Anti-Semitism and white supremacy are far from dead in the United States of America. That’s what this past weekend’s violence told the world.
As many, including President Trump, have said, this hatred is despicable, intolerable and wholly un-American. Still, as an American-Jew who has seen his fair share of hatred and violence, I was shocked at the level of anti-Semitism displayed in Charlottesville.
Neo-Nazis proudly waved swastika flags in the middle of an American town, flung their arms out in ‘Sieg Heil’ salutes, brandished signs saying “Jews are Satan’s Children” and chanted “Jews will not replace us.” Some wore shirts with Adolf Hitler quotes. In a particularly disturbing scene, Richard Spencer, president of the white nationalist think tank National Policy Institute, mocked Charlottesville’s mayor, Mike Signer, a Jew, after the protest had been canceled. This was shortly after a 20-year-old man from Ohio rammed his silver Dodge Charger into an unsuspecting crowd.
“Little Mayor Signer — SEE-NER — how do you pronounce this little creep’s name?” asked Spencer as he rambled in frustration to his followers. Some of them replied, “Jew, Jew, Jew, Jew.”
This is evil in its purest form. It’s the kind of hatred that should shock us to the core and make us question how someone could harbor such spite against a fellow human being. But here’s the sad reality: this isn’t as uncommon as we’d like to imagine.
Already in the U.S. in the first quarter of 2017, anti-Semitic attacks — from harassment to physical attack and bomb threats — spiked 86 percent compared to last year. The very Monday after the Charlottesville violence, the Holocaust Memorial in Boston was vandalized; for the second time in less than two months.
Hate is on the rise, and it isn’t limited to individuals; nations have also adopted it into their politics.
Just this past week, two Iranian soccer players were banned for life from the national team because they “violated the red line”: playing against Israelis. Iran forces its athletes to forfeit or withdraw from athletic competitions, even in the Olympics, if there’s a chance they might face an Israeli opponent.
Wonder Woman, the blockbuster that’s making history in the male-dominated world of superhero movies, was banned from theaters in Qatar, Lebanon and Tunisia. Their objection to the film? Gal Gadot, the actor who plays the Amazon warrior-princess, is an Israeli and served in the Israeli Defense Forces.
Whether it’s neo-Nazis marching down Charlottesville’s streets or government bureaucrats banning a movie from playing in Qatar, hate is kept alive by those who believe all humans are not created equal. It’s also abetted by those who remain quiet in the face of it.
Perhaps we don’t say anything because we don’t know what it’s like to be hated. As the German Protestant pastor Martin Niemoller confessed, “When they came for the Jews, I remained silent; I wasn’t a Jew. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out.”
You don’t feel the full weight of hatred until you become the target. And that’s what happened to me on my 37th birthday.
June 30, 1984, was a hot, steamy day in Fort Worth, Texas. Little did I know the planned birthday celebration was about to be overshadowed by one man’s anti-Semitic hatred.
On that day, Richard Wayne Snell, a disciple of a white supremacist group who once plotted to bring down the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, was stopped on a lonely western Arkansas highway by State Trooper Louis Bryant. Seven months earlier in Texarkana, Arkansas, Snell had killed a man named William Stumpp. He had mistakenly thought Stumpp was a Jew, and gunned him down at his pawnshop.
As Bryant approached the vehicle, Snell opened fire with a modified Colt .45, fatally wounding the trooper. About an hour later, Snell was wounded and captured after a shoot-out with police in Broken Bow, Oklahoma.
Later that same day, I received a phone call from an agent at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms who gave me some spine-chilling information. When the ATF agents searched Snell’s vehicle, they found a single piece of paper on the front seat of his car. Written on it were my name, address and unlisted telephone number. At the time I was working closely with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and had produced a major television special based on my book, “Israel: America’s Key to Survival.” My mother was an Orthodox Jew; Snell hated Jews and decided he had a birthday gift for me.
As images of the chaos unfolding in Charlottesville flooded my newsfeed this past Saturday, I was reminded of Elie Wiesel’s 1986 Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
“We must always take sides,” said Mr. Wiesel. “Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”
I’ve taken a side, not only for my people but for all who are discriminated against. I hope you will, too.
• Michael D. Evans is the head of several prominent international nonprofit organizations in the United States, the Netherlands and Israel, including the Friends of Zion Heritage Center and Museum in Jerusalem.
Read more at Hatred of the Jews returns with a flourish.