In Trump's America, the Jewish High Holidays Mean Waiting for the Next Synagogue Attack | Opinion

I attend Rosh Hashanah services every year. This year was different. I kept looking over my shoulder during the service, holding my breath, waiting for an attack that thankfully never came. These are the first High Holidays American Jews are celebrating since the Pittsburgh shootings, and the pain and fear are still fresh.

We have reason to be afraid: anti-Semitism is real and continues to rise in frequency and magnitude alike. Yet despite the insistence of Jewish institutions and high-profile centrist Jewish journalists that the threat facing American Jews is coming from "both sides," I had no anxiety about a campus BDS activist or Muslim congresswoman walking into my synagogue and opening fire. The attack I feared—the attacks that have already devastated our community and others'— is coming from white nationalists who have been emboldened and embraced by right-wing media and the Republican Party.

No political party or movement has a monopoly on anti-Semitism—just as no party or movement has a monopoly on racism or misogyny—but only one political party is actually inciting lethal violence against Jews in this country. And yet, despite the clear origin of lethal anti-Semitism, from Pittsburgh to Poway, there's disproportionate media attention paid to accusations of anti-Semitism directed at progressive women of color. This isn't an accident. It's part of a concerted effort from the GOP to paint Democrats as the party of infanticiders, socialists, and anti-Semites. It's working.

The effectiveness of the strategy to use Jews against the party the vast majority of us vote for is bolstered by the thrumming of "both sides." 75-80 percent of American Jews vote Democrat, a data point that informs most institutional Jewish leaders not to speak to the majority of their audience, but to overcompensate in an effort to include that 20-25 percent.

The result of this oversimplified analysis of anti-Semitism is the idea that anti-Semitism is overt and violent on the Right but quiet, insidious, and increasingly welcome on the Left. Here's the thing: that argument does not accurately reflect the fact that—in addition to right-wing violence—the insidious, permitted anti-Semitism we're constantly told is rampant in far-left politics is, in fact, pervasive within the very establishment of the Republican Party. There's Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who read Mein Kampf aloud on the floor of Congress back in March. There's Senator Josh Hawley (R-MO), who gave a speech at a major conservative conference in which he accuses a "cosmopolitan elite" of trying to weaken the country. There's newly-elected Rep. Dan Bishop (R-NC), who was an early investor in Gab (the so-called free speech alternative to Twitter that somehow became especially popular among neo-Nazis and conspiracy theorists, and was frequented by the Pittsburgh shooter) and who associates with white nationalist hate groups. There's House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), who publicly accused George Soros, along with two other Jewish billionaires, of trying to buy the 2018 midterm elections, just one day after the FBI intercepted a bomb sent to Soros' home. There's Rep. Lee Zeldin, (R-NY), who is himself Jewish but who campaigned in 2018 with Sebastian Gorka—the literal member of a historically Nazi-affiliated Hungarian party! (Gorka denies having ever been a member; two former leaders disagree.) All of these incidents have not trended in national news the way coverage of accusations—some of which coming from the very same people named above—against Reps. Omar and Tlaib have. When called out for their anti-Semitism, people like Brooks and Hawley have lashed out, with the former chastising the Alabama Holocaust Commission with "forgetting history," and the latter citing his support for Israel as proof that he can't possibly be anti-Semitic.

Hawley's conflation of Jews and Israel is a position that's been bolstered by anti-Semites and mainstream Jewish institutions alike for decades, and it's contributed to a fundamental misunderstanding within both the Jewish community and nation at large about what anti-Semitism is: It is not rooted in criticism of Israel, a state that has only existed for seventy years, while Jews have been discriminated against for centuries; anti-Semitism serves to provide a simple explanation for power, inequality, and oppression. Ascribing inequality to a corrupt global Jewish cabal shields the larger system responsible for that inequality from blame, and stops people from interrogating why the system exists in the first place. We all want explanations for our suffering, whether that's the rise of anti-Jewish violence, why upward mobility has become unattainable, or why Black and Brown people can be killed by the state with impunity. People want to understand why, and "it's the Jews" is much more digestible answer than "centuries of patriarchy, Christian supremacy, and racist capitalism," all of which require immense long-term work to undo.

As newly-politicized people work to explain the contemporary contours of their oppression, they may very well find anti-Semitism compelling—after all, as Eric Ward has written, the Right doesn't create bias, it simply organizes the bias that's already there. There are few places one can go to learn why our society is so imbalanced, so racist, so oppressive, or why monopoly consolidation is so intense. There are very few places people can go to learn why bias against Jews so often gets so much more attention than bias against almost all other people. And there are very few places where discussions of anti-Semitism focus proportionately on white nationalism.

We know who wins when Jews are blamed for orchestrating inequality in the United States. We have to ask ourselves who wins when Muslims, Palestinians, and progressive women of color are blamed for the murder of American Jews. (The answer isn't hard: it's the same people.)

It's not that there is no anti-Semitism within some Muslim, people of color-led, or progressive political spaces. There is. And it's not like that there are no individuals who identify to one degree or another as Jewish and hold responsibility for and benefit from fundamental inequalities in this country. Highlighting inequality and undue, finance-driven influence politics is not anti-Semitic; the suggestion that discussing the role money holds in our political system is inherently anti-Jewish promotes the notion that Jews and money are inextricably bound to each other. But in an era where truth loses value daily, facts have to matter. We have to know tweeting song lyrics is not the same as inciting a mass murder. We have to know that far more media companies are owned by Christians than by Jews. We have to know just who might walk into our synagogues and kill us. We have to know if we are to fight for ourselves, our safety, our dignity—and that of our neighbors.

That's what Jews across the country are doing, right now, as we prepare ourselves not just for Yom Kippur but for the one-year anniversary of the Pittsburgh shooting, and for the presidential election that will decide the fate of our nation and our people. Jews against white nationalism are working—with organizations from IfNotNow to Bend the Arc, from The Jewish Vote in the North to Carolina Jews for Justice in the South—to expose and organize against the anti-Semitism that is killing us, providing our allies with opportunities to stand with Jews in the process. We won't be pitted against each other by a right-wing movement that seeks to appeal to Jews through Islamophobia and distract a multiracial working class from demanding true economic equity with the spectre of globalist (read: Jewish) power. We won't listen to the members of our own communities who traffic in this same ethno-nationalist fear-mongering either.

It's not just that we don't have to buy the lies; we simply cannot afford to. 5780 is the year we stop being tempted by conspiracy theories, and instead turn our attention to the source of our pain. That's how we win.

Sophie Ellman-Golan is the Director of a two-year offensive campaign against antisemitism and white nationalism in the Republican Party, and the former Director of Communications and Digital Outreach at Women's March and the co-creator of the Confront White Womanhood workshop.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own.​​​​​