Opinion | Trump's Attacks on Antifa Are Attacks on Jews
American Jews cannot
support Trump's 'war' on anti-fascism and his camp's conspiracy
theories about the 'hidden hand' behind legitimate protest and dissent
by Ari Paul
When Joel Feingold, a housing-rights organizer and editor, was arrested
for breaking curfew June 3 outside his Brooklyn home, he expected to be
interviewed by cops, as he had been a part of the anti-police racism
and brutality protests for most of that day. What he didn’t expect at
the 78th Precinct was to be interviewed by a federal agent about his
The questions about the politics of the protest movement were chilling.
Eventually, they told Feingold they just wanted him to help them find
out who was "hijacking" the movement. Feingold said nothing. "It had a
serious authoritarian feel," he told me in a phone interview. "Having a
federal agent asking about the politics of the situation felt
authoritarian. This is further evidence of the deepening
authoritarianism and flirtation with fascism of this government."
Feingold isn’t alone. As activist attorneys have reported, local and
federation agents have interrogated several arrested protesters about
their political inclinations, including what their stance is towards
The police interest in anti-fascism isn’t academic. It’s in lockstep
with the narrative being pushed by the White House. As the protests
triggered by the killing of George Floyd have raged, with as many as 11
protesters dead by police hands nationwide, President Donald Trump
announced he would designate Antifa – short for anti-fascist – as a
"domestic terrorist organization."
To start with, Trump’s statement about Antifa is absurd on multiple
levels. It isn’t clear he has the legal authority to do so. And Antifa
isn’t an organization, but a philosophy that guides anti-fascist street
organizing. Who is its leader? What is its structure? Where is it
based? How do you become a member? These questions have no answers
because there are none. But no matter: it's certainly filler for
Trump’s public statement about Antifa should be terrifying, as any
attempt to vilify anti-fascism by nature defends fascism a positive
thing. But picking on anti-fascists as the scapegoat and hidden hand of
the ongoing unrest is inherently anti-Semitic.
As the ADL reported, conspiracies about George Soros funding the unrest
abound on the anti-Semitic American far-right.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson, who serially expresses extreme
anti-immigrant views and flirtations with white nationalism, blasted
Trump for his inaction in response to the protests, blaming the White
House’s weakness on Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, the
administration’s most prominent Jew. Trump’s most recent of many
instances of overt anti-Semitism was his praise of the "good blood
lines" of Nazi-admirer, eugenicist and infamous anti-Semite Henry Ford.
Singling out "anti-fascism" as the prime villain in the ongoing
anti-police protests is unsettling by itself, bearing in mind least 11
protesters have died during the protests, and the Trump far-right
itself is linked to massacres like the Pittsburgh Tree of Life
synagogue shooting. No one can link Antifa to the death of a single
When the right vilifies Antifa, it should remind Jews of who actually
protects them when racists are on the streets. According to several
reports, during the infamous Charlottesville rally when white
nationalists shouted "Jews will not replace us," local cops refused to
protect a synagogue and several churches from potential violence.
Activists who identified with Antifa, however, did.
For many liberal and centrist Jews, that Antifa is unquestionably an
ideology that sits on the far left, together with images of anarchists
in masks marching directly toward columns of riot police, triggers
discomfort, if not skepticism. Prominent centrists try to play a
"plague on both your houses approach," denouncing both white
supremacist militias and Antifa in the same breath.
But, the vast majority of Jews oppose the kind of right-wing extremism
that in previous generations has put them in death camps. It might not
be taught sufficiently in American Hebrew schools, but fringe left
anti-fascist movements have been a defense for Jews when traditional
liberal governments have failed them.
As the National Lawyers Guild clarified in their denunciation of
Trump’s statement: "The term Antifa originates in the 1930s when
progressive activists organized to oppose far-right authoritarianism
emerging throughout the world…It is not clear who or what the targets
of a federal Antifa investigation would be, and whether such an effort
would be lawful."
And right-wing talk of outlawing Antifa often use at as a catch-all for
all left-wing politics. It’s an indication that the Trumpian right want
to outlaw – or at least vilify – all politics on the left side of the
center. Using such a broad brush when deciding who’s a terrorist should
care any one: If Jews were every looking for a "first for they came
for" moment, this is one.
Mark Bray, a Rutgers University historian and author of ANTIFA: An
Anti-Fascist Handbook, has noted that for much of the far-right, the
conspiracy theory about Antifa activists being paid by Soros rests on
the racist notion that black people could never organize themselves
without a puppet master behind them, and who else to pull those strings
but International Jewry.
"There would be no anti-fascism without fascism, and the politics that
anti-fascist groups developed realized that self-defense needs to be
taken seriously because of the horror that have been fascism and
Nazism," Bray told me in a phone interview.
"What much of Europe got wrong during the 20s and 30s was not taking
fascism and Nazism seriously until it was too late. Even among Jewish
communities was the idea that it wouldn’t get any worse, then the
unimaginable happened. If we’re serious about ‘Never Again,’ that
implies a constant vigilance, but it recognizes that self-defense needs
to be one of the tools at our disposal."
Jews do not suffer the kind of intense economic discrimination and
state violence that African-Americans do. But we are still within
living memory of how fascism in power treated us.
When Trump moves on so quickly from condemning looting to vilifying
anti-fascism and "leftist" protest, he is trying to do more than
playing to his base’s worst instincts: he is trying to turn cause and
effect upside down, to legitimize blaming the victim, to elevate
doublespeak, to demonize activism and to confuse the moral compass of
mainstream post-war politics that confronting fascism is a fundamental
And this is happening as authoritarian is rising quickly: Trump wanted
to use the Insurrection Act to militarily suppress the protests, and a
New York court has essentially suspended the constitutional right of
That’s why every Jew in America should oppose Trump’s attacks on
Ari Paul is a New York-based journalist
and has covered politics for the Nation, the Forward, the Guardian,
Jacobin and VICE News. Twitter: @aripaul