“Screw the Optics:” Thoughts on the Pittsburgh Shooting

Last Saturday, watching the breaking news of the shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, I reached a point where I just had to cut it off, it was dragging on me, and with the “breaking news” essentially over, I decided I could wait for the details, without being under the cloud that the news brought with it.  Getting the details later hardly helped.  The shooter, Robert Bowers, 46, was simply a hate filled nut.  But then again, it wasn’t that simple at all, since his level of hate seems to be off the charts.  Posting on social media before the shooting, he wrote, “Screw the optics, I’m going in.”  Then apparently he did just that, seemingly getting up from the computer, grabbing his guns, and shooting up Saturday morning services, shouting, “All Jews must die!”

Eleven dead, six wounded.

I’ve written about the inanity of anti-Semitism before, again noting that of all of the various hates, bigotries, and prejudices of mankind, anti-Semitism seems to be the most obsessive.  Maybe that’s why I find it so difficult to understand.  Having few obsessions myself, it’s hard to put myself in the place of someone who can literally think of just one thing, all day, every day, and apply that obsession to every single situation.

Given the various websites and forums that I visit, I decided to visit one that I knew had its fair share of anti-Semites to gauge the reaction to the shooting.  What was I expecting?  Not what I got.  On one site (I won’t identify it) there is a regularly anti-Semitic poster who’s every post was, no matter the topic, was something-something Jews.  Given that, I had long ago learned to skip his posts because of his single minded obsession.  But this time…

Well he didn’t disappoint. His reaction (and I’m paraphrasing here) was, maybe this will wake up the normies as to why Jews are being targeted.  Maybe there’s a good reason…

That is so over the topic Bonkers that it might well put him in Bowers territory.  The idea that the shooting might be a good opening conversation starter for why Jews should be shot is in a territory of hatred all its own, and seems to be the exclusive domain of the anti-Semite.  Sure, there are plenty of people who hate other groups of people.  That fuels half the wars in undeveloped world, but even the Hutus had reasons (to them) to genocide the Tutsi; or the Serbs and the Croatians.  Maybe not good reasons and certainly not reasons that could justify what they did, but there were at least a track record of grievances.

What grievance did Bowers have against Jews?  I suspect we’ll learn a lot about his motivations in the coming weeks.  Clearly he has a story to tell, but I suspect that in the end, we’ll still not understand a thing as to what drove him to mass murder.

In human experience, anti-Semitism seems to be its own thing.  There isn’t a human bigotry, prejudice, or hatred that comes close.  It’s a bizarre mind virus having to do with a specific group of people.  And I suspect I’ll never have an understanding of it.

 

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The Alt Right and the Jews

Created by Donald's Apotheosis

Created by Donald’s Apotheosis

Hillary Clinton’s denunciation of the Alt Right brought up many questions among her supporters, such as “What is the alt right?”  In fact, it’s not a numerically significant part of the US population nor is it a faction of the Republican Party, like the Tea Party, or Neo-Cons are (or maybe were).  So it’s curious that Clinton would try to frame her real purpose this way, since the real purpose of the speech was to denounce Trump and his supporters as racist.  In fact, the Democratic candidate calling the Republican candidate and his supporters racists is probably the most normal thing that’s happened in this campaign so far.  I’m sure a lot of pundits breathed a sigh of relief that at least this was a normal and predictable thing in political campaigns.

But the idea of using the term alt right into a major speech and make it the major focus seems odd since virtually no one outside of political junkies would even know what that term means. My guess is just like her opponent; Hillary has a bit of the conspiracy theorist in her.  Remember the vast right wing conspiracy?  So trying to pin a small but very internet active group as the real brains behind the Trump campaign may appeal to her sense of sinister unseen forces plotting against the Clinton machine.

I could write multiple posts on the Alt Right but for the uninitiated, Breitbart published a pretty good summary a few months ago here and due to recent interest, there have been several others that have popped up, including this one. The gist, and why it defies easy summary, is because it’s not one group but multiple groups with differing interests, goals, and agendas.  Basically it’s all kinds of right leaning groups that are outside mainstream conservatism and because of that, with no party to call home or realistic political agenda, they’re not really politically active, although they are certainly internet active.  So Hillary, in her tinfoil hat wearing way, is totally wrong that they are pulling the strings on puppet Trump.  And she’s wrong that they nothing but relabeled KKK or Nazi’s.

But not totally wrong.

There are racists and anti-Semites within the Alt Right and that could also generate multiple posts, but for now I want to concentrate on the anti-Semitic elements.  A few days ago a Jewish alt right blog was started (yes, there are Jews in the Alt Right) that in its commenting FAQ had very specific instructions in dealing with anti Semitic comments.  Frankly, I’d never seen or heard of such a thing before, but hey, it is the internet, so it’s probably a good idea that if you are Jewish writing for an audience in which a certain percentage are likely to not like Jews, maybe some guidelines are in order.  In the Instructions for Comment Registration, it defined antisemitism as:

“… defined by this blog as anyone obsessed with the idea Jews are an unassimilated minority which has significantly different ethnic, religious, or cultural objectives and political motives from those of other elite whites.”

Somehow I don’t think I would meet the definition of “elite white.”

“The position of this blog is that Jews are a highly assimilated white ethnic group that does not significantly differ in its positions or motivations from other elite whites, and that the nature of the points where there are differences are largely cosmetic.”

I think that’s probably a pretty good working definition of anti-Semitism as any I’ve come across.  And I would agree that in the United States, Jews are a highly assimilated white ethnic group; too assimilated for some Jewish leaders when you consider the non Orthodox Jewish intermarriage rate is an astounding 71%.

And for that and many other reasons, I find anti-Semitism one of the most difficult bigotries to understand.

When I first started commenting and posting about politics on internet forums, I noticed the preponderance of anti-Semitism came from the left. Jews have come a long way from Holocaust victims to Palestinian oppressors, but that is basically how the left views Jews; through the lens of Israel.  The left, and particularly the American left, loves an underdog and in the post World War II era, that described the Jews to a tee. But the very success of Israel moved Jews from the underdog/victim category to oppressor category (for the left, there is no in-between).  Suddenly, the Palestinians became the victims, and their decades long terrorist war against the Israel supporting nations in general and Israel in particular suddenly became the war of a freedom fighter.  Leftist Jews in the US usually continued to be leftist with the exception of the Israel question.  For non Jews, more and more part and parcel of leftist ideology was the goal of eliminating Israel as a Jewish state, either through integration of the Palestinian territories into Israel proper and letting democracy finish the job, or…some other way.

But leftist anti-Semitism was really the only type of anti-Semitism that I’ve had any knowledge of.  I knew historically, there was an anti-Semitic Right; Jews were kept out of WASP country clubs and so forth, but I was blind to a contemporary one.  A lot of that has to do with my own upbringing.  Raised in the evangelical South, Jews were God’s chosen people. With very few actual Jews in the South but lots of Bibles, the idea of what a Jew is came from the Bible and evangelical interpretations of it.  So if you’re an evangelical Christian, you have a duty to love God’s chosen people.

Polling bears that out.  A poll of how various religious groups rate each other reveals that Jews are rated more positively by white evangelical Christians than any other group (excluding Jews themselves of course).  You won’t be surprised to learn that the feeling isn’t mutual.  The same poll shows that Jews rate white evangelical Christians the lowest of all polled religious groups, slightly below Muslims who are trying to kill them on a daily basis.  For the evangelical Christian, that’s OK since Christian love doesn’t require reciprocation.  But the sweet irony of that does mean that evangelical Christians, who became a potent political force in the Republican Party during the 1980’s under Ronald Reagan, helped finish the job that William F. Buckley started in the early 1960’s, by not only clearing the Republican Party of any trace of anti-Semitism, but go a few steps further and install a pro Israel right or wrong plank as key to Republican foreign policy.

But the alt Right is a different animal from the typical church going Republican. There are alt Right factions that are pretty openly hostile to Jews.  Their anti-Semitism is more an old fashioned version in which Jews are part of some conspiracy to destroy Christianity/Western Civilization/White People/Fill-In-The-Blank.  Those anti Semitic factions view immigration as part of some Jewish plot to destroy the country.

It’s so absurd that it’s hard to understand how anyone could take seriously the idea that Jews, as Jews, have some big goal to open the borders to “get” the non Jews. Many Jews support open borders because they’re liberal, not because they’re Jews. It doesn’t even pass the logic test. Why would Jews want to fill up a country they live in with anti-Semitic middle easterners? Think how difficult Jewish life has gotten in places like France.  Who would plan to import millions of people who want to kill you into their country?  Now Jews are fleeing France because of the view the terrorist threat there has made the entire country unsafe for them.

Great plan Jews.

Numerically, I don’t think Anti-Semitism is any great threat (at least in the United States) to Jews, although it’s interesting to note that according the FBI, the largest group of religious bias crimes are against…you guessed it, the Jews; with 56.8% of religious bias crimes against Jews. Jews punching above their weight again!  But Anti-Semitism is real thing, and where it exists on the Right, it is along the ridges and contours of the Alt Right.

 

 

No Moderates in Palestine

I don’t think I’ve written specifically on the Israeli-Palestinian permanent crisis before; mostly because I just don’t have the background on the various agreements, history, and grievances that make this continuing conflict such a stain on the planet.  But as the latest Gaza War winds down, I’ve learned a few lessons that make it a lot easier to know which side to be on.

I’ve been on a web forum for politics for several years now that has an international flavor; there are posters from all over the world who show up to lodge their opinions.  So the Gaza conflict naturally brought out people from all over the world to post their opinions, which, it’s no surprise, were almost uniformly anti-Israeli.  Actually, I’m being kind by referring to the comments as “anti-Israel.”  The real basis of it is good old fashioned anti Semitism.

That’s one of the sad things I’ve learned about the world.  When I first started posting on this particular political forum, I was shocked by the amount of casual anti Semitism that was on display.  That was something that was rarely seen on American political web boards.  Or at least not that I’ve seen. But it really brought into focus one of those issues that confound students of history; namely, how could a civilized nation like Germany fall to such depths that it operated extermination camps for the purpose of mass murder of the Jews?  After a few months on that board, the real question is why aren’t those camps up and running now, considering the depth of hatred that currently exist all over the world for Jews?  It seems that outside of the United States (and I recognize that a slice of internet commentary isn’t the “real world”) that despite the various ranges of language, culture, class, ethnicity, and politics, the world is united in it’s antipathy for the Jews.

So during the Gaza conflict, I was enjoying a discussion thread with a Jordanian who, based on previous postings, was not in any sense, a fanatic. So I thought it would be enjoyable and enlightening to discuss the pros and cons.  I admitted that I didn’t know every in and out of the conflict, but of the two combatants, one was clearly representing civilization, and one was representing barbarity, so in a world of limited information, I’m on the side of civilization.

It was enlightening anyway.

One of the problems in discussing this issue is that the pro-Palestinian side is never honest about their endgame.  I’ve heard from foreign policy experts, diplomats, and pundits that everyone knows what peace will look like:  A two state solution.  The problem is that only one side really believes in a two state solution.  That was the case for this Jordanian, who after saying he supported a two state solution, ended up opposing the best two state solution, the original UN Partition Plan for Palestine, and the second best one, which was the Camp David Summit that took place in 2000 under Bill Clinton where he got Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat to hammer out an agreement that Arafat ultimately rejected.

My Jordanian friend explained that the Camp David agreement would only provide 92% of the West Bank, therefore was unacceptable.  I thought 92% was pretty good terms for the losing side.  And that’s what the Palestinians and their apologists don’t seem to get.  They not only lost the war at the partition and the declaration of Israel’s independence, they’ve lost every single war since then.  Of course, if they had won even one, Israel would no longer exist and it’s likely they’re would be a scarcity of Jews in the area.  For Israel, every war is an existential one.

But losing sides don’t dictate terms, they accept them.  Every other side that has been on the losing end of a war they started and lost territory; at least understands why they lost the territory.  Does Germany get to claim the Sudetenland or Danzig (now Polish Gdansk) back from the war they started and lost?  Nope.  Nor would the world tolerate ethnic Germans living in UN financed refugee camps in 2014 for a war they lost in 1945, whining to get those territories back. Germany makes a good example for another reason:  The Arabs sided with the Nazi’s during World War II.  There are no spoils of war for the losers.

The Palestinians have lost their war and don’t know it. Every other people who get defeated in war and lose territory…don’t get it back. The Mexicans are not getting the Southwest back. Nor were the Mexicans living on the US side of the border put in refugee camps for decades. They either became Americans or left for Mexico. Look how many times the borders of Europe have been changed due to war just in the past century. The losers don’t get do overs. Is the Ukraine getting The Crimea back? Nope. If the entire world was as crazy as the Palestinians, sitting in their refugee camps decade after decade, human life would be extinct. We would have nuked each other over and over until there wasn’t a human left. They should either accept the borders they have and declare themselves an independent state, or pack up and try to find a country to accept them. I don’t understand the entire world having to revolve around the genocidal ambitions of the Palestinians. There doesn’t seem a logical reason for it, unless  virulent anti-Semitism counts as a reason.

If Israel isn’t legitimate than none of the Arab states are since they were all drawn up the same way, on the drawing board of Europe.  And my Jordanian debater?  He eventually admitted that the real occupied territories are the ones Israel took with them on independence.  In other words, the entire state of Israel is an occupation.  So you can see, there is no room ever for compromise in the Arab mind.  The hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who live in refugee camps are not refugees from the West Bank, they are “refugees” from Israel, and their intention is to return home when there is no longer an Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu scored a good talking point in Western media when he said, “We are using missile defense to protect our civilians, and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”  That’s the civilized side and that’s the side I’m on.