Phoebe Maltz Bovy’s Week in Jews: Our own worst enemies are rooting for rage against ‘the laptop class’

Why was Batya Ungar-Sargon, a Jewish journalist, urging her Twitter followers to “always read @metal_gear88”? 

The simple explanation is that Ungar-Sargon is an editor at nominally mainstream American current affairs publication Newsweek, where Charles Stallworth, whose Twitter handle is @metal_gear88, had just published an opinion piece.

The dilemma: “88” is a neo-Nazi symbol, code for “Heil Hitler.” 

Ah, but maybe this is reading too much into it. Maybe he was simply born in 1988 or whatever. Some people see Nazis everywhere! Except no, there he is, openly stating that he is, or was, a Nazi. (His current feelings about Nazism are ambiguous.)

In case this wasn’t confusing enough, there’s the fact that Stallworth is Black. 

We have, in other words, a Jewish woman editor boosting—and not for the first time—the work of a working-class Black writer. Unassailable. On the other, we have Newsweek (a legacy publication with some dubious recent history) publishing a self-proclaimed Nazi. 

For what it’s worth, I do not think the takeaway here is that Ungar-Sargon is a Nazi sympathizer. Maybe it’s that political polarization makes people on both sides too forgiving of haters and extremists in their own midst. Or perhaps it’s that the relationship between Jews and the new worldwide populisms is difficult to parse.

Stallworth’s article, the one Ungar-Sargon praises, is a takedown of “the laptop class.” One hears a lot about them these days. Also the professional-managerial class. Cosmopolitans. Coastal elites. Or the Twitter-specific one: blue-checks, or people, mainly journalists, whose accounts’ authenticity is (or was) verified by the social media platform. I hear phrases along these lines and think…

jack, just say jewish. this is taking forever

Evidently, the deputy opinion thinks otherwise. Or take the term “globalists,” which brings to mind those hook-nosed antisemitic caricatures, wherein a claw encircles the Earth. The Israeli academic Yoram Hazony denies that the term is anti-Jewish.

In a rapidly shifting political landscape, where many of the actors are online personalities, it can be difficult to sort out who’s who. Internet trolls evidently enjoy posing as Nazis to be edgy, a choice whose meaningful distinction from being a Nazi I will leave to the philosophers, but that doubtless owes something to the receding of Holocaust memory. And when Israel itself elects right-wing leadership, whatever one makes of this, it’s hard to interpret as an anti-Jewish development.

That said, some of this isn’t new. The view, on the U.S. political right, that Jews must ally with the Christian right—that is, the people chest-thumping about America being a Christian country—because they’re (allegedly) pro-Israel is one I remember arguing about with relatives when I was in college, 20 years ago.

And in Europe, far-right politicians have drawn (some) support from (some) Jews for a while now. That’s shocking if you think European far-right equals Nazis, but less so when you take into account what (or rather, who) European Jews today are, rightly or wrongly, afraid of. 

Even if you restrict your analysis to unambiguously antisemitic acts, you’re still stuck with the awkward (if unusual) existence of Jewish perpetrators, as in the 2017 JCC bomb threats, or a November 2022 accused synagogue attacker. Does that make anti-Jewishness a part of the spectrum of Jewish opinion? I mean, no, it does not. 

The answer isn’t to pretend there’s a clean line between good people with good politics and those other sorts. For one thing, the notion that everyone who questions (or even rants against) progressive orthodoxy is a white supremacist fails to line up with demographic realities. Conservative political parties regularly attract non-white voters, in Canada and elsewhere.

Meanwhile, a certain brand of hypersensitivity has taken on a role as status signalling among wealthy whites—some Jewish, mainly not—who think Black Lives Matter but aren’t as keen on Black children attending their children’s schools. Being drawn to heterodox viewpoints is not inherently suspect, in a world where liberal nodding-along can itself mean nothing of substance.

So yes, it’s a complicated world. But here’s what’s not complicated: how few Jews there are in it, and how unbothered populist antisemites are by distinctions between us. This means being on the lookout when euphemistic Jews are under attack, whether or not we belong to or feel affinity with the euphemism in question.

Like, I may be as far as it gets from a good-with-money financier, I may be but a fool with degrees in French and a propensity to overspend on accessories in hipster neighbourhoods, but when I hear about good-with-money financiers, I know what’s up.

Now you can tell Phoebe what you think: pbovy[@]

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