In “(((SEMITISM))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump” (St. Martin’s Press), Jonathan Weisman, who was subjected to what the Washington Post called an “avalanche” of anti-Semitism on Twitter last year, examines how the Jewish experience has changed since the 2016 election. The deputy Washington editor of The New York Times, Weisman writes about his own Jewish identity and about the rise of anti-Semitism, calling on American Jews to unite around the defense of self and others. The book, whose title makes use of the “echo” Internet symbol used by some anti-Semites to connote Jews, is due out in March. The Jewish Week caught up with Weisman via email last week.
What’s the biggest change in how American Jews are seen since your days growing up in Atlanta?
By and large, I’d say American Jewry is more accepted and more assimilated into American life than we were when I was growing up in Atlanta. But with that acceptance and the prominence of Jews in politics, business and entertainment has come a wave of suspicion from disaffected white Americans who feel threatened by the country’s growing diversity and pluralism.
What triggered this latest outbreak of anti-Semitism?
Among white Americans, many in the working class but certainly not all, disaffection and anger has grown as urban elites have grown more wealthy and minorities and immigrants have grown in number and prosperity. Two events crystalized this anger: the war in Iraq, which made many conservative-minded whites more inward looking and disaffected with mainstream Republican beliefs, and the financial collapse of 2008, which gave us the Great Recession. Those events helped usher in the first black president of the United States, whose presence and temperament helped calm frustration among minorities and more educated whites, but only exacerbated the sense of dislocation among struggling whites.
Into that cauldron came Donald Trump, whose campaign overtly appealed to that sense of powerlessness and dislocation. Racism, Islamophobia and hatred of immigrants burst into the open, encouraged by the rhetoric of the campaign, but people who believe that blacks, Muslims, Latinos and other minority groups are inherently inferior to them could not blame their sense of losing ground on people they are supposedly superior to. So they latched onto ancient theories that the all-powerful, ever-destructive Jew was pulling the strings and orchestrating “white genocide.”
How has your experience of the last year influenced your own Jewish identity?
During the onslaught of anti-Semitic attacks on Twitter [after Weisman tweeted out an anti-Trump op-ed in The Washington Post], I used to joke that somehow I had become Spokesman for the Jews, a funny position considering I have not been particularly observant. I’m still not a consistent synagogue-goer, though I am trying to attend more services, and as I say in my book, too many Jews see observance of a Jewish identity as synonymous with obsessing over Israel. I very consciously do not do that. But no doubt, my Jewish identity — heightened at first by others — is now more a part of me after all of these experiences.
What’s your advice for the American Jewish community to fight the pervasive hatred?
Stop obsessing about Israel. Start looking around at what is happening in your own country. Reach out to Muslim groups, immigrant groups, civil rights groups. Use the muscle, know-how and resources of the Jewish community to thwart the rise of this new Internet-savvy hate.