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Published on April 15th, 2014 | by Mitchell Plitnick

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White Supremacy, Anti-Semitism and How to Fight Back

by Mitchell Plitnick

A white supremacist in Kansas went on a shooting spree targeting Jews. He killed three people, but none of them were Jewish.

This tells us a good deal about right-wing racism in the United States. Frazier Miller, a 73-year old, twenty year army veteran, was a leading figure among white supremacists. When he lived in North Carolina, he headed the White Patriot Party, the local KKK chapter. He even ran for the Senate in Missouri as recently as 2010, after having failed to secure much support in a couple of other races in Missouri and North Carolina.

Miller can be heard in his own words demonstrating amply the stereotype of the ignorant, white racist. For many in the US, he is a relic from the past, one which is dying out in the 21st century. Unfortunately, despite the decline of white supremacist ideology over the past century, reports of its death are greatly exaggerated. In fact, the diversity of hate groups in the United States makes their ongoing activity somewhat more subtle and easy for the public to miss. This stands in contrast to Europe where fewer but considerably larger white supremacist groups are visibly rising to power in a number of countries.

There are good reasons why we might become complacent about anti-Semitism and about white supremacy. Racism in the United States has receded as a political force, though few are naïve enough to think it has disappeared. Jews have established a solid place in US culture, but there are also real causes for concern.

Bigotry in general and anti-Semitism in particular have historically flourished during times of economic crisis. Despite positive indicators on Wall Street and in other national measures, most US citizens are continuing to see their economic situation decline, whether it is the poor getting poorer or the middle class struggling more to make ends meet. In Europe, we’ve seen the results of declining economies and rising xenophobia in the escalation of radical right-wing, fascist political parties. It’s been milder in the United States, but classical conservatives of the Eisenhower/Goldwater/Nixon type have lost the Republican party to radical right-wing forces. While those forces have not manifested anything like the overt racism of some of the far-right parties in Europe, their anti-immigrant language is similar and, in general, they have made radical right-wingers feel more at home than they have been for a long time in a major US party.

Miller is representative of the pure form of anti-Semitic ideology, and it is also the enduring form. Connections between anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine conflict globally, and especially with the Israel lobby here in the US have garnered a lot of focus in recent years. In that regard, there is a sort of anti-Semitic duality. On one hand, Israel and its supporters have tried to paint supporters of the Palestinian cause as anti-Semitic by definition, and some have even mixed this tactic with their own Islamophoba to paint an image of a so-called “new anti-Semitism.” Yet, on the other hand, some actual anti-Semites, most notably David Duke, have tried to cloak their hatred of Jews as anti-Zionism.

Both of these are not just morally wrong, but also factually so. In Europe, for example, where some of the ugliest incidents of violence against Jews have indeed been perpetrated by Muslims immigrants, the far-right campaign of hate melds anti-Muslim xenophobia with classical anti-Semitism. As Miller makes clear, white supremacists in the US target Jews first and then they move on to anyone else they can find.

So, what does all of this mean? Anti-Semitism matters, even today when it is at a historically low level, especially in the West. It remains a manifestation of hate that galvanizes a host of bigotries. At the same time, anti-Semitism is not the main reason Israeli policies are opposed, or the reason Israel is held to and is recognized in much of the world as failing to live up to Western standards of human rights. If there is one concept that influences public thinking in the United States that has to change, it’s the notion that criticism of Israel equals anti-Semitism.

But that is not going to change as long as advocates for a change in US policy toward Israel fail to recognize the very real concerns of anti-Semitism. It is far too easy, and even glib, for people to look at the current condition of Jews in the US and say that anti-Semitism is no longer a threat. That belief was prevalent in the Europe of the 1920s and in 15th century Iberia, but events on the ground didn’t work out that way. There are powerful indications that this belief is flawed today, too.

Distorting the notion of anti-Semitism, both by hyping it and minimizing it, hurts all the wrong people. Hyping the claim that all criticism of Israel is rooted in anti-Semitic bias hurts the Palestinian cause, most obviously, but also Jews, because it not only elides the real victims of anti-Semitism and subsumes them to another agenda, it also creates a mindset among Jews all over the world that reinforces our view (I am Jewish) of ourselves as eternal victims; permanent others.

Anti-Semitism in general must be put in its proper perspective, neither minimized nor hyped. Part of that process involves understanding the Jewish drive for self-determination even while we insist that such a need does not justify dispossessing and occupying another people. Being willing to stand up to both anti-Semitism and to the propaganda that tries to use the long and tragic history of Jewish suffering for political ends comprises the other part. And, when it comes to US policy, there should be zero tolerance for any sort of bigotry. As we saw in Overland Park this week, the victims of anti-Semitic hate don’t have to be Jewish. Frazier Glenn Miller killed three Christians while targeting Jews. It’s too easy to simply pass him off as just another lunatic with a gun.

Photo: The suspect in deadly shootings at a Jewish community center and a Jewish retirement community in Overland Park, Kansas, identified as Frazier Glenn Cross, is seen in police custody, April 13, 2014. Credit: KCTV

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About the Author

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Mitchell Plitnick is former vice president of the Foundation for Middle East Peace. He is the former director of the US Office of B’Tselem: The Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, and was previously the director of education and policy for Jewish Voice for Peace. He is a widely published and respected policy analyst. Born in New York City, raised an Orthodox Jew and educated in Yeshiva, Mitchell grew up in an extremist environment that passionately supported the radical Israeli settler movement. His writing has appeared in the Jordan Times, Israel Insider, UN Observer, Middle East Report, Global Dialogue, San Francisco Chronicle, Die Blaetter Fuer Deutsche Und Internationale Politik, Outlook, and in a regular column for a time in Tikkun Magazine. He has been interviewed by various outlets including PBS News Hour, the O’Reilly Factor and CNBC Asia. Plitnick graduated with honors from UC Berkeley in Middle Eastern Studies and wrote his thesis on Israeli and Jewish historiography and earned his Masters Degree from the University of Maryland, College Park's School of Public Policy.



8 Responses to White Supremacy, Anti-Semitism and How to Fight Back

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  1. avatar Norman says:

    Thank you Michel for this view. People have to move on, change their attitudes, not feed on what some feel toward another, as in race, ethnic background, etc. Look at how the world views Japan, Germany, Italy, the so-called axis of WW2 today. Friends. Of course, the leaders eliminated, the countries defeated, but were rebuilt. So they are now members of the “friendlies”. That certainly can’t be said of Israel today toward the Palestinians, which feeds the appetite of racism, especially when the Israeli leadership, along with those in the U.S. label anyone an anti-semetic if they don’t agree with the Israeli P.R. I might add, IMHO, to listen/see the U.S. supporting extreme right wing forces in various countries, as well as backing Israel no matter what, invites the type of hatred if you will, of any country that treats the citizens in a harsh manner, from people who may not have felt that way before. Bigotry has no place in modern times, yet, just what do call what Israel, Ukraine, NeoCon, AIPAC/Stooges actions/words? Unfortunately, the majority population of ones country have no real say in how their respective Government conducts business, increasingly so in the U.S. Would you call it “brainwashing”, stupidity, or fear of government reprisals?

  2. avatar Paul Hatgil says:

    500 hundred million Arab people are Semites which include most of the Lebanese and those in the occupied territories. Thus the term anti-Semitism as it only applies to the Jewish people is nonsense.

  3. avatar Paul Hatgil says:

    500 hundred million Arab people are Semites which include most of the Lebanese and those in the occupied territories. Thus the term anti-Semitism as it only applies to the Jewish people is nonsense.

    T o the editor: Because you don’t agree with the my statement is no reason to censor it.

  4. avatar Farhang Jahanpour says:

    This event shows that we can never become complacent. In most societies just scratch the surface and you can find a great deal of prejudice and bigotry, especially against those whom we regard as the other, the Jews, the Muslims, the blacks, the immigrants, particularly at times of economic downturn or conflict when people need someone to blame. This is why it is wrong to generalize criticism of Muslim terrorists and even some Muslim governments as a means of blaming all Muslims as is often done, or confuse criticism of some Israeli policies as an excuse for anti-Semitism. Criticism of wrong behavior of some individuals or government is a valid and indeed a healthy and necessary action, but we should be careful that we do not stereotype whole societies and religions and blame them for the actions of a few misguided individuals or government officials.

    On a separate note, if Frazier Miller had been a Muslim we would not have hesitated to call him a terrorist. Let us not mince our words and say that Miller too is a white terrorist. Terrorists take action against their real or imagined enemy in order to strike terror in the hearts of others. This is precisely what Miller tried to do.

  5. avatar ronmac says:

    I don’t know about anyone else but I’m starting to get a severe case of irony overload the last 48 hours. The shootings in Kansas City has prompted all the usual reactions of shock, outrage and soul searching about anti-Semitism.

    Meanwhile the media in the west continues to whitewash the unfolding events in Ukraine where a small gang of neo-Nazis and white supremacists have spearheaded a violent coup backed by the US.

    In the aftermath there were pictures of confederate flags and white power symbols hanging in the Parliament building in Kiev. And the latest. Ukrainian presidential candidate Oleg Tsarev was beaten by these thugs as he left a TV studio in Kiev last night. Said to be in critical condition.

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