The recent rise of anti-Semitism in the United States crested in October with the murder of 11 worshipers at the Tree Of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.
Before that, 2017 saw a 57 percent spike in hate crimes from the previous year, and the 1,986 incidents were the second most accounted for since 1979, when the Anti-Defamation League started tracking them.
All of which gave added weight, urgency, and timeliness to Sunday afternoon’s “Anti-Semitism and White Nationalism” seminar, organized by the Minneapolis-based Jewish Community Action and held at CAIR-MN in the basement of the Bethany Lutheran Church in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. Over the course of two edifying hours in front of a crowd of about 200, panelists Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action; Eric Ward, executive director of the Portland, Oregon-based Western States Center; and Dania Rajendra, faculty and director of union communications at the Worker Institute at Cornell University, talked about the roots and modern-day manifestations of anti-Semitism.
“The Jewish community needs allies,” said Mrotz. “In a moment when we’re being increasingly targeted, we need to have other communities with whom we are in alignment around other things have an understanding of the ways in which we’re being targeted, so that they are able to be our allies and support us. Also, the way anti-Semitism is specifically weaponized right now, white nationalism is targeting not just Jews but many other communities, and so we need to have a structural and systemic understanding of anti-Semitism in order to address it the way we address other types of systemic oppression, like racism, sexism, and classism.”
MinnPost took in the seminar, in words and photos:
Bob Wolk: “I’m concerned about Islamophobia as well as anti-Semitism; I’m Jewish myself. The sales of these [“We Are One Nation”] shirts go to a Muslim nonprofit, and the money goes to help newly arrived Muslim immigrants to Minneapolis with their financial needs. I grew up in North Minneapolis back in the ’40s and ’50s, which was a Jewish ghetto. I didn’t experience real anti-Semitism until I started going to high school, and I don’t want my grandson, Moses, who goes to Southwest High School now and who has already experienced some anti-Semitism, I don’t want him to feel alone, and I want to be able to help him out with it.”
The Rev. Kelly Stone, Rabbi Emma Kippley-Ogman, Associate Chaplain Ailya Vajid.
“We’re chaplains at Macalester [College],” said Kippley-Ogman. “All of our liberation depends on all of our liberation, and I have heard Eric speak before and have been really moved by his analysis, and it felt important to me to invite people in my life who … we work together around justice and equity in our campus community, so it was important to come together.”
“As someone who does work with people from lots of different faith traditions and lots of different backgrounds, it feels really important that we cultivate understanding about how we can show up as our best selves in the world, and this feels like one way I can do that,” said Stone.
“I wanted to be here to be a support for all those in my life,” said Vajid. “I feel like the oppression or the freedom of one of us is the oppression or freedom of all of us, so I felt it was really important to be here today.”
Carin Mrotz: “The people in Pittsburgh were targeted specifically as Jews supporting work of black and brown people. They were targeted because of the anti-Semitic belief that Jews are behind an influx of immigrants and multiculturalism, the belief that Jews are behind the success or prosperity of people of color, and the centuries-old trope that Jews are in fact mystical figures pulling in the strings in any attempts to undermine a white Christian majority.
“That is anti-Semitism. That is one way it looks. We experience it in our work, we experience it simply by being Jewish in public. I’m the director of a Jewish organization, so on a regular basis I have people Tweeting at me anti-Semitic slurs, or memes, or photo-shopped images. Many of us experience this: the swastika on the campus, a nasty note in a locker. Sometimes anti-Semitism comes from people you expect it from, like neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. Sometimes it comes from places you wouldn’t expect it.”
Foreground: Jewish Community Action’s director of communications, Isaiah Breen, hands out question-and-answer cards to the crowd. Background: panelists Eric Ward, Dania Rajendra and Carin Mrotz.
Panelists Eric Ward, Dania Rajendra and Carin Mrotz.
“Ultimately, white supremacy in the United States is based on three things,” said Ward, author of “Skin In The Game: How Anti-Semitism Animates White Nationalism.” “The exploitation of black folks and their labor, the genocide and stolen resources of native people, and the third thing that we don’t like to talk about, the control and exploitation of women’s sexuality. Misogyny.
“These are the three core components of white supremacy. It is part of the legacy of the United States today. White nationalism is something different. White nationalism is a social movement that is not focused on the exploitation of people of color, but on their removal. In short, if white supremacy is about exploitation, white nationalism is about ethnic cleansing. White nationalism is about a white-only nation, free of people of color.
“How we respond to each is a critically important question today. White nationalism is about building something new, and they believe to build something new that they have to wage a war against the Jew. Why should we take anti-Semitism seriously? Because anti-Semitism, left unchecked, will leave us defenseless against a white nationalist movement that is emerging and strengthening. We are in a period right now when 50 million white Americans identify as white nationalists.”
Hunter Hawes: “I’m a producer and talk radio host at 950 AM radio. When I saw this come up, I knew I wanted to be here. There’s been a lot of criticism of the Israeli state that I fear could translate to anti-Semitism. For me, I’m always caring about how we’re framing things on the left, and on the right there’s this growing weight to blame Jewish people like they have in the past, so I wanted to come in and soak in everything they have to say.”
Lila Eltawely: “I wanted to be here because number one, I’m very civically involved, and number two, I’m Muslim-American, and I feel like we need to show up for each other as communities. We need to attend opportunities where we can have better understanding of how we can show up for each other and work together. And at moments like now where we’re afraid and traumatized and being attacked, we have to show up for each other even more.”
Betty Tisel, community activist and organizer: “Have you ever in all your life seen anything like this happen in our city? I have not. Education about anti-Semitism is long overdue. I was raised by somebody who worked for Jewish employers and who expressed some negativity in our household. It was pretty mild, but it was definite. And so I’ve always been aware of that, and it really pains me to see ignorant myths being now exploded worldwide.”