During the height of the presidential campaign in May 2016, Jonathan Weisman, the deputy Washington editor of The New York Times, retweeted a quote from an article by Robert Kagan, a neoconservative at the Brookings Institute. Kagan’s article examined the rise of fascism in the United States, connecting it to a rise in the popularity of Donald Trump.
Within minutes Weisman received a message on his Twitter account with punctuation he had never seen before: “Hello, (((Weisman))).” The handle of the writer was CyberTrump.
When Weisman replied, “Care to explain?” CyberTrump responded: “It’s a dog whistle, fool. Belling the cat for my fellow goyim.”
The firestorm that ensued — a barrage of virulent and violent anti-Semitic messages and graphic images from anonymous trollers— is chronicled in Weisman’s book “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump” (St. Martin’s Press, 2018).
Weisman, who will be speaking at Congregation Beth Shalom on Wednesday, May 15, at 7:30 p.m., became one of many American Jewish journalists targeted by the alt-right with anti-Semitic slurs and threats, the triple parentheses serving as way for like-minded bigots to find those Jews online.
His book, which examines the rise of the alt-right and the resurgence of anti-Semitism across America, was published several months prior to the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue building, and a year prior to the attack at the Chabad of Poway, both allegedly perpetrated by men with white supremacist ideologies.
Since his book came out, “things have gotten a lot worse, and a lot more complicated,” because of the rise of anti-Semitism on the political left as well, Weisman said in a phone interview.
While he did discuss left-wing anti-Semitism in his book, his focus primarily was on Europe — including Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party, and activism in France — which he described as a “kind of Islamist version of anti-Semitism.”
“At that time, I really did believe that in the United States the anti-Semitism of the left was somewhat overstated,” he said. “And I still believe that white nationalist bigotry is the more clear and present danger because it is clearly violent, it is clearly murderous, and we have seen the results. But I will not dismiss the significance of anti-Semitic sentiment brewing on the left.”
Still, Weisman maintains that while the anti-Semitic tropes being espoused by some Democratic members of Congress, including Rep. Ilhan Omar, and the recent inflammatory cartoon in the international edition of the New York Times, depicting Benjamin Netanyahu as a dog, are “unsettling,” left-wing anti-Semitism is not as dangerous as “white nationalist hatred, because they keep killing us.”
In his book, he takes to task mainline Jewish organizations for failing to clearly speak out against white nationalist bigotry.
“What is amazing is [mainline Jewish organizations] have been willing to speak out so prominently against Ilhan Omar, or right now, this controversy with The New York Times’ obviously anti-Semitic cartoon that was published last week in the international New York Times,” Weisman said. “But the outspokenness the American Jewish Committee is having right now over the Ilhan Omar controversy and over this cartoon just points out how silent they’ve been on the rise of white nationalism and white supremacy. It’s weird to me.”
An allegiance to Trump could be what prevents those organizations from speaking out, Weisman surmised, but having Republican sensibilities should not preclude the unambiguous condemnation of right-wing hate.
“They believe that speaking out against right-wing anti-Semitism, against right-wing bigotry is somehow to tar Donald Trump,” he said. “I don’t actually believe that that’s the case. I think there are obviously clear voices against our drift toward authoritarian intolerance coming from the right — coming from people like Bill Kristol and [the late] Charles Krauthammer and Bret Stephens — that show you don’t have to be a liberal advocate or activist to speak out against right-wing bigotry. But somehow, for some reason, this is considered controversial. And it mystifies me.”
Standing up against white nationalist hatred “should not be a call for liberal political activism,” he stressed. “It should not be a call for partisanship. This is about standing up for American values that everyone should stand up for. I just want people to stop weaponizing anti-Semitism and start uniting across the notion that bigotry in all its forms needs to be confronted.”
The attack at the Tree of Life synagogue building did not come as a surprise to Weisman.
“When the Tree of Life happened, I thought this was an inevitable thing,” he said. “I was surprised how shocked people were. I knew that the combination of the ideology of white genocide and the prevalence of guns in this society would ultimately yield a white supremacist mass shooting.
“And because we as a society have not decided how to deal with rising white supremacy, it doesn’t surprise me that it’s happened again,” he continued. “It is the same impulse that drove the shooter in New Zealand as well. And the shooter in Poway, California — I read his manifesto and he’s calling for more shootings. And I don’t believe it’s going to end until we somehow we can confront it.”
Until it is confronted, and stopped, Weisman supports Jewish institutions taking serious measures to protect their own safety.
“I hate to say it, but my own synagogue in Washington has an armed guard, and when we send our kids there I want them protected,” he said. “Of course I don’t wish for houses of worship to become armed fortresses. I don’t want that. But I could never put at risk the congregants and the children that are going to these places, or say that the presence of armed guards is somehow unhelpful or unwelcoming. We have to do what we have to do.” pjc
Toby Tabachnick can be reached at