Opinion: Violent White Supremacists Are Not A "Both Sides" Issue

After the latest synagogue attack, right-wing pundits were quick to insist that a group of progressive Muslim women should share the blame.

One of the oddities of this harrowing political moment is that after a murderous attack on a synagogue in the United States — the second in six months — an ABC News panel sought out the analysis of...Meghan McCain.

Of course, violent white supremacist attacks on houses of worship should be of concern to everyone. The connection between attacks on Jews and hatred toward Muslims and people of color was made by the alleged shooter himself, whose manifesto claimed responsibility for setting a mosque on fire last month, and who cited the the horrifying New Zealand mosque attacks as inspiration.

But McCain, called on for her take on the events, pushed her own right-wing political agenda, using the occasion to absurdly place blame on Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar. The truth — that violent attacks against synagogues, mosques, black churches, and Sikh temples in America are almost uniformly perpetrated by white men who identify as white supremacists — was obscured by her words, which claimed voices on “both sides” are responsible, and that Omar is among the “most extreme” on her side of the spectrum.

What McCain and so many other right-wing pundits are doing is weaponizing anti-Semitism: hijacking a deadly attack against Jews to promote their anti-Muslim and racist agenda. This includes claiming an equivalence between the words of deranged white supremacists and one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress. This not only puts Omar in further personal danger — it contributes to the ongoing and dangerous deterioration of the discourse on anti-Semitism.

What the Poway synagogue shooting suspect laid bare, once again, is that anti-Semitism is an integral part of contemporary white supremacy, alongside anti-Muslim hate, anti-blackness, and racism.

The cynical opportunism on display by right-wing pundits is pouring salt in wounds still fresh from the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh. Some of us are angry, some of us are sad and horrified, but none of us should be pointing a finger at Omar, Tlaib, or the Council on American–Islamic Relations.

I was amazed and appalled that it wasn’t just the Meghan McCains of the world who attempted to turn the urgent conversation we need to have about white supremacy into attacks on “the left” and leaders of color. To my great shame and horror, some Jewish and pro-Israel leaders also quickly attempted to falsely connect prominent Muslim women to this heinous attack.

Among the worst of these offenders: Mort Klein, head of the Zionist Organization of America, who just 12 hours after the shooting called on Congress to “condemn this and Omar/Tlaib,” and Dov Hikind, who just retired from the New York State Assembly and who on the night of the shooting wrote that Omar, Tlaib and Muslim activist Linda Sarsour are “the ones responsible for mainstreaming Jew hatred.”

ZOA condemns despicable antiSemitic murder/shooting of Jews at a Synagogue in Calif.Our hearts go out to their families&to the Jewish people having to endure another Synagogue shooting. ZOA urges Congressional leaders to condemn this and Omar/Tlaib antisemitic remarks now.

This is PRECISELY what happens when you allow CAIR into Congress to shape resolutions so that “general hatred” is condemned and not exactly what this is, pure, vile, evil ANTISEMITISM! @Ilhan @RashidaTlaib @lsarsour , these are the ones responsible for mainstreaming Jew hatred! https://t.co/KpqK0DoaKr

Mark Dubowitz, who leads the pro-Israel think tank the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, responded to Omar’s message of condolences after the shooting by saying she and “many others on the left and right” are responsible for the return of lethal anti-Semitism.

You promote Jew hatred. Our heart is broken thanks to you and the many others, on the left & right, who have poisoned the discourse & brought back lethal anti-Semitism. https://t.co/93jJuk1dWO

Each of these prominent men share a worldview that is willing to sacrifice our own people's safety for the sake of their political agenda. They have constituents, donors, advertisers, and supporting institutions that can and must hold them accountable. Their words should be absolutely unacceptable to anyone with a sense of basic decency and respect for truth.

Just as it is our work to support Jewish communities facing blatant and violent anti-Semitism, it is our responsibility — precisely in order to effectively fight anti-Semitism — to call out the hijacking of our pain for right-wing goals.

Anti-Semitism has its vile specificities and a unique history and manifestations. It is vital that we understand it within the larger ecosystem of prejudices and systemic oppression that multiple communities are facing. We can’t fight it without fighting other forms of white supremacy, and we can’t fight it without building — together — a model of community safety that addresses the reality that multiple communities are targets of white supremacist violence.

Just as Jews in New York City recently opened their synagogue to Muslim worshippers following an arson attack on their mosque, and as Muslims in Sri Lanka opened their mosques last week to Christians to pray in following attacks on churches, at this moment we stand supported and protected by our allies across social justice movements.

This moment demands an honest naming of the roots of the problem, an organized determination to hold those responsible and complicit accountable, and, above all, solidarity and standing up for one another.

Rebecca Vilkomerson is the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

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