WASHINGTON – Jonathan Weisman, author of (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump, said he used to not be “scared” of the “alt-right” but his views have changed.
“I really wasn’t scared of these two-bit cyber terrorist Nazis. I am now. Now I am because since I began writing my book about my experiences things have changed,” he said during a book discussion at Politics and Prose on Thursday, citing the August white nationalist protest in Charlottesville, Va., at which counter-demonstrators were rammed and incidents like a member of a Facebook group called “Alt-Reich” stabbing a black Army lieutenant to death last May at the University of Maryland.
Weisman, deputy Washington editor at the New York Times, said Charlottesville took anti-Semitism from the Internet into real life.
“That’s when the world saw the alt-right jump from a phenomenon on the Internet into real life with their chants of ‘Jews will not replace us,’ their tiki torches, their melees, and ultimately the death of a counter-protester, Heather Heyer, who was run over by a bigot in a Dodge Charger. Now I am scared,” he said. “I have to confess this book is somewhat hard on American Jews because I’m wondering where we are – where our voice is in the public sector.”
Weisman said he decided not to delve into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during the discussion because “we talk about Israel way too much here.”
However, he referenced the criticism he has received from Jewish organizations after the release of excerpts of his book and said Jews often “sit around and fight each other all the time” instead of confronting anti-Semitism.
“The American Jewish Committee and Jewish Federations, they have really come after me and they kind of have proved my point, like, my point was Jews sit around and fight each other all the time,” he said. “So far, their response has not been particularly constructive.”
Weisman continued, “My fear is that a younger generation of Jews will just grow up and just leave Judaism or just drift away – that Jewish identity will be something that lingers in the back of their mind and that’s it – they won’t even think about something like Hadassah or the American Jewish Committee or the Jewish Federations.”
Weisman noted that Israel has been the “glue that held Jewish identity” together but cautioned that the younger generation could go in a different direction.
“We’re really at risk with the young generation,” he said. “I used to tell my mother, look, I care about Israel, I also care about Sudan. I care about a lot of countries, and she gets really angry when I say that, and I am old. I think other younger people would say the same thing: yeah, sure, I care about Israel but there’s a big wide world around us.”
Weisman encouraged Jewish Americans to “embrace” their identity in the Trump era “because if you don’t it’s just going to be embraced for you.”
“And it’s a time to define Judaism the way you want it to be so somebody else isn’t defining it for you because yes, the white nationalists do not believe that Jews are white, it’s this odd concoction of – it makes you wonder, what is race?” he said. “Race, obviously, is not appearance at all. I mean, I would not call myself anything but white but they would never call me white. White is something else, so I might as well say I am Jewish, all right.”