As funerals take place for the 11 victims of the deadliest-ever attack against the American Jewish community, the public continues to grieve and to parse the motives of the perpetrator of the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre. We, at the Strassler Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Clark University, observe with deepening concern the intensifying anti-semitism and surging white supremacy that motivated the gunman. Racists have found common cause in the dark corners of the internet, emboldened by mean spirited rhetoric. Students of the Holocaust and genocide must also reckon with a perverse aspect of this crime. The gunman declared that his murder spree was in response to Jews committing genocide against white people. This outrageous claim builds on anti-semitic tropes that imagine all-powerful Jews directing immigrants and minorities to undermine white privilege. Such fantasies have gained traction in the United States as political divisions deepen and false discourse grow commonplace.
Unlike other minority groups, the American Jewish experience has been largely positive, despite significant episodes of exclusion and discrimination. Until Saturday, Jews imagined themselves as fully integrated into society. Yet, resurgent waves of racism, xenophobia, and bigotry in the United States suggest that American Jews cannot afford complacency. The cries of “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville and “all Jews must die” in Pittsburgh recall pernicious tendencies toward discrimination, violence, and exclusion. The Strassler Center seeks to understand the history and trends that underlie these events and other vicious hate crimes against non-white groups.
In April, we will host a conference, E Pluribus Unum? Memory Conflicts, Democracy, and Integration, that will examine the politics of memory. Until recently, activists and students of memory had hailed a new era of historical consciousness. They believed that the lessons of past violent conflicts, including the Holocaust, would help foster human rights, cultures of tolerance, and a cosmopolitan morality around the globe. Yet, racist hatred in the U.S. and in many European countries has shown that deliberate denial and defiant glorification of historical violence have had the opposite effect. Renewed bigotry and attacks against people of color, Muslims, Jews, and the LGBTQ community demonstrate that we have not entered the era of moral universalism that historians, activists, and good-hearted people had envisioned.
Mary Jane Rein, PhD
Executive Director, Strassler
Professor Thomas Kühne
Director, Strassler Center