorical rejection of bias in all its forms, including anti-Semitism. Rabbi Neil Amswych emceed the event with grace and poise, and the broad spectrum of those who reject hate were welcome and represented without condition. If the future of the discourse on social justice sounds like it did that evening in Santa Fe, then we can be optimistic about the movement’s future. Otherwise, I fear that humanity will be doomed to repeat its basest and darkest errors as forces for good destroy themselves from the inside out.