Wake Up and Smell the Hate

A few weeks ago, we had a “Day of Hate” announced by several neo nazi groups in the US. They advocated for displaying banners, posting fliers and vandalizing Jewish property, with the goal of removing what they call the “vermin” from American soil. As an orthodox Jew, this event (or non-event, it seems) has left me with a swirl of thoughts. I would like to share them, in the spirit of helping others make sense of a growing threat to all Americans, not just Jews.

First, this stunt prompts the inevitable debate about how much attention should be paid to these marginal groups. The news cycle has delivered what they wanted: millions of dollars of free publicity to their idea. Would it have been better to ignore them? I would say no. The neo nazi threat to the United States requires everyone’s attention, and soon.

How worried should I be, as an American Jew? The Day of Hate reminds me that I, along with the vast majority of American Jews, have had a trouble-free existence in this country. Yes, there have been anti-Semitic incidents, even as recently as last week. Not to minimize them, but if you understand the full sweep of Jewish history, from Roman persecution to the Spanish Inquisition to the Holocaust, you’ll realize that Jewish life in the USA is a dream come true. In my personal experience, incidents of antisemitism have been very mild and far apart.

Yet, the idea of a day of hate, directed at me, is disturbing. Conservatives love to say, “I no longer recognize my country,” but they have no monopoly on feeling disoriented in an America that is looking less and less like its good old self every day. Why am I hated? Am I really a piece of “vermin”? It’s a surreal feeling to be viewed this way, but I’m getting accustomed to it.

Members of other hated groups in the US have long said something to the effect of “If you hate me, that’s about you, not me.” I didn’t understand that until recently. Now, I get it. If you organize your life around ridding America of Jews, there’s something wrong with you, not me.

Furthermore, is this how American men are supposed to behave? Does a real man blame others for his own failures and resolve to take to action with banners, stickers, fliers and graffiti? That seems more like the acts of frightened little boys.

The irony is so deep, it begs for comment. Here’s a group of men who spend their time strutting around screaming about how liberals have destroyed American masculinity, that Jews have weakened America—and what are they doing about it? Making dumb jokes and unfurling banners over freeways? They’re the best evidence of the decay in American manhood I’ve ever seen. Perhaps that’s what’s really going on here. Yesterday might be better seen as a day of self-hate.

Ben Shapiro, a staunch Jewish conservative, gets this. He remarked that this was a day of “Kiss my a@@, you pathetic losers.” My advice to him, however, is to be more circumspect about his own role in empowering these groups through his strengthening of the conservative movement that gives aid and comfort to the haters.

Reflecting on the Day of Hate has also led me to wonder what it would be like if these people got their wish for American to be, as Hitler might have said, “Judenrein,” free of Jews. Let’s say the day-of-haters get their way, and somehow, all the Jews in America vanish. Comedians like Jon Stewart have spoken to this, joking that America will lose a lot of dental care and good sitcoms. But, taking the “vermin” argument at face value, what would America look like if the Jews had never been here–a sort of “It’s a Wonderful Life” analysis of American Jewry.

You would find that without this group of “vermin,” there would be no chemotherapy or polio vaccine. You’d be missing a five day work week, an eight hour work day, and many other hard-won labor rights that neo nazis enjoy. Heck, you wouldn’t have blue jeans, latex condoms or Barbie Dolls, either, or hydrogen bombs or nuclear submarines. You wouldn’t even have the songs “God Bless America” or “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas.” Take that, atomwaffen!

And then what? I have a strong suspicion that even with the Jews gone, all the problems that plague the neo nazis—the shit jobs, the medical bankruptcies, the meth and opioid addictions, the payday loans…all the greedy, predatory tricks that make life in America miserable—would still be there. The neo nazis might discover too late that they were going after the wrong vermin.

This is a serious problem. Surveys suggest that 9% of Americans, some 30 million people, hold the same views as the day-of-haters. This is a real threat, one that is starting to turn violent and could easily explode into a spasm of killing and destruction. Most Jews understand this all too well. The smoke from the crematoria of Auschwitz still lingers in our lives, eighty years later.

What can be done about this? I’m encouraged that many people, including those from other communities, have come joined forces to denounce this hatred. We must stay together and act on the idea that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. That’s a start. There are no easy solutions, however.

The hatred on display here is not new. It was somewhat dormant, but now it’s been reawakened. The growing power and influence of these groups should drive a reckoning for our political leaders, particularly in the party that the neo nazis support. Pretending that these groups do not exist or winking at their real intentions is a risky proposition. Instead, a genuine leader might say something like, “This is not what real Americans do. If you want to make America great again, you will focus on making America great, not on hating your fellow Americans.” That might be a start.