This has been one of America’s worst weeks for anti-Semitic terrorism in recent history. On Oct. 23, a bomb was found in the mailbox of Jewish billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a longtime focus of neo-Nazi and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Then, on Oct. 27, a 46-year-old white man entered Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and reportedly shouted "All Jews must die," before opening fire with an assault rifle, killing 11 people and wounding several more.
These nightmarish attacks are part of a rise in anti-Semitic incidents and hate crimes, according to organizations like the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The ADL reported a 57 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents between 2016 and 2017. The increased targeting of Jewish people, though, is part of a broader wave of fascist rhetoric and violence directed at a range of groups — primarily people of color, immigrants, leftists, LGBTQ people and women.
It's not an accident that before he set foot in the Tree of Life temple, the Pittsburgh shooter ranted online that Jews were helping immigrants.
It’s not an accident that after sending an explosive to Soros, the pipe bomber sent one to Hillary Clinton, among several other Democrats, nor that he was living in a van covered in stickers that railed against right-wing talking points like chain migration. It's not an accident that before he set foot in the Tree of Life temple, the Pittsburgh shooter ranted online that Jews were helping immigrants cross the U.S.-Mexico border as part of the so-called migrant caravans.
Anti-Semitism is a central motivating force in far-right ideology, and ties together the strands of rage, bigotry and conspiracy that have become more and more mainstream over the last decades in the Republican Party. Even for the Nazis, anti-Semitism was always more than just a hatred of Jewish individuals. It was a sweeping ideology that connected a broad range of prejudices and grievances. For Hitler, Jews were the masterminds of a vast anti-German conspiracy.
For example, the Nazis claimed that Jewish conspirators were responsible for stationing black French troops in the Rhineland following World War I. These troops, Hitler wrote in “Mein Kampf,” systematically raped white German women, "bastardizing the white race which they hate and thus lowering its cultural and political level so that the Jew might dominate." Thus, anti-Semitism served as a delivery system for racism, sexual panic and nationalist pride. The resulting propaganda was "particularly successful in the 'racially sensitive' United States," writes Jason Stanley in his recent book “How Fascism Works.” Stanley notes that 12,000 people attended a 1921 Madison Square rally against these fictitious Rhineland atrocities.
Hitler also linked Jews to Communism and leftist ideologies. "The Jewish doctrine of Marxism rejects the aristocratic principle of Nature and replaces the eternal privilege of power and strength by the mass of numbers and their dead weight," Hitler fumed in "Mein Kampf." Jewish people were smeared as dangerous radicals, while leftists were smeared as alien outsiders promulgating a corrupt, non-German ideology. Such attacks greatly appealed to wealthy capitalists and industrialists both in Germany and abroad, who feared the rise of socialism and Communism.
Jewish people were smeared as dangerous radicals, while leftists were smeared as alien outsiders promulgating a corrupt, non-German ideology. Such attacks greatly appealed to wealthy capitalists.
The anti-Semitism prevalent in America today continues to use the same tropes blaming Jewish people for immigration, perceived threats to the white race, socialism and every other right-wing bugaboo.
Many of these conspiracies center on George Soros, a Holocaust survivor and a major supporter of liberal politicians and causes. The right-wing media has blamed Soros for funding the protests against Justice Brett Kavanaugh. Senate Judiciary Chairman Chuck Grassley cosigned that (completely spurious) theory. Soros has also recently been accused of funding the caravan of Central American refugees.
Two days before the synagogue shooting, Fox News' Lou Dobbs interviewed a guest who claimed that refugees were "getting money from the Soros-occupied State Department." Is it any real surprise that the synagogue shooter's social media posts show he too was invested in related far-right memes and rhetoric about Jewish people promoting immigration in order to weaken America? The Pittsburgh terrorist was particularly incensed at the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, a Jewish group that works to advocate for immigrants and raise awareness of the plight of refugees.
Anti-Semitism, in short, serves as a kind of clearing house for fascist fears about corruption and impurity. Immigration, black rights, feminism, queer rights, socialism and anything that threatens a social order led by white men.
Anti-Semitism is inseparable from fascism — which has important implications for people on every part of the political spectrum. On the left, it means that enabling or excusing anti-Semitism ultimately undermines other goals and priorities. When Louis Farrakhan inveighs against Jewish people, he claims he's doing so to fight racism. But the truth is that targeting Jews empowers white supremacists, who have, since Hitler's day, used anti-Semitism to stoke anti-black racism and hatred. Similarly, Labor party leader Jeremy Corbyn's less virulent dabbling in anti-Semitic rhetoric serves to legitimate suspicion towards immigrants and outsiders — the very people Corbyn's opposition Labor party claims to want to help.
In America, though, it is conservatives who really need to think about the relationship between anti-Semitism and their current rhetoric and goals.
Republicans often point to Trump's support of Israel as evidence that he is not anti-Semitic. Because he moved the American embassy to Jerusalem, it is apparently to be impossible for him to be anti-Semitic. But the truth is that people can support Israel for many reasons. Trump's alliance with Ben Carson doesn't prevent him from being racist; his alliance with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu doesn't mean he's free from prejudice towards Jewish people. Right-wing support of Israel has long been related to evangelical visions of the end times, Islamophobia and pragmatic geopolitical concerns. Any or all of those can coexist with anti-Semitism.
In fact, Trump's anti-Semitic dog whistles are inseparable from his broader message of nationalist purity. When Trump stokes fears of foreigners and outsiders — attacking Mexicans as rapists or presenting a caravan of refugees as an existential threat to the U.S. — he fuels-far right anger and hatred directed at Jewish people also, since Jewish people have historically been perceived as impure foreigners and refugees for centuries. When Trump says that accusations against Kavanaugh were leveled by "people who are evil," the shadowy conspiratorial rhetoric is aimed at Democrats, but it also implicates Jewish people, who are, for many on the far right, the shadowy conspirators of choice.
Trump and other conservatives have denounced the Pittsburgh shootings, as they did the pipe bombs. But there has been little reckoning with the danger of hyper partisan, violent, rhetorical attacks on immigrants, people of color, and the left — not to mention on George Soros. Trump himself chuckled as supporters started an anti-Soros chant after the philanthropist was sent a pipe bomb — and a day before the synagogue shooting.
Conservatives in America have a choice. They can continue to stoke panic about immigration and impurity, and, inevitably, fuel anti-Semitic violence. Or they can fight anti-Semitism by abandoning conspiracy theories and the rhetoric of hate. Either way, the fate of Jewish people can't be separated from the fate of other marginalized people. If you are determined to harm them, you're saying you are going to harm us as well.