White nationalism can’t be ‘normalized’ if we want to stop massacres

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The Jewish community in America ended Passover with broken hearts, mourning the loss of Lori Gilbert-Kaye, who was murdered protecting her rabbi during the horrific shooting at the Chabad of Poway, near San Diego, and the wounding of three other worshippers. Exactly six months after the shooting at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, once again we are collectively experiencing the pain of anti-Semitic terror in our houses of prayer. And we are more resolved than ever to respond in unity, in love, in action.

Unfortunately, the attack in Poway is far from an isolated incident. It is part of a rise in white nationalist violence that threatens all manner of communities and places of worship in the United States and around the world, from synagogues to mosques to Sikh temples to black churches. Some of these incidents we know well: Pittsburgh, the Christchurch mosque shootings, the suspected arson of three black churches in Louisiana. All are flashpoints in a larger story.

{mosads}The Anti-Defamation League reported a surge of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States in 2017, a 60 percent increase from the year before. Research from New America documents a similar increase in incidents targeting the Muslim American community. And the Southern Poverty Law Center reports a 50 percent increase in white nationalist groups from 2017-2018, with 81 people murdered by individuals influenced by the alt-right in the past five years.

Why do white nationalists target our communities in this way? At its heart, their violence stems from the false belief that the growing population of immigrants, people of color, and Muslims in America will threaten a white majority, instead of strengthening our democracy and fulfilling our country’s promise. And they blame Jewish people for the societal changes they fear, relying on old anti-Semitic tropes and conspiracy theories. Lately, these conspiracy theories have found an audience online, amplified by some elected leaders.

It’s notable that the Poway shooter also claimed credit for a recent arson at a mosque in Escondido. Despite efforts to divide Muslim and Jewish Americans from each other, these attacks demonstrate that violence targeting one of our communities is part of a hatred directed at all of our communities.

The key question in this moment is how to stop the spread of this deadly movement. How many more people must die at the hands of followers of this toxic ideology before we as a society resolve to take concrete action?

This is a crisis that requires action on multiple fronts. Technology companies must take responsibility for the hate that is spread through their platforms. Law enforcement agencies must take these threats seriously and prioritize the prevention, detection, investigation and prosecution of white nationalist violence. This moment demands a serious response from our elected leaders at all levels, and from both political parties. We cannot discuss the rapid rise of white nationalism in our society without talking about the way that its ideas and policies has become mainstreamed in American politics, while the threats from this movement are obfuscated or ignored.

When the House Judiciary committee held hearings on white nationalism and the rise of hate crimes several weeks ago, expert witnesses testified on the growing threat of this movement and laid out concrete suggestions of what can be done to better track and counter these hate groups. However, Republican members of the committee called on two witnesses who could not have been less qualified for the task; one denigrated Muslims and one dismissed any focus on white nationalism as an “election strategy” and fear-mongering by the Democratic Party. And in the hours following the shooting in Poway, we heard prominent voices ignoring the explicit white nationalist motives of the shooter to redirect blame elsewhere. People and elected leaders who engage in this obfuscation and redirection aren’t just wrong; they contribute to the atmosphere of hatred.

All of us deserve to be safe. We cannot, and will not, accept an America where massacres in synagogues, churches, temples or mosques become normal. We will never stop rising up together to fight for our collective safety. From our grief over the tragedy in Poway, we will build solidarity within our Jewish community, and with our allies, to defeat white nationalism and advance a vision of a multiracial democracy where all of us can live, love and thrive.

Rabbi Jason Kimelman-Block is the Washington director of Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, a movement of progressive Jews. He previously served as the director of the PANIM Institute for Jewish Leadership and Values. Follow on Twitter @jewishaction.

Tags Antisemitism Hate group Poway shooting Synagogue attack white nationalism

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