From Pittsburgh to Berlin

Campaigning against anti-Semitism. Berlin, September 2018.

Swap the AfD for hummus,” read the placards.  Carried by Jews protesting the formation of the appropriately named Juden in der AfD – (‘Jews in Alternative for Germany’) the satirical statement was an appropriate response to the formation of a Jewish auxiliary of an anti-Semitic party.

A Jewish fascist anti-Semitic party? The rationales provided by JAFD members for the group’s formation made little sense.

“I am a Jewish member of the AFD because anti-Semitism is growing with the Islamization of our nation, and Jewish life is in danger,” Russian born-founding member Dimitri Schulz told Fox News.

Anti-Israeli, maybe, but that was old news, especially on the far left. Anti-immigrant, as evinced by the AfD’s own popularity, for sure. Islamization? Check out the opinion polls. Perhaps Schulz hadn’t read the fine print closely enough and mistook Islam for Islamophobic.

The kicker, however, was his defence of the AfD for campaigning to ban kosher and halal ritual slaughter (shekhita, in Hebrew). “Painfully killing animals is not kosher,” he said, unaware that the ritual of Jewish religious slaughter is central to kashrut.

Equally embarrassing, Schulz showed no awareness that Hitler banned shekhita in 1933, ostensibly to promote animal welfare. Or that the AfD is campaigning to ban another Jewish practice – circumcision – because, according to its 2016 manifesto, it seriously “violates human rights.”

Even though, lest we forget, the Nazis used circumcision as a pretext to violate Jewish human rights, by using it as a visual signifier to round up Jewish men for extermination.

But, of course, the truth is always relative. And so is history. If you want to pretend that the Third Reich was a vegan utopia and that nationalism promotes multiculturalism, Judaism is, well, what you want it to be. Never mind the people killed because of its arcane beliefs and rituals. They’ve never been progressive enough for fascism’s superior morality anyway.

Hence, the appropriateness of the protestors preferences for hummus. So ridiculous and nonsensical are the justifications for a Jewish wing of Alternative fur Deutschland that only a typically Arab dish, one particularly associated with Palestinian Arab culture, the pinnacle of anti-Semitism to uneducated right-wing Ashkenazi Jews, would suffice as its replacement.

One can only imagine the amount of head scratching that must have taken place this last weekend when confronted by the worst incidence of anti-Jewish violence in American history, carried out by a local Nazi – apparently not Jewish, either –  Schulz and his far-right comrades in the JAFD must have had a very bad day.

They could argue that it wasn’t, in fact, an anti-Semitic act, because the killer was protesting the pro-Muslim politics of the dead Jews in question. Not, of course, the fact that they were indeed Jewish, and their assassin, a self-identified white nationalist. Nor that Robert Bowers had a long history of deriding Jews, independent of the refugee advocacy of the congregation he attacked.

This is the fundamental dilemma confronted by fascist Jews. Their politics are, to use the language of the Jewish right, self-hating, lacking the requisite cultural self-esteem or patriotism required for self-preservation. Traditionally assigned to Jews on the left, often critical of Israeli government policy, the term is rarely used, but perhaps more valuable, when framed in terms of actually existing anti-Semitism – that of today’s far-right and its 20th-century antecedents.

Often invoked to assail Jewish rightists in the United States, and Israel, such as GOP financier Sheldon Adelson and Premier Benjamin Netanyahu, who has made a point of sympathising with European fascists such as Hungary’s Viktor Orban, the rise of the JAFD is in keeping with the conservative zeitgeist. It is a contemporary event in a modern democracy with corollaries throughout the West. German Jews should not be exempt, in spite of their tragic history.

But what isn’t immediately obvious, and should be, is that groups like the JAFD exist in spite of the continued antipathy of fascists towards Jews. Not only is the situation the same as it was during the Holocaust, but it remains so in spite of the attempt of Jewish rights to claim a place at the fascist table. No matter what nationalist prejudices we might share with Nazis, and how Israeli mistreatment of the Palestinians might inspire them, fascists still prefer our demise.

Even though fascism has an ethnicity to it – one that remains largely white and Central European – it will always attract anti-democratic minorities who wrongly believe it will somehow empower them. If only they could be convinced otherwise. A near century of Nazi anti-Semitism, from Berlin to Pittsburgh, remains sadly unpersuasive. Groups like the JAFD ignore their complicity in its transgressions.

This is where the shock over the formation of a Jewish organisation, proclaiming allegiance to a German fascist party, remains valid. Even though it is consistent with the rightwards trend in Western politics, it glosses over the Nazi genocide against the Jewish people. That’s where the proximity of the Pittsburgh massacre ought to be instructive, not just in terms of the racism of American fascism, but the challenge it poses to post-war German politics, as well.

Photograph courtesy of the author. All rights reserved.