Praise for (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump

  • Simon Schama, in The New York Times

It is the advent of Trumpian politics -- its nonstop carnival of paranoia; its scapegoating of Hispanics and African-Americans; its anti-immigrant phobia -- that has rung Weisman's alarm bells, which accounts for his subtitle: "Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump." More sinister for him than the foaming lunacies of the neo-Nazis is the alt-right's embrace of conspiracy theorists; the routine mutation of fantasy into fact; the appetite for seeing secret hands (George Soros for instance) at work in plots to undermine America -- all of which have a whiff of late Weimar about them, not to mention the long history of populist anti-Semitism in the United States.

  • Jane Eisner, editor of The Forward, for The Washington Post

Defiance propels Weisman's urgent, timely narration of how a few fringe leaders galvanized a Twitter army that, despite its insignificant number, broke wide open an ugly strain of anti-Semitism whose tentacles have reached even into the White House.

After becoming a victim of unhinged anti-Semitic hatred, trolled and cyberstalked by fringe-right bigots, a journalist delivers his forceful response.

Weisman (No. 4 Imperial Lane, 2015), the deputy Washington editor of the New York Times, once reported on the activities of a neoconservative, journalism that provoked alt-right activists on social media. Under the cover of “free speech,” they openly expressed their prejudice against Jews in general and the author in particular. Certainly, the author notes, anti-Semitism in the U.S. is hardly new. He recalls the lynching of Leo Frank, the bile spewed by Charles Lindbergh, and other examples. Erstwhile good feelings engendered during the civil rights movement eventually collapsed, and Judaism and its adherents became conflated with the State of Israel. Now, anti-Semitism is flourishing in the Trump era, and what was unacceptable once now swims in the mainstream. With reportorial skill, the author brings us up to date on activities of current hate groups and their leaders. The titular meme—three parentheses (“echoes”) around a proper noun—is a dog whistle signaling, for those attuned to it, “Jew.” Today, marchers in Nazi regalia parade, and swastikas and graffiti abound; harassment, trolling, and cyberstalking are essential tools in the alt-right kit. So what can be done? What should American Jews do? Weisman issues a call to arms in defense of truth. We must organize and fight, he urges, using the internet and social media. Jews, the “Other,” must ally with other Others like African-Americans and immigrants. The author also recommends toning down the obsession with Israel and supporting organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The moral response is imperative,” writes Weisman. “Morality can inform tactics.” For now, though, the value of his brief text remains the light he shines on the current state of bigotry.

An urgent and compelling report on the clear and present danger of proto-fascism in the U.S.

 

When the history of his presidency is written, Donald Trump surely will hope that his inexplicable response to the violence sparked by racist and anti-Semitic demonstrators that occurred in Charlottesville, Va., on August 12, 2017, is not one of the defining moments. In (((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of TrumpNew York Times deputy Washington editor Jonathan Weisman (No. 4 Imperial Lane) delivers a concise but penetrating analysis of the rise of an anti-Semitic alt-right that has coincided with Trump's political ascendancy. And he offers a constructive prescription for countering what he calls a "new movement of prejudice and hate largely born in the invisible fever swamp of the Internet, now present in the flesh."

Though he had a bar mitzvah ceremony in his native Atlanta, Weisman admits he had become "largely disconnected from Jewish life and faith." It came as a shock to him, then, in May 2016, when one of his tweets about the potential rise of authoritarianism in democratic societies drew a response that branded him with the "echoes" punctuation that's featured in the title of his book. Those parentheses have become a means for the alt-right (a name coined by one of its key figures, Richard Spencer) to identify on social media those they suspect of being Jewish.  

Given its brevity, (((Semitism))) doesn't purport to be an exhaustive treatment of the rise of this odious movement. Weisman chooses, instead, to focus much of his attention on the frighteningly effective use of assorted online resources by people he describes as "technologically savvy, self-promotional, and absolutely vicious" to target and harass their opponents. One of the most disturbing such incidents involves the neo-Nazi troll attack on Jewish realtor Tanya Gersh, who had the misfortune to deal with Spencer's mother in Whitefish, Mont., where the movement's headquarters is located.

But Weisman frankly concedes that for all the unease among American Jews about the far right's muscle flexing since Trump's election, "anti-Semitism is not the worst affliction to beset the United States in the Trump era," at least not when compared to such outrages as physical assaults on Muslim Americans or the reversals of gay and transgender rights. That leads him to argue that Jews, rather than hunkering down and hoping this wave of bigotry will pass like a summer thunderstorm, need to make common cause with these oppressed groups to build "alliances against hate." He urges a "conscious move away from the Israel obsession of the largest Jewish institutions and a recognition that tribalism is leading Jewry into a box canyon crowded with some unsavory characters from the ethno-nationalist movement."

The rationale underlying Weisman's proposed response, if not necessarily the response itself, is likely to set off a lively debate within the American Jewish community. If it prompts a clear-eyed counter movement to these new agents of hate, he will have performed a valuable public service with this book. --Harvey Freedenberg, freelance reviewer

Weisman (No. 4 Imperial Lane), the New York Times’ deputy Washington editor, offers a chilling look at resurgent anti-Semitism in America in the wake of Donald Trump’s political ascendancy. Despite feeling only minimally connected to his Jewish heritage, Weisman found himself the target of “alt-right” Trump supporters in 2016 after tweeting an excerpt from an editorial about the rise of fascist tendencies in the U.S.; within minutes, he received a response addressed to “(((Weisman))),” punctuation that he learned was “wrapped around Jewish-sounding names on social media” by online harassers. That response was the precursor to a torrent of online hate he received, which shook Weisman out of his complacency and forced him to face the reality of persistent anti-Jewish bias. He provides a thoughtful and deeply personal account of his struggle to understand what was happening. The hostility Weisman encountered was so overwhelming that his daughter sought reassurance that she didn’t “look Jewish,” which she feared would put her at risk of being targeted as well. Despite that close-to-home evidence of the effectiveness of the bigots, Weisman concludes forcefully, leaving readers with the message that the best way for Jewish Americans to resist bigotry is to champion “liberal internationalism in the oldest, least partisan sense of that phrase.” Agent: Rayhane Sanders, Massie & McQuilkin. (Mar.)

  • Bernard-Henri Lévy, philosopher, filmmaker, author of The Genius of Judaism

"It would be wonderful if anti-Semitism was a European specialty and stopped at the border with the United States. Alas, this is not the case. Jonathan Weisman's new book (((Semitism))) shows why..."

  • Michael Eric Dyson, author of Tears We Cannot Stop

"With eloquence and poignancy Weisman shows how hatred can slowly and quietly chew away at the moral fabric of society. We now live in an age when more than ever bigotry and oppression no longer need to hide in fear of reproach. The floodgates have opened. This is more than a personal response to the bigotry he experienced because of his Jewishness; Weisman has written a manifesto that outlines the dangers of marginalizing and demonizing all minority groups. This powerful book is for all of us."

  • Peter Beinart, author of The Crisis of Zionism

"Jonathan Weisman has written a fast-paced, strikingly honest account of being forced to reckon more deeply with his Jewishness because of the recognition that people hate him for it. It's an ancient Jewish story made newly relevant in Trump's America, and Weisman tells it beautifully."

  • Ethan Michaeli, author of The Defender: How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America

"In this courageous, intensely personal narrative, Jonathan Weisman confronts the realties facing all Jewish Americans -- as well as many other minorities -- at a moment when old safeguards against overt anti-Semitism and racism are rapidly disappearing. Weisman revisits the American past to challenge conventional impressions of Jews' historic relationships with their neighbors and draws connections to current events, dispelling complacency and rallying readers with fresh ideas."

  • Liel Leibovitz, senior writer, Tablet Magazine

"Passionate, candid, and elegant, (((Semitism))) is a moving exploration of Jewish life in Donald Trump’s America, and of the sinister specters of prejudice so many of us assumed belonged in the distant past. Jonathan Weisman has given us a stirring and necessary reminder that we are all, Jews and non-Jews alike, in the throes of a dire national moral crisis, and that it is up to all of us to rise together against bigotry’s startling ascendance."