Op-Ed: SAFE, don't fall for Spencer's trap

Monday, February 5, 2018 - 4:46pm

Richard Spencer is the country’s leading white supremacist. Students Allied for Freedom and Equality is a Michigan student group that “seeks to advance the causes of freedom, justice, human rights and equality for all peoples.” The group has made the prevention of Spencer from ever setting foot on campus a high priority; its Facebook profile picture proudly declares #StopSpencer “Because you don’t negotiate with Nazis.”  

So you can understand our shock when we discovered that SAFE was hosting a teach-in touting the views of Richard Spencer. That’s right. The very organization that has vociferously opposed Spencer and his odious views believes he is worth listening to on a single subject: Israel

The teach-in, titled “Richard Spencer, Anti-Semite and Zionist: Israel & The Far Right,” promises to “explore the Far Right’s affinity for the State of Israel, investigating how Israel has become a paradigmatic ethnostate for white supremacists like Richard Spencer.” Is there anything to this claim? Do alt-right racists like Spencer indeed have a special affinity for the Jewish state?

To hear Spencer tell it, yes.

“You could say that I am a white Zionist,” he said to an Israeli interviewer this past August, “in the sense that I care about my people. I want us to have a secure homeland that’s for us and ourselves just like you want a secure homeland in Israel.”

In other words: Just as the Jewish people care about protecting themselves in Israel, so too does Spencer and his band of white nationalists care about protecting the interests of his “people.” White people.

Do you get what he’s doing here? He is twisting the meaning and history of the Zionist idea — a homeland for a people oppressed, dispossessed and decimated — in order to further his own vision for a white ethnostate. Not a people with a shared religion and culture, but humans who happen to have the same skin color. And who certainly haven’t been oppressed or murdered for their religion.

Don’t listen to us, listen to the Southern Poverty Law Center: “Such historical comparisons show how desperate Spencer is to legitimize his agenda. After all, if white people are dispossessed, why shouldn’t they get a homeland, too? The problem, of course, is that white Americans have not been dispossessed, no matter how often that claim is made by ideologues of the racist right.” In the same interview with Israel’s Channel 2 in which he calls himself a white Zionist, Spencer said: “Jews have been vastly overrepresented in the left right now, vastly overrepresented in what you could call the establishment that is Ivy League-educated people who determine policy. White people are being dispossessed from this country.” 

Spencer’s words drip with the venom familiar in classic anti-Semitic works like the “Protocols of The Elders of Zion.” His ideas should be condemned for the prejudiced nonsense that they are, not more closely examined for nuggets that happen to lend themselves to an anti-Zionist narrative.

And that narrative is built on lies that ignore fundamental truths about Israel and the people who call it home. Some facts SAFE might want to consider: Israel is home to Black and brown Jews from countries including Ethiopia, Eritrea, Libya, Yemen and Syria. About 20 percent of the Israeli population is Arab. Judaism has never had a race requirement: Moses, our religion’s most important prophet, married a Black woman. The idea that we even have to point out such obvious truths is painful.

It is especially so during a moment in which Jews in this country are being attacked by the likes of Spencer.

Our American Jewish community has been under attack by the alt-right movement. At the deadly rally in Charlottesville, Spencer and his fellow marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us” and “Blood and soil,” a traditional Nazi cry. So when we heard that Spencer would not be speaking on campus this semester, we were relieved. Now, this event brings Spencer’s vile rhetoric and ideas to the forefront of the conversation.

By clothing anti-Semitism in the trendy garb of open dialogue, discussion or a teach-in, SAFE is falling for Spencer’s scheme and elevating an unapologetic anti-Semite. His prerogative is to infect as many people as possible with his racist conception of the world. By giving his words weight, SAFE is accomplishing just that. When you are resorting to parroting the words of a neo-Nazi to promote your political agenda, you’ve lost.

SAFE’s upcoming event serves as an example of how anti-Semitism has seeped into the language of progressive circles. On Tuesday night, we will be hosting an event called “Equating Zionism with Nazism: A Modern Form of Anti-Semitism,” at which we will hear Heidi Budaj, the Michigan regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, discuss ways in which anti-Semitism is expressed today. We invite all those who are interested in learning about this tough issue to join us at 9:00 p.m. in 1230 Weill Hall, in the Ford School of Public Policy.

Suzy Weiss, Gaby Roth and Sarah Parkes are LSA seniors.