This year’s guest speaker at Emory University’s Rothschild Lecture series cautioned the Jewish community not to underestimate the importance of the white nationalist movement in today’s political landscape.
The speaker, Eric Ward, has tracked the white nationalist movement for over 25 years, first as a community organizer and then later as consultant to the Ford Foundation and the Southern Poverty Law Center.
What he described during the Emory lecture was a movement that has emerged in the last several years from the fringes of American life to become a threat that is much more serious to the Jewish community. It is, at its core, an anti-Semitic movement that is aimed at nothing less than the political conquest of America, Ward said.
“They are a revolutionary movement that seeks to overthrow the U.S. government. It believes the U.S. government has been taken over by a Jewish conspiracy. In its anti-Semitism it is an effective conspiracy theory that dehumanizes all of us.”
Ward’s remarks in his online conversation with Eric Goldstein, head of Emory’s Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, echoes his warning in 2017 in the magazine Public Eye. In an article entitled “Skin in the Game: How Anti-Semitism Animates White Nationalism,” he described how white nationalism blamed the Jews for all the changes in American society since the 1960s. They were the unseen, controlling hand that the white nationalists believed were responsible for all of the successes of African Americans and the civil rights movement.
“Some secret cabal, some mythological power,” he wrote, “must be manipulating the social order behind the scenes. This diabolical evil must control television, banking, entertainment, education, and even Washington, D.C. It must be brainwashing White people, rendering them racially unconscious. What is this arch-nemesis of the White race, whose machinations have prevented the natural and inevitable imposition of white supremacy? It is, of course, the Jews.”
The article was published just two months before the “Unite the Right” white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., which took place in August 2017. The article describes the movement as having Jews as its racial target.
“Contemporary anti-Semitism, then, does not just enable racism, it also is racism, for in the White nationalist imaginary Jews are a race — the race — that presents an existential threat to Whiteness.”
Ward’s analysis that anti-Semitism today is a product of the extreme right was questioned by some in the audience during his Emory presentation who asked about the anti-Semitism on the left, particularly in the Black Lives Matter movement. While he acknowledged that some in the movement are anti-Semitic, unlike white nationalists, those opinions do not drive the broader concerns of black activism today, Ward said.
“It does not have anti-Semitism as a core to its ideology. But just like the rest of society, it can and will sometimes express anti-Semitism. And we have to address that and deal with that.”
He asked his Rothschild lecture participants not to allow the anti-Semitic opinions of a few in the contemporary civil rights movement to influence their participation in what he described as the most important movement of white and Blacks that has ever occurred in American society. The civil rights movement of the 21st century, he said, is much broader and influential than what took place here in the 1960s.
“More Americans today, including white Americans, support Black Lives Matter as a social movement than ever supported Martin Luther King Jr. in his lifetime. We forget now that we are 75 years away from the civil rights movement, but I think it’s important to remember at no point in his lifetime did Martin Luther King Jr. receive the majority of white support in America.”
Ward serves as executive director of the Western States Center, a nonprofit civil liberties organization based in Portland, Oregon. He has been a frequent guest speaker at various synagogues and Jewish organizations around the country.
In July of this year he told a national meeting of the Jewish Council for Public Affairs that Black Lives Matter should be a cause that moves Jews as well as people of color. In alluding to his influential writing in 2017, he challenged his Jewish audience to find their own skin in the game.
“Be a co-conspirator and a partner in the struggle for civil rights. Something very significant is happening in our country. Some of it is horrifying and some of it is beautiful. As we deal with the horrors, let us not forget that we need to tend to the beauty. That means entering into courageous, curious conversations with one another that doesn’t prevent us from finding ways forward.”
Likewise, during his Rothschild lecture remarks Ward concluded with a call to action.
“Make this moment count. History will judge you for what you do and don’t do in this moment.”
- Rothschild Lecture
- White Nationalism
- Emory University
- Eric Ward
- Ford Foundation
- Southern Poverty LAw Center
- Eric Goldstein
- Tam Institute for Jewish Studies
- Bob Bahr
- Black lives matter
- Martin Luther King Jr.
- Western States Center
- Jewish Council for Public Affairs