Did you hear the one about the Jews who support the White nationalist, antisemitic American alt-right?
It’s based on a true story, but not a funny one.
The term alt-right is nebulous, used to describe a variety of people on the extreme right of politics who often have differing “alternative right” views from each other, and who appear to spend much of their time on the internet. As with their far-left counterparts, they are increasingly vocal and are working their way into mainstream political discourse.
Within alt-right circles there is a spirited debate about whether Jews are “people like us”. You’d think that alone would send any good Jewish boy or girl hurrying in the other direction. And yet…
The core beliefs of the alt-right leadership, insomuch as it has one, invariably include that Western civilisation must be defended, that immigration needs to be stopped, and that “rights” for various minorities, for example the LGBT community, have gone too far.
Where they break with mainstream right-of-centre thinkers is when the Western civilisation part of their platform morphs into embracing racism, a belief in white supremacy, and calls for a complete halt to immigration. This is the heart of the alt.
These beliefs, incubated in internet sites such as StormFront and 4chan, are now surfacing more in the public domain. This has accelerated since Donald Trump employed the editor of the Breitbart website, Steve Bannon, as his chief strategist. Bannon is on record as saying that Breitbart is “the platform of the alt-right”.
Some of the alt-right crowd argue that there is no real racism, antisemitism, or homophobia in the movement. This argument is usually propounded by the more stupid among them who just like outraging people online, or the cleverest who believe they need to hide their excesses for the time being.
One of the best-known alt-right leaders is 38-year-old Richard Spencer of the National Policy Institute. His claim to fame is celebrating Mr Trump’s election by shouting “Hail Trump! Hail our people!” at a far-right conference in Washington. Some of the audience, a 200-strong crowd of white men, responded with a stiff right-arm salute. He is banned from entering the UK.
Another is Yale-educated Jared Taylor of the New Century Foundation who says “Jews look white to me” but hosts conferences to which he invites neo-Nazis.
And yet, not only can you find Jews who see the alt-right as an acceptable political space, you can find some participating in it. At one conference organized by Taylor, a former Klansman was ranting about a “power in the world that dominates our media” causing fellow alt-righter Michael Hart, a Jewish astrophysicist, to shout “You f******g Nazi, you’ve disgraced this meeting.”
Writer Joshua Seidel is involved because the movement is, he believes, “a reaction to left-wing identity politics and the failure of traditional conservatism to formulate a reply”. As for the antisemitism: “I enjoy the nasty talk…the alt-right has energy, it has vitality. It’s the only viable political movement explicitly fighting for that nebulous concept of ‘Western Civilization’.
“I don’t care,” he continues, “if someone who wants to control European borders blames Jews for the Muslim influx. Time to grow some skin and focus on the real threats.”
Then there is the alt-right’s greatest intellectual, and the mentor of Mr Spencer, Paul Gottfried, a Bronx-born Jewish academic whose father fled Hungary in the 1930s. Mr Gottfried and Spencer claim to have jointly coined the term “alt-right” in 2008.
Mr Gottfried wants to move unorthodox right wing thought into a sort of “post-fascist” state. As such, he rejects both white nationalism and the Civil Rights Act, which legally enshrined black rights in the 1960s. He says: “I do not want to be associated with people who are pro-Nazi.”
It’s too late for that. Mr Gottfried, Mr Hart and Mr Seidel may not be white supremacists, but the alt-right movement overwhelmingly is and has crossed the Rubicon into fascistic thinking. Mr Seidel in particular does not seem to see the irony that the movement he supports is the one which invented the internet age’s version of the yellow star. It was the alt-right which first sought to identify Jews online by bracketing their names like (((this))) — although the tactic has been partially subverted by many non-Jews using the brackets around their names.
The election of Mr Trump has given a boost to the alt-right movement. The president-elect is not a supporter, nor is he a white nationalist, but he has said enough things to encourage the alt-right to think the wind is blowing their way.
The overwhelming majority of American Jews remain on the side of liberalism. Most know enough history to know that come the revolution, the extreme left or right usually devours its own children, starting with the Jews.