All this talk about comparing neo-Nazis and their opponents has made me reflect on an incident that occurred earlier this year when I stood in front of Theatre 80 St. Marks in New York while waiting to meet my friend Lorcan Otway, the theater’s owner.
I was there a little early, but not too soon to see a number of protesters outside who were there for a different reason: to address the appearance of absurd anti-Semite Gilad Atzmon, who was scheduled to hold a panel discussion at the venue. Some of these folks were carrying signs. I noticed one of them—a tall, lanky, somewhat disheveled person with a businesslike mien—was in the process of setting a particularly large banner up on the sidewalk. Then I saw what this person’s sign read:
“NYC has no space for antisemitism (sic) or zionism”
Ah. The antifa had arrived.
Equating evils such as anti-Semitism with Zionism is a sophistic idea, owing in large part to the fact that Zionism, simply put, is a political ideology meant to support the creation of a Jewish homeland. Suggesting that New York City has “no space for” that concept is anti-Semitic in itself. It suggests Jews should not have a country of their own. It suggests the whole notion of that is offensive.
Yep. It’s pure balderdash. And it contradicts exactly what this antifa—supposedly an “anti-fascist”—hopes to advocate.
I spoke to a couple of other antifa activists outside the theater that day and mentioned my familiarity with Atzmon’s inane writings, which have often resulted in him getting banned from commenting on Facebook for hate speech. During the course of our discussion, which was rather subdued, I mentioned Israel … and received the following retort:
“Israel has nothing to do with this.”
Well … no. Israel has quite a lot to do with anti-Semitism, which is often directed at the nation in the specious guise of anti-Zionism. It’s one thing to criticize Israeli government policy in a balanced way. It’s another thing to condemn the state as a whole while subscribing to a belief system that refuses to acknowledge its right to exist—and for Jews to live in it.
I’m afraid more than a few of these antifa folks are proponents of the latter.
Curiously, a couple of these protesters got into a particularly heated argument about the problems of anti-Semitism with a would-be attendee of the discussion, who found himself defending his right to judge the talk for himself. The antifa representatives obviously took umbrage at his naivete. It was a strange sight: bigots verbally attacking bigots for bigotry. After witnessing this, I found myself talking to one of the most prominent activists on the scene, Bill Weinberg, a journalist who was there to protest Atzmon’s appearance at the theater. He gave me a piece of paper that served to reflect this credo … which seemed to match that of the other antifa advocates on the scene.
Before I got home, I threw it in the garbage. It made about as much sense as a cream cheese and pastrami sandwich.
What to make of all of this? Well, there are comparisons being made—most notoriously by U.S. President Donald Trump—between the neo-Nazi protesters who recently vocalized their vile beliefs in Charlottesville, Virginia, and those who opposed them. The fact is, there’s no comparison: We can safely say that neo-Nazis are moronic bigots, and anyone who counters their hate speech has to be doing something right.
The problem is, many of those who are doing so are also doing something wrong: espousing mirror-image anti-Semitism in the form of anti-Zionism while battling the more obvious accoutrements of racism lobbed by the neo-Nazi factions. And this presents a complex issue.
Whom should we condemn more: the bigots who openly express their desire to get rid of Jews …or the bigots who choose their wording more carefully to express their desire to get rid of Zionists?
Bear in mind, I’m not equating Nazis with any group … least of all the antifa. Yet there’s a dilemma here that’s worth noting. When those who seek to combat hate also have their own unresolved prejudices, where do we, as observers, draw the line in our assessment of them? Can they be partly right and partly wrong? Can they be flawed?
I definitely think so. In the history of resistance to injustice, it would be difficult to find anyone on the right side who is wholly devoid of negative character traits. The big question is: How should we view them overall—during the course of history? Will we look at them in a half-sympathetic light … or totally in the dark?
I don’t think the antifa has the answer. My encounter with them months ago has at least taught me that.
What it will teach us all in the future has yet to be seen.