Two years ago Jonathan Weisman tweeted a snippet of a quote from a column on the rise of fascism in the United States.
Then it started. Then it grew.
Alt-rightists and neo-Nazis subjected this Atlanta native and New York Times editor — and other Jewish journalists along the way — to constant and ugly doses of online anti-Semitic bile.
Weisman describes and thinks through this appalling experience in his absorbing new book, “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” He will speak about and sign copies of the book Monday, April 2, at Congregation Bet Haverim.
The book ends up crafting a tough-love ping to his fellow Jewish-Americans, whose leadership, he writes, isn’t doing a very good job of responding to the echoes of a renewed, Nazi-inspired anti-Semitism.
Weisman bluntly paints, with examples, a portrait of the American fascism on our doorstep, in the wind and in the body politic. He diligently reports on how the modern neo-Nazi movement evolved and worked its way online through the video-gaming culture.
The soul-sucking bullying and taunts, replete with images and descriptions of age-old Jewish caricatures and stereotypes, now squat on Twitter and percolate on crowd-sourcing pages.
The Nazis today in many cases dress neatly and are well-groomed, Weisman notes. They are sophists, no doubt, but they sound more articulate and go about their business with more savvy than the goose-stepping, uniformed clodhoppers from the days of George Lincoln Rockwell.
They have created their own jargon and symbols.
For example, instead of “kike,” they use “Skype.” The numeral 1488 signifies the 14-word slogan for white survival, with 88 referring to a paragraph of 88 words from “Mein Kampf” and to “Heil, Hitler” because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
The parentheses around Weisman’s name, called echoes, are used by the alt-right to identify Jews online.
To be sure, these dudes are the real bad hombres, and they are just itching to bash someone. We all saw them march in Charlottesville while carrying tiki torches, chanting, “Jews will not replace us,” and shouting, “Blood and soil.”
This white-supremacist ideology inspired murderers in Charlottesville, Oregon and Maryland and vile harassment of Jews in Montana. But the sound you hear from our community leaders over the growing danger here, Weisman writes, is virtual silence.
The bigotry is a fact of American life today under President Donald Trump. Weisman calls him “the ultimate dumb vessel,” a man who “stepped into the cauldron and carted the alt-right’s stew of hatred into the mainstream,” a man who couldn’t unequivocally condemn the Charlottesville marchers.
He’s a man, one rabbi said, who is “koshering racism with his politics.”
If you don’t think the alt-right has been emboldened and abetted by Trump’s candidacy and presidency, you just might not be exposed to it because you don’t live or work online. Those of us parked on the Internet see the connection.
The white nationalists adore Trump in the same way the Germans were entranced by their Fuhrer. Just watch the videos of his rallies, the starry-eyed followers loving his insults. A critique of the president or the first lady can set off a vile tweet storm from his loyal fans.
So here we are. So what do we do now?
Weisman takes us on a journey of his thinking about this state of affairs. He consults with rabbis and ponders Jewish action, religion, ethics and life.
Weisman explores the anti-Semitism in our history: Henry Ford’s newspaper, the Leo Frank case, the Temple bombing, the America First movement, and the public opinion last century when Jews were regarded with the same contempt as the Muslims of today.
But American Jewish leadership, Weisman argues, hasn’t been assertive in confronting the alt-right (the Anti-Defamation League is an exception). The community’s energy and resources and its heart and soul are devoted to the longtime obsession of Israel — a contentious assertion that merits a chapter.
This dynamic needs to be changed. One of his mantras? We thrive as an international, not as a tribal, people.
“The Jew flourishes when borders come down, when boundaries blur, when walls are destroyed, not erected,” Weisman writes.
Shed the tribalism, return to the public square, reach out and make common cause with our fellow citizens. Don’t get too worked up about the noxious bigotry on the fringe left when the real problem is on the alt-right.
Weisman’s arguments are starting to spawn lively debates and sharp pushback, thanks in part to a Sunday Review column he wrote for The New York Times. Let’s hope people will actually read the book and engage in honest self-criticism about how they respond to a clear and present danger.
I agree with Weisman, for what it’s worth. Many of us are not feeling or seeing the anger and activism in the Jewish community over this, with a couple of exceptions. There’s a silent majority of us out there who want our leaders to do a better job and listen up.
“American Jews need to assert a voice in the public arena, to back our institutions and mold them in our image,” Weisman writes in this bold book. “Jewish leadership must reflect its congregants, who are not sheep.”