Antifas (A Tentative Liberal Response)


Going out on a limb from which I will pull back depending on the actual range and scope of this kind of resistance (who gets targeted) and what one means by violence (standing the line, physical disruption, throwing fists or acts more serious) and .

There was this piece here by Dahlia Lithwick about the Antifas protecting life and  limb at Charlottesville. And there is this political profile in the NYT, which led me to this Antifa webite here.

Here are 3 compelling, but quick and tentative arguments made by antifas that I culled from all three sources: [1] Fascists don’t want to talk, so talking is useless. [2] It is unthinkable to cede the streets to fascists. [3] It is urgent to hold the line, physically.

So these are a few quick questions. What would have happened if the antifas were not there as a physical barrier at Charlottesville protecting students Friday night or clergy the next day. Do Nazi marchers have a legitimate place in the public sphere?

Going only so far, the antifas deserve some cautious acknowledgment.

By definition, limits are there to be crossed. For that reason alone there is no reason to trust whatsoever that the antifas will stick to a sharp and narrow focus kept strictly on fascists (people marching as alt-right and/or under overt Nazi and white supremacist banners). All bets off if someone starts knifing and shooting.


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(Trump) Neo-Nazi Face


(stunning image by Matthieu Bourel)

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No Moral Equivalence (Nazis & Anti-Zionism)


Jews used to know better about Nazis and the bright red line they represent, that Nazis are the exception that proves every rule, that you don’t associate with and actually shun people who associate with Nazis. Not anymore. The clear fact of the matter is that Jews who voted for Trump voted for a racist with neo-Nazi and white supremacist sympathies that were clear for many years. Cutting Nazis slack, Trump now openly defends white racists and the memory of white Southern slave heritage.

What you will hear now from voices on the Trump-voting Jewish right is not shame, not contrition, but doubling down on a claim that echoes the words of their puppet master. This is the claim that there was violence on many side, many sides, which works to draw an equivalence between the Nazi-KKK marchers and the antifas who put their bodies on the line to protect people who came out to protest this anathema.

In the Jewish version, claimants insist that there is some political and moral equivalence between Nazis and anti-Zionists, that both are anti-Semitic and therefore equally dangerous. As a liberal Zionist, I have written consistently against the expression of anti-Zionism on the intersectional left, but these are apples and oranges. That left anti-Zionism has an anti-Semitism problem, that it lies adjacent to a kind of anti-Semitism that lends to an exclusion of or purging of Jewish voices from the left quarter of the public square does not mean that they are in any way either politically or morally equivalent with Nazis.

These are two separate and distinct phenomena that operate at radically different levels of intensity and extensivity. Only one of them is genuinely dangerous, actually armed and dangerous, representing a direct, existential threat to Jewish life, whereas (if you are a Zionist and support the State of Israel, even if you are a rightwing Zionist who supports the occupation) the other poses a more or less manageable threat to what is a more circumscribed, complex, and bitterly contested political interest.

So much for perspective, judgment, and balance. There used be a clear dividing line with Nazis on one side and everyone else on the other side, but not anymore in some political and religious Jewish social circles situated at the coarse cross-roads of the intersectional right where people have sold their souls for a hot mess of porridge.

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March for Racial Justice (Yom Kippur Statement)

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On the taking steps to fix the scheduling of the March for Racial Justice this year on Yom Kippur, the organizers have released this statement, remarkable in many respects relating to the spirit of Yom Kippur and to alliance building at this particular moment.


The March for Racial Justice is committed to standing for racial justice with allies from across all races, ethnicities, and communities. We believe that none of us are free until all of us are free.

The March came into being as a reaction to the June 16 verdict rendered in the case against the policeman who shot and killed Philando Castile.  The unbearable murders of innocent Americans continue unabated and the time is now upon all Americans who seek equality and racial justice to stand up and say NOT ONE MORE. The moment calls for urgent action, as so many of us carry fear with us every single day, as we see black and brown people being shot down with impunity by police and white supremacists inciting terror in our cities.

To that end, it was and is important to us that the march be held on a day that has symbolic and historic significance to the black community. The first date proposed was September 9th which is the date of the Stono Rebellion, the largest rebellion of enslaved people in the US. The National Park Service informed us that the National Mall in DC was not available for 9/9 but was for 9/30. This day has resonance because it is the anniversary of the Elaine Massacre of 1919 in Elaine, Arkansas, during which more than 200 Black men and women were killed in cold blood by a mob of white citizens and law enforcement. Many of the Black victims had recently returned from World War I where they fought for our country. They died standing up for their rights and the rights of their communities. They were murdered in what was the largest state-sanctioned massacre of black people in US history.  

The organizers of the March for Racial Justice did not realize that September 30 was Yom Kippur when we were factoring in these and other considerations and applying for permits.

Choosing this date, we now know, was a grave and hurtful oversight on our part. It was unintentional and we are sorry for this pain as well as for the time it has taken for us to respond. Our mistake highlights the need for our communities to form stronger relationships.

After the horrifying events of the past weekend in Charlottesville, and the remarks by the President suggesting that “both sides” are to blame, we understand more than ever the need for unity against those who hate us in our many identities.  We have learned from our Jewish friends that Yom Kippur is a day of making amends and of asking and receiving forgiveness. We hope that our sincere apology will be received with compassion, and that we will build a stronger relationship among all our communities as a result.

While we continue to move forward with plans for the main march in Washington, DC on the anniversary of the Elaine massacre, we are working on ways to include the Jewish community on Saturday 9/30 after sundown and/or on Sunday 10/1.

We will be seeking a permit for the sister march in New York City for the afternoon of Sunday, October 1 and will share that information as quickly as we can. Many other sister marches are now being planned for Sunday, October 1 as well and we will keep everyone informed as those additional marches and rallies as they develop.

Our goal is and has always been to bring those committed to racial justice together and we are doing all we can to honor that important goal. We will continue to seek the thoughts and advice of religious and community leaders as this movement grows, and we will face those moments where fellow citizens register their concerns honestly and realistically.  As we share a big world with many people, all with their own rights to their freedoms of speech, expression and religion, we will always do our utmost to consider all points of view.

We are marching in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters who are observing the holiest of days on the Jewish calendar. Holding fast to Jewish tradition is also an act of resistance, in the face of growing anti-Semitism. We recognize and lift up the intersection of anti-Semitism and racism perpetrated by white supremacists, whether they wave Confederate flags, don swastikas, beat and kill people on the streets in Charlottesville, deface Holocaust memorials, or threaten and harass members of our communities and our religious and community spaces. And we recognize the need for all of us to work together in the face of an administration that condones widespread oppression of all those most vulnerable among us.

This is a long-term struggle and our relationship to each other transcends one day and one march. As we learn from this planning mis-step, we are working with Jewish leaders to make racial justice resources and prayers available for Yom Kippur observances in Jewish communities as well. We hope that on that holy day, Jews in synagogues across our country will pray for racial justice – lifting up black and brown people, Jewish and non-Jewish – in hope for safety and wholeness. Spiritual sustenance is an essential part of this work for justice. We’re committed to working together with the Jewish community throughout the year and every year until true justice for all of us is won.

The March for Racial Justice
August 15, 2017

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(Charlottesville) Radical White Terror (Vice)

His base, President Trump calls them “good people,” the neo-Nazi, neo-Confederate white supremacist race terrorists who put Trump and the GOP in control of the government. With a special animus for Jews, their platform is now the White House. Here’s the Vice documentary in its entirety from Charlottesville if you haven’t seen it yet. Violent surging hate, almost intimate, the shots and interviews are shot from up close and on the ground.  Time to call it in for what it is: Radical White Terror.

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Ashkenazi Jew Off-White Christian Gentile White

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Speaking personally, as a performative speech act, I will never self-identify in public “as a white Jew.” While I am white, or some kind of white, and while I certainly enjoy white privilege, I do not identify myself as such. The term “white Jew” eludes so many scales of historical and social-cultural difference and creates so many disassociations for it to do anything but jar. First, it is not an indigenous Jewish category. Second, it flies against the principle of self-determination. Ashkenazi Jews become white people in America, but are Jews, even Ashkenazi Jews, white “like” non-Jews? Do they carry the same easy privilege as “other” white people? Or are they defined by a set historical circumstances and social constellations that are unique to their own situation and that have gone undertheorized of late?

Ashkenazi Jews are not POC, about that one can clearly agree. But are Jews white? I cannot speak “as a Mizrachi Jew,” and Jews of Color will dissent that, no, not all Jews are white. But can we at least say that Ashkenazi Jews and Ashkenazi Judaism are white? Is European Jewish memory white? Or, in America, are Ashkenazi Jews but a special shade of white, perhaps off-white, and always differentiated as such. Neither POC nor exactly white, Ashkenazi Jews are Jews, and off-white as such. As such, the whiteness of Ashkenazi Jews is a negative identity, ascribed to Jews by others, by POC. Ashkenazi Jews are not POC, and with that comes definite privilege and opportunity based primarily on skin color. That Ashkenazi and perhaps most Mizrachi Jews do not suffer with what POC have to suffer is an ongoing and systematic difference, specifically in relation to the experience of systemic disenfranchisement and state violence. For many on the social justice and intersectional left that is and should be the end of the story, but in ways that then work to obviate the question of Jewish difference in a gentile majority society. Are there then no other intersectional factors left to complicate whiteness as a distinct social category, factors that real and imagined Jewish difference might actually serve to highlight? In short, if whiteness is itself an intersection, there are major parts of it that exclude Jews, even Ashkenazi Jews.

To begin with, whiteness is a majority status, a “comfort” or fit into the general order of things as norm. Alongside places and things like mainline churches, fin de siècle Boston Brahmin culture, golf pants and penny loafers, martinis, the country club and restricted residential covenants, other emblems of white Americanness are the overstuffed lounge chair, the gas guzzling SUV, all you can eat buffets in Las Vegas, super-sized drinks. Comfort is a psycho-physical, political disposition. You count among the majority. There is no larger and more powerful thing out there to perturb one’s sense of self or place in the world. Whiteness in America entails that one moves safely and unrestricted about in a large world that extends beyond one’s immediate circle. Perfectly free and genuinely loose, without an iota of surface anxiety, one does what one wants, confident that everything reflects one’s image –clear skin, straight hair, clean hands, and strong legs. Are “American Jews” white like that? Do they stand out like that? Does that picture of white comfort comport with the standard experience or picture of American Jewishness? In America, this may in fact be so for the last sixty years or so, largely on the coasts and in other big cities like Chicago, mostly in those regions, neighborhoods, institutions, and industries that Jews tend to populate in disproportionate numbers. I am not so sure about the fit of Jews and Judaism into the rest of the country.

Next: unnamed in discussions today in leftist intellectual and activist circles are two essential categories that complicate stabilized questions about Ashkenazi Jews and race. Those are Christian-ness (not Christian belief per se) and gentile-ness. Amongst themselves, Jews of my parents’ generation were still quite fluent about the real and imagined kinds of difference represented by “goyim.” The children of immigrants, they would not have considered themselves to be white precisely because they perceived themselves in relation to gentiles. Specialists in American Jewish folklore can correct me, but it’s my understanding that by “goy” was generally meant white people, most typically the sub-set of WASPS. Were African Americans ever goyim? The s-word, a derogatory term derived from Yiddish was the special term used for them. Happily, there is a lot of discomfort today with both types of Jewish racism among liberal and more-assimilated Jews. But omitting the category of “gentile” from the discussion of Jews and whiteness obscures the fact that, at the intersection of whiteness, Christian-ness and gentile-ness are the two other dominant hegemonic social structures in this country. On one hand, this is complicated by the fact that the vast majority African Americans are either Christian or post-Chrisitian. Conversely, and it is an odd thing to have to say, if all Ashkenazi Jews were Christian, then they would not, for the most part, be Jewish; almost but not certainly, they would then be “perfectly white.”

It is commonplace to note that for most white people there is no need to name whiteness, to name themselves as white. Whites don’t identify as white except for the extreme racists, whereas garden variety racism simply presumes dominant, majority status. That Jews have to self-identify, to assert their difference by way of  naming it makes them more like POC than your standard white people. While this may or may not remain true for Irish, Italian, or Scandinavian Americans, the question of identity is especially fraught for American Jews as a community that is part of a people with a historically pronounced minoritarian experience and self-awareness.

The complementary fact that Jews are named as such by others, even gratuitously called out alike by white racists and by POC, usually at the activist fringe, makes the same point about the non-standard character of Ashkenazi Jewish whiteness. While Jews and even Judaism fit here and there more or less comfortably into specific sections of white America, one still wants to ask if that fit can ever be perfect in a gentile culture dominated by Christians, Christianity, and post-Christian gentile culture. The genuine “comfort” that is the sense that one take for granted the order of things that Ashkenazi Jews can and do enjoy as white people in America is subject to all kinds of disruptive shocks, when all of a sudden Jews get singled out on either the fascist alt-right or on the anti-Zionist left in social justice movements.

Despite everything that we know about real and imagined Ashkenazi Jewish privilege, what all Jews, regardless of color or personal life history, will always lack is the comfort of numbers. Jewish identity of whatever racial stripe is a small social formation. It is small vis-à-vis the big white world, and also small in relation to large so-called minority communities in this country (African Americans, Latino American, or Asian Americans) who together, very soon, will constitute a majority in the United States, communities whose members number in the many millions. With constitutional protections and promise of equal citizenship, America is a unique phenomenon in the history of the Jews. As a small social formation, Jews have historically been reliant on the larger configuration of a hegemonic “host,” whether or not they contribute to that social body, participate in that social body, and identify with that social body, enjoying or not enjoying privileges conferred by that participation. This participation is punctured by multiple points of disconnect between Jewish and gentile society (itself white, black, and brown). The Jewish community is too small to be white. There are simply not enough Ashkenazi Jews in this country to be able to count in complete comfort as anything but off-white, always at least a little different and sometimes very different than the gentile majority, depending always on social milieu. Sooner or later if not now and forever, there will always be something that calls a Jew out, undercutting the gentile comfort that lies as an essential mark at the intersection of whiteness.

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(Racists) Armed Speech is Not Free Speech (Charlottesville)

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