Already there have been attempts to colour this mass murder with politics. I believe it portends something much deeper – whilst President Trump, confusingly, is a friend of Israel, father and grandfather of proud Jews, it cannot be denied that on his watch, right-wing anti-Semitism has come out into the open, and he has been equivocal in his condemnation of many of these groups.
On the other hand, left-wing anti-Semitism has re-emerged too, with similar equivocation from Democrats on the despicable pronouncements of Louis Farrakhan, Linda Sarsour and others. In the UK, it’s Jenny Tonge and swathes of the Labour Party, while Corbyn and his friends provide every bit as much of a dog-whistle as anything Trump has done.
The shooter also despised Trump for being “a globalist not a nationalist” and under the control of the Global Jewish Conspiracy. Hence it is not simply a case of “because Trump”.
We know from history that those who hate Jews will contort logic to absurd degrees to ensure there is enough to hook in all the anti-Semites with their favourite canard. The Nazis simultaneously ran propaganda portraying the Jews as filthy vermin from the sewers and rich, evil bankers who dominated the world from behind the curtain.
The chant heard at Charlottesville and elsewhere was “Jews will not replace us”.
The Jews are a bellwether. When they thrive, societies thrive. When they are persecuted, divided and weak, society will follow. So I say this to the white supremacists on the right, to the so-called anti-Zionists on the left, and to those who subscribe to any domineering branch of Islam. You will not replace us in the Diaspora through encouraging cowardly acts like those in Pittsburgh. You will not replace us in our homeland through barrages of rockets, arson kites and stabbings in shopping malls in Israel, or excusing the same.
We are the People of the Book but we are also the descendants of warriors – and in Israel, we are warriors today, out of necessity. We have survived and thrived despite the attentions of far more powerful and more competent groups than you, going back millennia, and we are ready for you.
We will stifle your voices and drive you back to the fringes of public discourse, where you belong. If necessary we will defend ourselves physically. And then we will reinforce and rebuild the congregations and communities you tried to destroy, and we will go back to what we do best, which is contributing out of all proportion to our size, to improving the world, through a vibrant Diaspora and a dynamic Israel that show, in the modern era, what it means to be Or LaGoyim – a light unto the nations.
We will shine that light into the dark places where you hide, and we will flush you out and obliterate you. In your place will sit the vanguard of a generation of enlightened people – Jews and non-Jews, Republicans and Democrats, Likudniks and smolanim, who are beyond the reach of your identity politics, and who have rediscovered civility in public discourse, the concept of loyal opposition rather than “resistance”, and the urge to find, strengthen and together stand on common ground whenever possible, and however faint that possibility may seem.
This whole essay on the balance between universalism and particularism by Rafael Castro is worth reading in full, but here is the conclusion:
“In the 21st century, the chief threats to Jews and Judaism originate from Islamism — an aggressively universalistic doctrine — and from aggressive nationalist movements. Leftist politicians embracing intersectionality also pose a threat. However, their inability to solve real-world problems will probably make these ideologies lose steam in coming decades.
For the world to emancipate itself from antisemitism, religions and political movements will have to accept individual freedom of conscience and cultural pluralism, which are essential if universalism and particularism are to coexist. That universalism and particularism can, in fact, coexist and thrive together is demonstrated by 3,000 years of Jewish history. When the world finally understands the merits of embracing universal values without shedding ethnic identity, Jews and Judaism will be genuinely understood and universally accepted.”
So in fact, we shall replace you, not through some cockamamie Soros-related conspiracy to open the floodgates to migrants in Europe and America, but through doing the kind of work HIAS actually does, which is to “welcome the stranger, protect the refugee”, because we were once strangers in the land, and we were only too recently refugees. It is an irony that this rings true for everyone in America – it is a society built on the “huddled masses”.
This is not to be conflated with promoting a free-for-all immigration policy – we are also as a community among the first to suffer from the consequences, in Malmo, Berlin and elsewhere. We understand better than anyone how to identify and assist genuine asylum seekers, refugees, and even economic migrants who show a clear will and ability to add value – economically and culturally – and are prepared to take responsibility for themselves, their families and their communities, guaranteed by their antecedents and doing the same for their successors – because we were they, and if you replace us, we shall be them again.
So it is us or you – you of the radical right, radical left, and radical Islam, and us – we the Jews, but also we the People, who you have marginalised. We, the silent majority who go glumly to the polls to vote for candidates who do not represent, or manipulate, the values of the parties we support, we who sit at home and shudder at the thought of voting for THAT but also of voting for the alternative, we who read about Pittsburgh and Paris and Parkland, and Louis Farrakhan and the Labour Party conference, and wonder what the world is coming to, where the leadership is, and how challenging these problems are to solve. We the People.
We shall replace you with those who are able and willing to genuinely solve real-world problems by reaching across the floor of whatever debate we are discussing them in.
When Shimon Peres or John McCain pass away, even at ripe old ages, having contributed to public life and civil discourse until their final breath, however much we may disagree with them politically, we are also ever more aware that it is one more nail in the coffin of consensus politics, of protection against the tyranny of the majority but also the tyranny of the fanatical minority against the apathetic or disorganised mainstream.
“[P]revious presidents have found it their duty to speak to the nation as a whole at times of cruelty or tragedy… Donald Trump has never once, in his life, spoken in that vein—as bearer of the whole nation’s grief, as champion of its faith and resolve—so there is no reason to expect that he could possibly do so now. America has almost always had someone able to play that role before. If presidents didn’t naturally possess that register in their discourse, they learned the bearing and language that was expected of them.” – James Fallows, The Atlantic
In the absence of a true leader to speak out, our duty is to pick up the cudgels and do so ourselves – not by simply shrieking at and about Trump (or Bibi) and his supporters for their failure to do so, and not by saying “well, the other side did it first/too/worse”. No, this is again the worldview of identity politics.
We shall replace you and your simplistic worldview by taking up the challenge of dealing with these conundrums in a way that balances the needs of all, that protects the interests of our way of life whilst promoting its values, and showing others that this balance is possible.
It is an ongoing mission, and it will never be complete – there will always be new challenges and a higher level to attain. This is what it means when we are taught in Pirkei Avot that “it is not expected for you to complete the task, but neither are you free to avoid it”.
How can we go about this? By showing greater concern for policy than politics, educating ourselves sufficiently enough to be articulate in policy discussion, able to evaluate facts and statistics, debate them using emotional intelligence, draw conclusions and posit our own solutions. By replacing ideology with ideas and ideals as the core of discourse, striking a balance between listening more intently to the “other” but not indulging every outburst or obsessing with treating all contributions as of equal merit.
We shall each find in ourselves that register in our discourse, the bearing and language that is expected of presidents. We will be the leaders we seek.
We shall replace you