At the Women’s March on Washington, actress Ashley Judd made a speech which has since gone viral in liberal internet circles. In the speech, a slam poem written by a 19-year-old in Tennessee, Judd says she is a “nasty woman” — but “not as nasty as a swastika painted on a pride flag.” She “feels Hitler in these streets” and invokes “gas chambers” to describe conversion therapy. Judd ends on an uplifting note, saying that women of all religions are birthing “new generations of nasty women,” Christian, Muslim, Buddhist and Sikh alike. But despite invoking Nazism in blatant language, she does not mention Jews.
Do you see the problem here? Does the omission glare at you, too?
Judd is right about echoes existing between Nazi Germany and America’s current political situation. Those similarities are important to point out — and many left-wing individuals are doing so, rightly. But in post after post I’ve seen decrying Trump as a fascist, warning of the rise of actual neo-Nazism disguised as the “alt-right,” almost no one has mentioned Jews. They bemoan the dangers facing other marginalized groups — Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, LGBTQ individuals, the poor, sexual assault survivors, the list goes on and on — but somehow, despite the fact that they’re talking about Nazism, they never consider that maybe Jews are worried, too.
I understand why many people don’t think of Jews as a population in danger. In many ways, they’re right. President Trump has crafted no policy to target Jews, unlike his proposed wall on the Mexican border or his ban of Muslim refugees. Moreover, in the U.S., most Jews — specifically Ashkenazi Jews — are white, with accompanying privilege. That classification is relatively new, having arisen only in the past 70 years, but it is true all the same. In our everyday lives, we are not discriminated against the way Muslims are, the way African-Americans are, the way any person with dark skin is. I benefit from white privilege every time I walk down the street. I’m not afraid of policemen because I’m pale as a lily, and I can trust they won’t care about my faith.
But if you’re making the argument that Nazism is rising in America, you can’t act like that won’t affect Jews.
For all our privilege now, Ashkenazi Jews are also the population most deeply affected by Nazism. Most Jews have many relatives who died in the Holocaust, and that’s not even mentioning the literal millennia of persecution we faced beforehand. I don’t need to tell you Hitler killed six million Jews: you’ve had that number drilled into you already. But I don’t think non-Jews usually know that those six million were half of Europe’s entire Jewish population, and a third of all Jews worldwide. I don’t think most non-Jews understand what it feels like to know someone tried, and nearly succeeded, to exterminate your entire people. And I really, really don’t think non-Jews realize how terrified so many Jews are now that Nazism may be making a comeback, because if you realized that, I’d like to think you’d mention it.
And you’re not. Speeches like Judd’s at the Women’s March exploit the Holocaust for effect without acknowledging its catastrophic outcomes for the Jewish people. Posts condemn the alt-right’s Islamophobia without noting its intrinsic anti-Semitism. Articles discuss the rise in white nationalism without realizing Jews aren’t included in that vision, no matter our skin color. We stand on lines between the categories that fit everybody else: we are white but not to everyone, we are European except that Europe tried to kill us, we have privilege but we are not safe.
Anti-Semitism still exists today, and Ashkenazi Jews still rightly fear it. With a president who was elected with neo-Nazis’ and white nationalists’ support, we confront that bigotry more now than we have in decades. If Nazism is, in fact, rising again, Jews will be among the most endangered.
I’m not asking you to say Jews may be deported. We have no reason to think that’s true. Nor am I asking you to prioritize Jewish lives over the many others that need more protecting. But the next time you connect the Holocaust to America today, don’t just remember how it happened. Remember who it happened to: remember the Jews whom it meant to extinguish.
And if you think my plea doesn’t apply to you, ask yourself this. Between January 9 and 18, more than 40 Jewish Community Centers received bomb threats. I didn’t see a single one of my non-Jewish friends post about it; only one even mentioned it, a week later.
If the buildings threatened had been mosques, would you have cared?