Religious Life

White Nationalism – A Weekly Letter from Rabbi Alexander Davis – March 22, 2019

Shalom Chaverim

On the last morning of Beth El’s recent civil rights tour, we went to Birmingham’s civil rights museum. The displays covered the history of segregation and the civil rights movement as well as international civil right champions and violators.

One display stopped me in my tracks- a Klu Klux Klan robe. All week long I had seen videos of the KKK. But seeing the robe in person was arresting and revolting.

Sadly, we were reminded last Friday that this is not a thing of the past. Indeed, our entire trip challenged us to acknowledge that the white supremacy which was the root of slavery is very much present in our world today as white nationalism.

We mourn with our Muslim brothers and sisters and condemn the New Zealand attack. Now as they bury their dead, we pray for those families to know comfort even as we must hold on to our outrage and turn it to action.

Friday’s attack was on mosques. In October, it was a shul in Pittsburg. And the two are intimately linked. I don’t want to take away from the tragedy Muslims around the world are feeling. But I want to share with you the theory of long-time civil rights strategist, Eric Ward.  In his essay, “Skin in the Game: How Antisemitism Animates White Nationalism,” Ward argues that “antisemitism forms the theoretical core of white nationalism.” At first, this notion seemed exaggerated to me. But Ward is compelling.

Through years of research, including infiltrating white nationalist meetings, Ward has come to understand that in the white nationalist imagination, Jews are the race that presents the greatest existential threat to Whiteness. By controlling banking, entertainment, government, etc., Jews have disposed white people through their support of blacks, immigrants, Muslims, and the LGBTQ population. Ward concludes, “within this ideological matrix, Jews—despite and indeed because of the fact that they often read as White—are a different, unassimilable, enemy race that must be exposed, defeated, and ultimately eliminated. Antisemitism, I discovered, is a particular and potent form of racism so central to White supremacy that Black people would not win freedom without tearing it down.”

There is much to unpack here. I encourage you to attend the upcoming three part-sessions sponsored by The Well and the JCRC on antisemitism. Read Deborah Lipstadt’s new book, Antisemitism: Here and Now and join this critical discussion beginning April 11.

We pray for shalom/salaam and comfort for New Zealanders and our world over.

Rabbi Alexander Davis