Anti-Semitism and Anti-Black racism both advance white supremacy

Funders need smarter strategies for combating hate.

Written by: Jeanné Lewis, Timi Gerson

Date: November 15, 2018

Last month, our communities came under physical attack again.

The president sent more than 5,000 troops threatening state-sponsored violence against a caravan of Central American refugees seeking political asylum.

Two Black senior citizens, Maurice Stallard and Vickie Jones, were murdered in cold blood in a grocery store in Kentucky.

A shooter screaming “all Jews must die” killed 11 elderly Jewish congregants at a synagogue in Pittsburgh.

The men who perpetrated this violence are very clear on the connection between these acts. The question progressive movements and funders need to ask ourselves moving forward is: Are we?

White supremacists have a twisted worldview, deftly laid out by Eric Ward of NCRP member group Western States Center in an article last year, in which “anti-Semitism forms the theoretical core of white nationalism.”

Racism, xenophobia and anti-Semitism are not separate strands of hatred for these ethno-nationalists, but rather deeply intertwined and mutually reinforcing. So too must be our strategies for combating it.

Some in our communities have always understood that our safety lies in solidarity. Ancient rabbis in the Babylonian Talmud (Gittin 61a) taught: “We sustain the non-Jewish poor with the Jewish poor, visit the non-Jewish sick with the Jewish sick, and bury the non-Jewish dead with the Jewish dead, for the sake of peace.”

Thousands of years later, Black civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer put it more succinctly: “Nobody’s free until everybody’s free.”

Our practice, however, too often fails to act on this communal knowledge.

It is vanishingly rare to find a mention of anti-Semitism, much less a discussion of the intersection of it with anti-Black racism and xenophobia, in progressive philanthropic spaces (Kudos to the Women Donors Network for hosting a sadly prescient session on this topic last week at their conference in Seattle).

Anti-Semitism does not fit neatly into American narratives around oppression. And very little has been done by most people who would otherwise consider themselves social justice-minded activists or funders to understand it.

Part of the complexity is the small gain towards attaining “whiteness” that the majority of the U.S. Jewish community has been able to make in the last few decades.

The fact that state-sponsored protection in the form of extra police was extended to Jewish synagogues and schools contrasts markedly with the response to attacks on Black churches.

Regardless of whether you believe police protection is useful or desirable, it bears noting that Black churches were not offered it despite the historic and present trend of white supremacist violence where African-Americans gather to worship.

This kind of disparity perpetuates nominal divides between two communities that are facing threats connected at the root.

So too do scandals that seek to obfuscate the difference between the real violent threat of white supremacists compared to the ignorance reflected in anti-Semitic and anti-Black comments that occasionally rears its ugly head in both communities.

We do not believe that this happens by oversight or accident. Rather these divisive tactics are expressly designed to strengthen white supremacy by distracting us from our shared values and goals, and obscuring the clear and present danger represented by the white nationalist movement.

Philanthropy has a role to play in navigating this dynamic. Don’t use your power to re-entrench divisions.

Instead leverage your power to deepen your analysis and educate others about the connection between anti-Semitism and anti-Black racism.

Instead of excluding groups who are mostly values aligned, but may be ignorant about this connection, make space to wrestle with hard history towards joint action. It is our hope that with these terrible massacres, we are motivated to search our blind spots and expose them to the light.

To learn (through resources such as this Jews for Racial and Economic Justice toolkit or National Coalition Building Institute), to dialogue and, more than anything else, to act in ways that reflect a newfound understanding of what this moment in our history demands of us.

Photo by Governor Tom Wolf. Used under Creative Commons license.