BOB GARFIELD This is On The Media, I'm Bob Garfield. Another week, another horrific act of domestic terrorism. This time in Poway, California.
MALE CORRESPONDENT Another gunman opened fire and a house of worship just months after the deadly shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue.
MALE CORRESPONDENT Police have apprehended a white 19 year old gunman who they say stormed into an all day Passover service in the city of Poway, killing one and injuring three more. [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD Citing the Christ Church massacre in March and the Tree of Life shooting in Pittsburgh, the alleged killer articulated his hate for Jews and Muslims in a familiar screed featuring far-right memes and white supremacist iconography. Since Trump's election and the resurgence of white supremacy, there's been a raised awareness of the threat of anti-Semitism.
LEO FERGUSON One of the complexities of anti-Semitism is that it takes a bunch of different forms. And so sometimes it can be essentially economic, it can be xenophobic, it can also be religious. And then of course later on you get racialization and so then you get the ideas that Jews are mongrel, lesser race. You see that in Nazi ideology.
BOB GARFIELD That's Leo Ferguson, an organizer with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice who I spoke to immediately after the October massacre at Pittsburgh's Tree of Life synagogue. This week, after the Poway shooting, we spoke again. Because some of the outrage over the latest hate crime was obscured by other accusations of anti-Semitism, which to Ferguson look like a cynical tactic to change the subject away from the rise of neofascism. He calls these accusations, I guess in these Zeit Geist-est of terms, fake anti-Semitism.
LEO FERGUSON There is an entire cottage industry, from the Zionist Organization of America to Canary Mission, these organizations that exist to essentially conflate, confuse and confound definitions of anti-Semitism. They particularly target pro-Palestinian organizing on campus but they also look for any breadcrumb they can use to de-legitimize that work.
BOB GARFIELD So for example, if I were to say, 'well you know, I believe that Israel is not just a security state but an apartheid state where Arabs are second class citizens or guest workers,' I will be sure to be accused of anti-Semitism by one of these groups.
LEO FERGUSON Absolutely. Another example are folks targeting the BDS movement where you have organizers working to advocate for the Boycott Divestment and Sanction of Israel to pressure Israel to address its human rights abuses and treatment of Palestinians. Whether you agree or disagree with their tactics, this is clearly a legitimate form of political protest widely used. The anti-apartheid movement lots of other movements throughout history and yet there is a ton of energy going towards trying to smear these folks as being across the board anti-Semitic and to conflate the use of this boycott divestment and sanctions tactic with anti-Semitism.
BOB GARFIELD So I just want to be clear, sometimes there is, even from the right, a legitimate grievance. I'm not much of a Zionist but I am Jewish and sometimes criticism of Israel does sound awfully Semitic–especially when the subject is U.S. pro-Israel policy and it's being framed as being beholden to the Jews. So the accusation is an always empty is it?
LEO FERGUSON Absolutely not. There's anti-Semitic rhetoric, frankly, that finds its way into all kinds of political discourse. We shouldn't be surprised by this because anti-Semitism is an ideology that is pervasive in our society. So it's going to show up everywhere. And as the temperature gets turned up, it's unfortunate, but it shouldn't be surprising that it seeps into conversations about Israel and into conversations about bankers into conversations about all kinds of areas. It's our job to get really, really clear about what anti-Semitism is and how it operates to really up our game in terms of our anti-Semitism analysis so that we can call that stuff out when we see it–that's really important. But it's also important to not conflat terms and ideas because ultimately that actually makes all Jews less safe.
BOB GARFIELD Complicating the problem is this third category that you've identified which is weaponization. Taking charges of anti-Semitism, both righteous and fake and--.
LEO FERGUSON And using them for largely partisan political gain. When you take charges of anti-Semitism, be they real or false, and use them not out of a deep concern for the well-being of Jews but, in fact out, of a desire to win in advance of policy agenda or to bludgeon the opposing political party, that's the weaponization of anti-Semitism. I think the best example is right-wing Republican leaders in Congress attacking progressive Democrats about anti-Semitism completely ignoring the egregious anti-Semitism in their own party. They won't criticize Trump for saying that they're a very fine people on both sides in Charlottesville, something that he just doubled down on a few days ago.
PRES. DONALD J. TRUMP And if you look at what I said, You will see that that question was answered perfectly. [END CLIP]
LEO FERGUSON They won't criticize their own members, like Steve King, for doing, you know, truly heinous, racist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic things. They won't criticize members who stand up next to white nationalists at rallies and events. They refuse to criticize members of Congress, like Chuck Grassley, who are more than happy to trumpet the anti-Semitic conspiracy theories surrounding George Soros.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT Do you believe George Soros is behind all of this, paying these people to get you and your colleagues in elevators or wherever they can get in your face.
CHUCK GRASSLEY I tend to believe it I believe it fits in his--[END CLIP]
LEO FERGUSON But they somehow become outraged. They're shocked, shocked to find anti-Semitism in the progressive left.
BOB GARFIELD Which, once again, is cynical. But some of it is just ambiguous right? I'm thinking of the scandal a few months back when Democratic Congresswoman Ilhan Omar of Minnesota.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT She had tweeted quote, 'It's all about the Benjamins, baby.' And it was her response to the message critical of the Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy for going after Congresswoman Omar and her support of the anti-Israel movement called BDS or boycott--[END CLIP].
BOB GARFIELD Obviously evoked old anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money. Now the Israel lobby does wield a lot of influence in Congress, maybe not on the NRA level, but they are not a trivial force in our politics. But nonetheless Omar took a drubbing especially from Republicans pointing across the aisle saying, 'hey you guys talk about hate speech but look who you're harboring in your tent.' At a minimum, it was not good optics for a Democratic Party that has been thumping Trump as an apologist for hate.
LEO FERGUSON It's a win-win for the folks on the right who are looking to make those gains. The way that I know that their strategy is successful is that, today just a few days after a white nationalist gunman walked into a synagogue in San Diego and murdered someone and wounded others, we're still having a conversation about it Ilhan Omar.
BOB GARFIELD The whole Ilhan affair became a political football. A resolution in the house was floated against anti-Semitism and that created a hubbub. So then it mutates--.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT The final version condemns anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim bias equally [END CLIP]
BOB GARFIELD --and almost everybody voted for it. There were only 23 nays cast. What, if anything, did this episode teach us/
LEO FERGUSON As messy as the process was, I actually look at the outcome, in some ways, as a win. Because it's actually really important that we get clear that this kind of white nationalist ideology is actually targeting all of us. Like it is actually meaningful to say that we want to fight against Islamophobia, that we want to fight against anti-black racism, that we want to fight against xenophobia at the same time as we're saying we want to fight against anti-Semitism. While we're watching anti-Semitic violence and incidents of hate speech and swastikas being drawn on playgrounds or watching those things rise in New York City we know that our Arab and Muslim neighbors, our immigrant neighbors, our, you know, LGBTQ neighbors are also coming under threat from the same ideology. And so it's very much incumbent on all of us to band together and think of this as something in which we have real mutual shared interest.
BOB GARFIELD All right. We last spoke, what was it six months ago, and after the Tree of Life shootings. And although the crimes are piling up, although the public expressions of anti-Semitism are piling up, something else is going on that you believe represents positive change.
LEO FERGUSON As a Jew and as someone who has spent some time studying anti-Semitism, one thing that I know is that Jews are less safe when people believe that they have no control over their economic destiny, that they are being crushed by wealthy powerful people. Unfortunately, the analysis that the White Nationalists and the folks on the right have is, a sort of, cheap one that says, 'blame the Jews. Blame George Soros, blame the globalists.' I have a very different understanding of what it is that is hurting working people. My people were brutally murdered because too many of their fellow countrymen believed that they were responsible for poverty and, and real economic hardship and pain. So it means a lot that, you know, since we last spoke we saw Amazon get shoved out of New York by a coalition that included Jews and Muslims and Sikhs and all different kinds of folks saying this is not our vision for the city that we want. This is not where we believe we are going to find prosperity. That's a very powerful. Like us building power together across lines of difference towards a much brighter future, that's what is going to keep us safe. That is the true antidote.
BOB GARFIELD Well it's an interesting thought that if nationalism and white separatism and general right-wing extremism grows out of a sense of economic and cultural insecurity, that if these very same communities can be empowered to see the results of their own actions that will take the pressure off the Jews as the scapegoats for everything. But does that really deal with the underlying millennia old forces of just plain animus.
LEO FERGUSON That makes me think of Ta-Nehisi Coates who points out that, you know, we don't have a road map for this. There is no manual for how to undo centuries and centuries of these ideas infecting our society and shaping the fortunes and histories of nations and people. So all we can do is look towards what looks good. What looks right. It looks better, to me, to have a future in which there is broad shared prosperity in which all people, including Jews, feel safe.
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LEO FERGUSON My sense is that's probably a step in the right direction. It doesn't mean that we don't also have to call out anti-Semitism, that we don't have to name it and identify it and pick it apart and understand it. I don't think we have to choose. In fact, frankly, I think we can't do one without the other.
BOB GARFIELD Leo, thank you so much.
LEO FERGUSON Oh, an absolute honor and a pleasure to be here.
BOB GARFIELD Leo Ferguson is an organizer with Jews for Racial and Economic Justice.