Minutes after tweeting a quote from Jewish neoconservative Robert Kagan about the potential for a rise in fascism in the United States, Jonathan Weisman, deputy Washington editor of The New York Times, received a response: “Hello (((Weisman))).”
He soon learned that alt-right anti-Semites slap these triple parentheses, referred to as “echoes,” around Jewish-sounding names they want to target. Before long, he would know a different term, “doxxing,” essentially the hacking of an individual’s private information over the internet and subsequently releasing it publicly online.
For a largely assimilated Jew who grew up in Atlanta and married “the daughter of a Pentecostalist from Appleton, Wisconsin,” the flood of hate that would greet him for weeks via popups, tweets, emails, and voicemails was shocking and formative, and led him to write a book, “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in the Age of Trump” (St. Martin’s Press, 2018).
“I just want people to be aware of what is out there,” Weisman told NJJN.
He used the example of one individual who paid $5 to two young men in India to create a video of themselves dancing around a banner that read, “Death to all Jews.”
“There were 12-year-old boys all over the world who saw that phrase for the first time,” Weisman said.
The video went viral and is still available on YouTube.
“Our children are swimming in it. The alt-right learned a while ago that to get their ideology spreading, they needed to get out of their own ghettos on their own websites and start promoting themselves on message boards that other people would casually come across.”
Weisman, who will be speaking about his new book on Tuesday, May 15, at The Jewish Center of Princeton at 7:30 p.m., talked to NJJN about his experiences:
NJJN: How did your own initiation at the hands of the alt-right and your subsequent research affect your identity as a Jew?
Weisman: The moment when I talked to Rabbi Dan Zemel [the rabbi of his congregation, Temple Micah] in Washington [D.C.], I was debating whether the proper response to alt-right trolling was to ignore it or confront it. He told me to look to the Torah: When a Jew confronts injustice, a Jew is supposed to fight injustice. It had never occurred to me to stop thinking in terms of strategy or practice and…to look to my own religion for an answer.… Judaism is not just a bland and rote set of laws; it does have answers to deeper questions. I am a journalist, and my ability to be an activist is limited by my profession, but [today] I am more Jewishly identified, go to synagogue more often, and I think I am personally more Jewish.
NJJN: What do you think is the essence of anti-Semitism today, and what is the role Israel plays in it?
Weisman: There is no question that there is a version of anti-Semitism on the left and in the Muslim world that stems from anti-Zionism, but I don’t think that is the predominant form of anti-Semitism in the United States. Anti-Semitism in the United States stems from white nationalism and the white nationalist belief that Jews aren’t white and are somehow orchestrating what they call white genocide.
NJJN: What role has the internet played in the growth of hate groups, and do you foresee a significant increase in the actualization of that hatred on the ground?
Weisman: There is no question that the violence expressed in imagery and words on the internet on white nationalist sites has jumped into the flesh. We are having murders inspired by white nationalists remarkably frequently. The killer in Parkland, Florida, had a swastika on one of his gun magazines. The killer in the Waffle House outside of Nashville was dabbling in this stuff. We can no longer say that this kind of violence is segregated on the internet.
NJJN: How do you think the Jewish community should be responding to the rise of white nationalism?
Weisman: By collectively standing against all forms of bigotry. We should stand with Muslim Americans, immigrant groups, Latinos, and African Americans and say we oppose bigotry in all forms. I don’t believe that is a political stance; standing up for liberal democracy and pluralism is an American stance.
We need to be tolerant ourselves and align with other groups who are victims of the tolerance [and with] small community-based organizations that are teaming across ethnic and religious grounds with other organizations to stand up against intolerance and bigotry.
NJJN: How does the subject of Israel relate to the American-Jewish community’s response to anti-Semitism?
Weisman: I’m not suggesting that Israel is the cause of anti-Semitism, but I would say that the American-Jewish obsession with Israel has taken our eye off what is happening in our own country. Liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, spend so much time arguing over Israeli policies and Israeli actions that we have just forgotten to watch the rise of intolerance in our own country.
Although Israel is militarily strong, it is only a safe haven for Jewry as long as it is under the American military umbrella. Israel is strong because the U.S. supplies it with enormous amounts of military aid, intelligence, and assistance. If the U.S. is not a friendly country to the Jews, then Israel as a refuge would only last so long.
NJJN: Has the emergence of Donald Trump contributed to an environment that enables anti-Semitism and hatred of the other, or is he just part of a worldwide trend toward populism, nationalism, and autocracy?
Weisman: The power of white nationalism in the U.S. actually comes from the global movement of racialist, intolerant nationalism. We see it from Greece to Hungary to Poland to Britain — it is everywhere in the West. In that sense, Trump is just a symptom and not a cause. However, in the U.S. I would say that the political discussion that Trump has embraced and spread has made intolerance and bigotry far more acceptable in American society today than it was before the rise of Trumpism.