UNIVERSITY NEWS LAST UPDATED : 23 MAY 2018
What's at the root of white supremacy and how can it be stopped? Sociology's Eugene Nulman discusses anti-Semitism and its roots in white supremacy in the 21st century in this week's academic blog.
As Austrians went to the voting booths in parliamentary elections last October, all signs pointed to the far-right Freedom Party of Austria (FPÖ) winning the most seats.
The party pulled ahead of the Christian democratic centre-right party (Austrian People’s Party) in the latest polls a week before the election. One scary thing about the FPÖ is that its first leader was a Nazi Minister and officer in the SS. This anti-Semitic past has not escaped the party. In 2015, a member of parliament representing the party, Susanne Winter, praised someone for posting a comment which included “The Zionist money-Jews worldwide are the problem.” Winter’s response: “You take the words out of my mouth (...) There is a lot I am not allowed to write. That is why I am all the more pleased by brave, independent people!” (Reuters, 2015). While Winter was kicked out of the party for her comments, this was not the first incident of its kind.
Austria is just one of many countries who have verged on creeping back into the fascist fray. Earlier last year, the European Jewish Congress condemned the increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes and the rise of fascist slogans in Poland in the context of its own far-right nationalist party being in power (Telegraph, 2017). Even earlier in 2017, a report found that negative attitudes towards Jews had risen to 37 percent in Poland (Telegraph, 2017).
The survey also found that 56 percent would find it unacceptable to have a Jewish person in their family, a substantial increase from 2014 (Telegraph, 2017). In Hungary, Prime Minister Viktor Orbán has been accused of stoking anti-Semitism by launching attacks against the Hungarian Jewish financier George Soros in a context in which they have been competing for votes with Jobbik, a political party with openly anti-Semitic roots. Sadly, the Prime Minister’s conservative party, Fidesz, is not without its own anti-Semitic incidents. Among other things, they bestowed a prestigious award on a journalist who described Jews as “stinking excrement” (Haaretz, 2016).
Closer to home, Trump’s dog whistle politics has not gone unnoticed by organized anti-Semites. Not long into Trump’s presidency, more than 170 Jewish graves were desecrated in a cemetery in Missouri. This followed ongoing criticism of Trump for not condemning anti-Semitism following a presidential campaign in which he retweeted posts by neo-Nazis and ran an attack ad featuring the Star of David and money.
Trump of course also awarded the position of White House Chief Strategist to Steve Bannon, former executive chief of Breitbart News. Bannon called the network “the platform for the alt-right”, a label also used by those giving Nazi salutes. More recently, Trump failed to effectively condemn neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, chanting “Jews will not replace us”.
To those in America, who may think that anti-Semitism is a rare thing; an idea held by a handful of people and nowhere near the levels of Eastern Europe, think again. In 1995 the World Values Survey found that 15.4 percent of Americans thought that Jews were the group that most threatened the social order of the country. Even if you were to break down the data such anti-Semitism is not confined to particular regions. 12.2 percent of Californians had the same assessment, not far below the national figure.
While anti-Semitism may not be institutionalized and ingrained in liberal democracy in the ways that sexism and racism are, they are institutionalized and ingrained in white supremacist ideology.
Civil rights strategist Eric K. Ward argues that “anti-semitism forms the theoretical core of White nationalism”.
“What is this arch-nemesis of the White race, whose machinations have prevented the natural and inevitable imposition of white supremacy? It is, of course, the Jews. Jews function for today’s White nationalists as they often have for anti-Semites through the centuries: as the demons stirring an otherwise changing and heterogeneous pot of lesser evils.” (Ward, 2017).
Thus, as white supremacy globally begins to uncover itself from the veil of a liberal democratic ideology we should expect to find anti-Semitism, which lies at the heart of its ideology, to also expand.
And while the anonymity provided online has served as a space for neo-Nazi discussion and the political climate has let them crawl out of their shell, anti-fascists are working hard to scare them back into hiding. The politics of fear, of scaring fascists back into their shell, may be useful at critical junctures (and certainly when fascists are in power), but there is a lot harder and more long-term work that is needed to root out anti-Semitism and put an end to the white supremacist ideology.
Remove the shrines of White Supremacy but also inform people who don’t agree with you or see it as pointless as to why those statues must be removed. Protest fascists but also protest offhand anti-Semitic remarks.
While we don’t need to ignore other problems caused by capitalism and the state and revert to a politics of the popular front, we can encourage sympathetic liberals to do some of the work for us. John Oliver does a decent job of explaining why it’s a great idea to pull down all those ridiculous Confederate statues (LastWeekTonight, 2017).
Finally, we should recognize and take seriously the idea that if we don’t engage in opposing fascism they may take power sooner than we think. The World Values Survey that found that Jews are the least liked group for 15.4 percent of Americans also found that only 8.4 percent of those surveyed saw neo-Nazis as being the least liked group. That’s almost half in comparison.
This suggests that if World War II was happening today, more Americans would be fervently in support of the Nazis than fervently opposed. That’s a scary thought, but we shouldn’t be blind to what it could mean in the near future.
By Eugene Nulman
Eugene Nulman, PhD is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology. The original version of this article was published by teleSUR (telesurtv.net) in October 2017. The original publication can be found here. The content above is the opinion of the author(s), and does not represent the views or opinions of Birmingham City University.
Winter, Susanne in Reuters, 2015. Austrian far-right party ejects MP over anti-Semitic comments. [online] Available at: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-austria-antisemitism/austrian-far-right-party-ejects-mp-over-anti-semitic-comments-idUSKCN0SR1Z220151102
Agence France-Press in The Telegraph, 2017. Anti-Semitism being ‘normalised’ in Poland, Jewish Congress warns. [online] Available at: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/08/31/anti-semitism-normalised-poland-jewish-congress-warns/
Haaretz, 2016. U.S. Holocaust Museum Slams Hungary’s Award to anti-Semitic Journalist. [online] Available at: https://www.haaretz.com/world-news/europe/u-s-holocaust-museum-slams-hungary-s-award-to-anti-semitic-journalist-1.5428571
Ward, Erik K. in Political Research Associates. Skin in the Game: how anti-Semitism animates white nationalism. [online] Available at: http://www.politicalresearch.org/2017/06/29/skin-in-the-game-how-antisemitism-animates-white-nationalism/#sthash.mt8YY7aL.MSJB7iN9.dpbs
LastWeekTonight, 2017. Confederacy: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO). [video online]. Available at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J5b_-TZwQ0I