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How Anti-Semitism Is Tied To White Nationalism


Saturday's shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh has focused attention on the rise in anti-Semitic attacks and anti-Semitic rhetoric. And to talk more about anti-Semitism and white nationalism, we reached out to Ilana Kaufman. She works on racial justice issues in the Jewish community. Welcome.

ILANA KAUFMAN: Thank you. It's great to be here.

CHANG: I want to start with a very basic question, but it's a question that still confounds me. Why are Jews such a focus for white nationalists?

KAUFMAN: You know, for white nationalists, there is this deep, deep commitment to maintaining political, historical and institutional supremacy in the United States and around the world in terms of, you know, global white nationalism. There's a perspective that a certain kind of whiteness is superior and a real intention to maintain that kind of superiority, both on an interpersonal level in terms of attitudes, behaviors and beliefs and how those transpire between people, but also on institutional and national levels through our politics, through the way that we talk about and document our history, through the way that we manage our institutions. And it's an effort to maintain power and to keep people who are different marginalized and separated in our communities.

CHANG: You mention a certain kind of whiteness. You know, much of the American Jewish community is of European descent and identify as being white. But you're kind of saying that makes no difference to white nationalists. Why do you think that is?

KAUFMAN: Eighty to 90 percent of Jewish Americans are white or come from a white background. To white nationalists, you know, our Jewish community here in the United States largely comes from immigrant backgrounds, largely comes from backgrounds that had a strong ethnic identity when we came to this country. And we were among a whole group of people from different countries who were othered because of our national historical origin. And just certain kinds of whiteness were both elevated and celebrated in this country as far as our history goes back.

CHANG: We should mention that you are Jewish, but you're also black.

KAUFMAN: That's correct.

CHANG: How is white nationalists' hatred of Jews different from racism against blacks, Latinos and other minorities that they see as threats?

KAUFMAN: People of color are visibly different, and because of that, we've been an easy group to target. And we've been an easy group to keep separate from those who have more skin privilege because their skin presents lighter or whiter. And then, in contrast, we think about the hatred of Jews. And if we assume that most Jews are white in this country, then we have to find another way to separate Jews out. And so this particular brand of white nationalism in the United States is a particular kind of Christian white nationalism that is designed to take away from this idea that we are stronger because of our diversity and to scare people into thinking we are stronger because of our individual identities.

CHANG: So do you see something new about the anti-Semitism we see in the U.S. today? I mean, anti-Semitism has persisted for centuries. But is there something different about it now?

KAUFMAN: What's different about this time is that we have people in power who are using their institutional positions that have traditionally been designed to bring us together as a country to separate us as a country through anti-Semitism.

CHANG: You think that's new?

KAUFMAN: I think when we have our policymakers amplifying ideas as real, amplifying stereotypes as fact and using fear to marginalize Jewish people in a way to elevate the fearmongers, it is different. And the other thing that's different is the empowerment of the anti-Semites to express their anti-Semitism in ways that are terrifying.

CHANG: So what new strategies can we or the Jewish community in particular employ to combat the new forms of anti-Semitism?

KAUFMAN: I think the thing that we need to remember is that white nationalism is designed to marginalize all of us. And so the most important strategy we can develop is to come together to develop friendships and trust and relationships so that when we need each other as neighbors and as friends, and when the white supremacists come knocking on our doors or when they come marching down our streets, that we know each one of us is going to come out of our houses to support the other, that we will not question who needs this kind of advocacy, but it becomes part of our culture as a nation and as a people. That is our most important strategy right now.

CHANG: Ilana Kaufman is director of the Jews of Color Field Building Initiative. Thank you very much for joining us today.

KAUFMAN: Thanks so much for this invitation. It was my privilege. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.