(February 24, 2023 / JNS) Far-right hate groups have got the Jewish community scared and with good reason. After the murderous synagogue shootings in Pittsburgh in 2018 and Poway in 2019, extremist antisemitic hate ceased being a theoretical problem. Random viral videos of hateful acts and speech, vandalism as well as those public events in which white supremacists and their allies are able to generate publicity—like the August 2017 neo-Nazi “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va.—have all combined to create the impression that such groups not only present a credible threat to Jewish security but that they have considerable support.
In this context, the effort by a network of neo-Nazi groups to promote a “National Day of Hate” aimed at harassing and threatening Jews on Saturday, Feb. 25, has attracted the notice of both the organized Jewish world as well as law enforcement in places like New York City, Chicago and elsewhere.
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Yet the problem with the justified worries about the existence of these groups and threats like the one surrounding the “Day of Hate” is twofold.
One is that the spectacle of Jews responding with fear rather than resolve to directly confront the neo-Nazis gives these vile creatures an undeserved victory. The largely misleading impression that such outliers are a major force in American society also helps obscure a more important challenge: the daily mainstreaming of antisemitic hate from the intersectional left by leading media outlets, and the way Jew-hatred has become normative in much of the Muslim and African-American communities.
It remains to be seen whether or not the “Day of Hate” will bring with it incidents that will justify the alarm it has caused, but clearly, caution and preparedness are the right response to such threats. Whether or not the fears about it prove justified, the sad truth is that the furor it generated had to be counted as a success for hate groups even before the start of Shabbat.
By generating such publicity and alarm, the neo-Nazis demonstrated their ability to project the sort of strength that their paltry numbers and utter lack of mainstream support should have prevented them from attaining.
We already know that the Internet and social media have given extremists of all stripes tools they lacked before these things existed.
Though they remain the primary focus of the efforts to counter antisemitism on the part of legacy Jewish organizations, there is no evidence that the number of those involved in white-supremacist or neo-Nazi groups is great. On the contrary, they appear to have only a tiny number of actual supporters. However, their ability to bring together small, isolated and disparate cells of extremists virtually makes them seem not only louder but more numerous.
Indeed, all it takes is for an individual to post a video of a few of them acting out their hateful beliefs, even if it involves nothing more than waving a sign or yelling insults on a street corner to freak out a community that is primed to believe that such outliers are the primary threat to Jewish life in America.
Worse, the entirely justified efforts of police to step up protection of Jewish institutions in response to the Internet threats of a day of hate allows those involved to both claim a public-relations triumph and to further depict Jews as cowering in fear in response to what might well prove to be empty threats.
The proper response to this sort of Internet-inspired attempt at intimidation is for Jews to choose to gather on that day specifically to demonstrate their contempt for antisemites and solidarity in the face of threats. Like the national Jewish response after the Pittsburgh shooting, efforts like that of groups like StandWithUs to promote a “Shabbat of Love” or Club Z’s call for massive synagogue attendance on Feb. 25 demonstrate a healthy unwillingness to be terrorized by a tiny cadre of neo-Nazis. Equally significant (and well-timed) is a Times Square celebration on Saturday night for thousands of young people as part of the annual CTeen Shabbaton sponsored by the Chabad-Lubavitch movement.
Still, it is more than likely that such efforts won’t command the same kind of support as those organized by left-wing groups like the National Council of Jewish Women, who used the previous Shabbat to promote their stands in favor of abortion. That’s an issue that seems to generate far more fervor among most American Jews than those that revolve around efforts to defend Jews against attacks, either in the United States or Israel.
The hate groups aren’t really focused on what the organized Jewish community does. But should neo-Nazis or white supremacists attempt some sort of organized march to intimidate Jews, they know that it is unlikely that the community will respond with force or active measures of self-defense since the vast majority of them are still resolutely opposed to gun ownership or any form of counter-protest that could possibly lead to violence.
At the same time, the hysteria about unspecified threats from the neo-Nazis tends to distract the community away from forms of antisemitism that, while seemingly less scary, demonstrates the way hatred for Jews is legitimized in 21st-century America.
The demonization of Israel and its supporters in mainstream political discourse and in national publications and broadcast networks are so commonplace as to become routine. In academia or even in popular culture, the acceptance of toxic left-wing ideologies rooted in intersectional myths about Jews being the embodiment of “white privilege” who assist in the oppression of Palestinian people of color is rarely even challenged. Such charges have the support of many progressives with real political clout in a Biden administration that has embraced an “equity” agenda that is harmful to Jewish interests and ready to treat Israel unfairly. Neo-Nazis have no support anywhere in American politics.
Moreover, as worrisome as threats may be, it should not be forgotten that the epidemic of antisemitic violence against Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn, N.Y., has shown no signs of abating, as New York City hate-crime statistics have recently shown. That is an ongoing threat that has continued to generate little interest among the liberal majority of American Jewry, not least because the perpetrators of almost all of those attacks are African-Americans and perhaps inspired, at least in part, by the Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan.
Legacy groups like the Anti-Defamation League are able to enjoy great fundraising success by sounding the alarm about neo-Nazis. But apparently, rallying to the defense of Jews who do not share the beliefs or politics of their donors isn’t as exciting.
At the same time, the publication that liberal Jews continue to venerate as a holy text—The New York Times—has stepped up its bizarre campaign to demonize ultra-Orthodox Jews. The latest entry in the series is an effort to depict them as deceitful looters of the public purse. While the initial point of the Times’ recent coverage of this community was a legitimate inquiry about the standards of secular education in haredi schools, fears that this massive effort by the so-called paper of record was not only fueling antisemitism but also an example of it have been proven correct.
So while Jews do well to take neo-Nazi threats seriously, the general apathy about the Times’ mainstreaming of anti-Zionist rhetoric and its own antisemitic campaign against the Orthodox illustrate the organized Jewish community’s upside-down priorities. A Jewish community that is petrified about vague threats from politically isolated extremists but is largely indifferent to antisemitism at the nation’s leading newspaper is one that no one can pretend has a rational or serious interest in defending Jews or Jewish rights.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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