A friend of mine who may or may not be Marc Shapiro shared an article yesterday from the Forward about a Jewish journalist who saw the whole Charlottesville massacre transpire — and in circumstances like that, even one dead is a massacre. The article contained this quote: “Supporters broke out spontaneously with calls ‘The goyim know, the goyim know,’ voicing a common neo-Nazi meme that implies a Jewish conspiracy behind attempts to shut down voices of the ‘goyim’ — Yiddish for gentiles.”
Oh my god, THEY KNOW! Everybody duck! Hide! Shred your documents! Tear up your membership cards! Update your special passports so you can store them online! Put your bar mitzvah gold into Bitcoin! And if you haven’t circumcised your horns yet I know a mohel who’ll give you a discount!
What people tend to forget about the neo-Nazis of 2017 is how much they still hate the Jews. If David Duke is still their most famous spokesman, then even at their most vociferous and incoherent advocacy for the reinstatement of Jim Crow, they still manage to direct their hatred to us 20 percent of the time.
But even if Trump would not have become president without the most blatant appeals to bigotry, not every Trump voter is a bigot, and not even every bigot is a neo-Nazi. If the neo-Nazis of 2024 want to be in the mainstream of American discourse, they know that there’s one thing they have to do above all else. Ditch the Jew hatred and find an easier target.
In 2011, leadership of France’s far right political party, the National Front, passed from Jean-Marie Le Pen to his daughter, Marine Le Pen. It was scary enough that under Le Pen pere’s leadership the FN would often carry well over 10 percent of the electorate. But under Marine Le Pen, their success only grew. In 2017’s Presidential election, the FN got a full third of the vote.
How she did it was pretty simple. Marine Le Pen realized that her father’s Jew-hatred turned contemporary Frenchmen off. But without appeals to people’s racist fears, there would be no National Front. Extreme parties always need enemies to blame, so while the National Front is still antisemitic, they’re still more anti-immigrant, anti-Europe, and most of all, anti-Muslim.
If neo-Nazis want to go similarly mainstream, it’s time for them to temporarily stop hating on Jews and pick a more popular target. We Jews are already less popular than we were in the ages of Seinfeld and Streisand, but if we’re less popular, it’s because we’re the establishment now. Not since King Solomon have the Jewish people held so much influence and esteem in the larger world. It may only last another few decades, but the world loves us. They don’t just employ us as financial planners, they make us their friends, they marry us, they even raise children as members of our tribe.
Even if the very worst happens here to others, the worst that will happen to American Jews is that we become second-class citizens in precisely the ways that African-, Hispanic-, and Arab-Americans are second-class citizens now. Meanwhile their position would become a thousand times worse. We, meanwhile, would be perceived like Catholics in Nazi Germany: a potential fifth column mistrusted for our cosmopolitan ties, weak people who believe in mercy, do not automatically see the persecuted in our midst as vermin.
Like Catholics in Nazi Germany, like African-Americans here, we would be incarcerated at disproportionate levels and sentenced to disproportionate terms. Like Catholics in Nazi Germany, like Arab-Americans, our places of worship would be monitored by the entirety of the governments’ intelligence apparatus. Like Catholics in Nazi Germany, like Hispanic-Americans here, we would be suspect for speaking different languages.
Just like Catholics in Nazi Germany, we’ve endured far worse in history than we would endure under a neo-Nazi regime. Insofar as anyone in Europe prevented the Holocaust from being worse than it was, it was Catholics. Not Pius XII, but so many people of faith who were persecuted for believing in Christian mercy with the fervor with which we believe in the Shelosh-‘Esreh Middot HaRakhamim. Tens of thousands of Jews now live, perhaps hundreds of thousands, because of Catholics whom, because of mercy, were willing to make the ultimate sacrifice.
We know what we have to do.
Evan Tucker is North Baltimore-based writer and composer. He is the violinist and lead singer of the Yiddish rock band Schmear Campaign and has a monthly podcast, “Tales from the Old New Land,” which is a Jewish version of A Prairie Home Companion. Listen at podomatic.com/podcasts/oldnewland.