Jonathan Weisman grew up in a “moderately Jewish” home in Atlanta believing that anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. He recalled learning about the tropes of anti-Semitism in Sunday school at his Reform synagogue, such as Jews being hook nosed and “sniveling cowards,” he said.
Then came the connectivity of the internet, the election of a populist president, and the resurgence of white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups spewing hatred through flyers, violence, and demonstrations.
“I could argue that [President Donald] Trump’s views have radicalized and inspired white supremacists and white nationalists,” he told NJJN in a phone interview. “They look at Trump as one of their own. They believe they have a kindred spirit in the White House. Whether you believe Trump is with them or not, they believe Trump is with them.”
Weisman, the deputy editor of the New York Times’ Washington bureau, is author of the book “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in the Age of Trump” (St. Martin’s Press, 2018). The triple parenthesis, known as an echo, is an anti-Semitic symbol used by hate groups to mark Jewish names so they can be trolled on social media. Some Jews have adopted the symbol in
Weisman will speak about his experiences as a target of hate groups, the history behind their rise, and what the future may hold, when he appears at Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple in New Brunswick on Nov. 4, two days before the mid-term elections.
“I was stunned by the anti-Semitism thrown at me,” said Weisman, who considers himself a political centrist. He was inspired to write his book after he was one of many Jewish columnists bombarded with anti-Semitic, and sometimes threatening, tweets, emails, and voicemails.
“Standing up against the rise of white nationalism and bigotry in this country should not be a partisan issue,” he said. “Some of the most eloquent voices against the rise of fascism have come from Jewish conservatives. It is not about adoption of left-wing or right-wing positions. It should be about coalition-building and standing for American
He noted that although hate groups have long existed online, for the most part they “lived in their own little worlds” with neo-Nazis only talking to neo-Nazis and Klansmen only communicating with other Klansmen. That changed in 2014, he said, when female video game creators became the target of a “vicious, misogynistic” online campaign that included death threats.
“It signaled to groups like the Daily Stormer they could weaponize the internet,” Weisman said.
Soon they and other white supremacist groups learned how to get their message across by posting on mainstream sites such as Reddit and reaching a large audience, particularly young people.
Weisman cited one example of how hate is easily disseminated online. He said Swedish YouTube star PewDiePie hired five guys to go into the jungle in India and filmed them unfurling a banner that read “Death to All Jews.”
“It was seen by millions of young people all over the world,” he said. “Anti-Semitism has come crawling out of the ghetto and onto the main scene.”
That scene includes the college campus. For instance, his daughter, a student at Vassar, has seen hateful flyers posted.
“I think Donald Trump understands he has emboldened these people, but he does not want to jeopardize losing any voter at all,” said Weisman. “We see it when he is confronted by racism and anti-Semitism when he says, ‘I don’t control my followers.’”
Weisman noted that because of the divisive political climate, “this kind of feels like the most important election of a lifetime.”
“A lot of people told themselves in 2016 some of the hate would fade away after the election and it wouldn’t be that bad,” he said. “Now we see what direction the country is heading, and we have to ask ourselves do we want to move back to a liberal democracy?
“I do think there are political positions that are not Republican or Democratic, and I think standing up for American values, institutions, law enforcement, and the Constitution are not partisan. I don’t think pluralism is either Republican or Democratic. I think it’s American.”
If you go!
Who: Jonathan Weisman
What: “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in the Age of Trump”
Where: Anshe Emeth Memorial Temple, New Brunswick
When: Sunday, Nov. 4, 10:30 a.m.
Contact: (732) 545-6484, firstname.lastname@example.org