Author Jonathan Weisman had no sense of the anti-Semitism that churned just below the surface in America — until it showed up in his Twitter stream.
“Hello (((Weisman))),” read the message from someone named “CyberTrump.”
It was a seemingly benign tweet that New York Times editor Jonathan Weisman received after sharing a bit of a column about the rise of fascism.
But those triple parentheses around Weisman’s name were a dog whistle that rousted a cyber mob of alt-right, anti-Semites who would barrage his phone, computer and voicemail with hate.
Nazi iconography. Taunts. “The Holocaust didn’t happen,” one person tweeted to Weisman. “But boy, was it cool.”
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Weisman, who might be considered culturally Jewish but whose faith had lapsed, had no sense of the anti-Semitism that churned just below the surface in America, even though he is the deputy Washington editor for the largest newspaper in the country.
But as the attacks moved from his Twitter to his Facebook to his voicemail, he learned. He started fearing for his children. One of his grown daughters considered changing her last name.
Months later, Weisman watched with the rest of the country as white nationalists held a “Unite the Right” march through Charlottesville; and as a young woman was killed the next day, when a man mowed down a group of counterprotesters with his car. (President Donald Trump would later say there were “very fine people” on both sides of the events.)
It all inspired Weisman to write “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump,” a book that chronicles how his experience forced him to confront his own Jewish identity, and examine how a new administration had emboldened a dark tide of hate and intolerance. He will speak about it on Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Stroum Jewish Community Center on Mercer Island, in an event co-presented by Town Hall Seattle and the Jewish Book Council.
Weisman was already working on the book when, last October, 11 people were killed when a man with an assault rifle, shouting anti-Semitic slurs, opened fire inside a Pittsburgh synagogue.
“Jewish Americans had not suffered too much violence,” he said the other day. “But I predicted it would come and it did.”
“We’re at this moment in America,” he continued. “Since the 1950s, there’s been a sense of a slow, uneven, but steady rise toward a more egalitarian, more tolerant and open society.
“But it’s shaking, and heading down. And we don’t know if it will right itself or if we are at a real fault line. We just don’t know.”
What we do know, Weisman said, is that the White House — which currently employs a first daughter and close adviser, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, who openly observe Jewish laws — is not doing enough to condemn these events, to call off the dogs unleashed by those triple parentheses, as they were with him.
“Whenever (Trump) gets talked into denouncing hate, a few days later, somebody at the White House will let you know that he really didn’t want to do that,” he said. “There’s this inability to renounce his wing of supporters. He’s not blessing them, but it’s as if he can’t jeopardize a single vote, and these people are his core supporters.”
So what to do? Where to start?
Weisman has been criticized for suggesting in the book that politically conservative Jews spend less energy on supporting the Israeli government and turn to the crisis of hate here in America. More liberal Jews are sympathetic, but have called Weisman out for being ignorant about the work that smaller Jewish and interfaith organizations are already doing to fight anti-Semitism.
“I take that point,” Weisman said. “But I still believe that the large mainline American-Jewish organizations are reluctant to speak out.”
He urges a unification of American Judaism in defending not only itself, but others under attack: undocumented immigrants, refugees, Muslim Americans and black activists who have not only been targeted by the alt-right, but the Trump administration.
“If Jews and Muslims and immigrants and Latinos and African Americans work together to fight bigotry, I think that is a […] powerful movement.”
For even though he wrote a book about anti-Semitism, he said, it could apply to anyone who is vulnerable to what lurks below.
“When the wolves of hate are released,” Weisman said, “no one is safe.”
One tweet told him as much.
Jonathan Weisman appears at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 17, at the Stroum Jewish Community Center, 3801 E. Mercer Way, Mercer Island; $10-$25 (206-388-0833 or sjcc.org/arts-ideas).