I am a Jew born in 1937 in Nazi Germany. My father spent time in a concentration camp, but my parents and I narrowly escaped the Holocaust, which decimated my mother’s side of our family. Over the years, I have (voluntarily) become estranged from the Jewish community. This is partly a consequence of my lifelong atheism and my long-term marriage to a non-Jew, but especially because of my keen support for the Palestinian people. Given these realities, I was surprised by my intense reaction to last week’s massacre of Jews in the Pittsburgh synagogue. This horrible event evoked both my childhood fear of Hitler and my long-repressed sorrow about being alienated from the Jewish community in which I grew up. It also made me think about the relationship between hatred of Jews and authoritarian capitalism.
There is a deep tension between capitalism and democracy because genuine democracy perpetually threatens the great privileges of property on which capitalist economic systems rely (see “Democracy in Chains” by Nancy MacLean, 2017). Capitalism also induces repeated economic crises which, if sufficiently severe, can foment authoritarian political rule of which classical fascism is an important (but not the only) example.
Donald Trump is not a classical fascist. But Trump’s racism, misogyny, xenophobia, personal rudeness and complete lack of compassion generate extreme polarization and violence, which are profoundly disruptive to viable democracy. For these reasons, I hold Donald Trump at least partly responsible for the synagogue massacre. While it is important not to idealize United States democracy, it is equally imperative to acknowledge its genuine merits — including civil liberties and freedom from fear — and protect these from erosion.
When a capitalist society experiences an economic crisis, hatred of Jews accelerates and the Jewish community becomes increasingly vulnerable. This bigotry has a variety of causes, but a crucial factor is that anti-Semitism provides a politically viable substitute for antagonism to the capitalist class and capitalist economic relations. Jews provide a feasible target for the distress caused by economic crisis because we are reputed to be powerful, unified, selfish and not truly native. In the United States, this mythology is bolstered by the relative prosperity of the Jewish community, the presence of Jews among the capitalist elite, the prominence of Jews in entertainment and higher education, and by relentless U.S. support for the state of Israel.
U.S. patronage for the state of Israel is certainly promoted by the so-called Israel Lobby which is anchored in the Jewish community. But it also has other major causes, including the assistance Israel supplies to U.S. imperialism and its role as both a customer of and a partner with the U.S. military-industrial complex. In addition, the lock-step U.S. alliance with Israel is espoused by many Christian fundamentalists who link Jewish control of the “holy land” with a forthcoming Christian apocalypse.
While anti-Semitic crimes like the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre activate my residual Jewish identity, they also galvanize my disappointments with contemporary Jewish culture. Perhaps naively, I associated my childhood Jewish community with rationalism, respect for learning, progressive social values and tolerance for all humans. These ideals appear to be significantly curtailed within current communities of the Jewish mainstream. I think the main culprit for this unfortunate retrogression is obsessive support for the state of Israel irrespective of whatever atrocious deeds it may commit. I mourn this evident retreat from the values that characterized the imagined community of my childhood.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.