This may seem like a strange question because of course the Nazis hated Jews, enough that they set about systematically trying to exterminate all of them. But the anti-Jewish racism of Nazi Germany had a plausible explanation. Demagogues always face a particular problem. Part of their appeal is to pander to their followers by telling them how great their race is. This message resonates especially when they are not doing so well, as was the case in pre-war Germany. But then you have the problem of explaining why, if they are so great, their country and their lives are not wonderful.
This is why demagogues need a designated enemy, an other, who can be blamed as the cause of their current bleak situation. In Hitler’s Germany, Jews played that useful role of being the scapegoat for Germany’s setbacks during and after the first World War. While the Romani people and homosexuals were thrown into the mix of people who were to be exterminated as the idea of racial purity expanded, it was Jews who provided an easy target.
But when it comes to the neo-Nazis now, especially in the US, Jews should not be an obvious target. For white nationalists, there are plenty of obvious targets that are far more visibly ‘the other’. There are plenty of people other than Jews, such as people of color, immigrants, Muslims and Sikhs, all of whom can be easily blamed for the plight of the white underclass, even if the charge is not true. Jews are not easily distinguishable since they are not (at least largely) seen as people of color. In the present time, they are pretty much integrated into white American society. Unless someone has an obviously Jewish name, one cannot (at least I cannot) tell if they are Jewish or not. And they are all over the map when it comes to political affiliations. For every George Soros that the right wing likes to demonize, there are plenty of right wing Jews playing some other role in politics. Jews cannot be accused of being the beneficiaries of the welfare state or of affirmative action the way that other minority groups are, policies which these white nationalists seem to think are being funded by ‘their’ tax dollars.
So why are Jews still in the crosshairs of the neo-Nazis? I doubt that those young people marching in Charlottesville chanting “Jews will not replace us” have studied the anti-Semitic classics like The Protocols of the Elders of Zion or have even heard of the slanders about Jewish ritual practices. Or even if they have, they would hardly seem relevant to them now. So why still hate Jews? Do they think that they have to be faithful to the entire ideology of Nazi Germany that spread to the US during that same time and have mindlessly adopted the entire package including the old slogans?
This reprint of a 1981 article titled Why do Nazis hate Jews? tries to explain this strange phenomenon but doesn’t really. It simply re-states the problem rather that explain it.
Many experts blame the nation’s economic problems for the new signs of anti-semitism. “Times of distress, social unrest and economic depression [are] often preliminary to outbreaks of anti-semitism,” explains the Rev. Edward H. Flannery, author of another book on the subject, “Anguish of the Jews.” In hard times people find it comforting to have a scape-goat, Flannery says, “And they always look in the direction of the Jews.”
But why are they still looking in the direction of Jews? As I said, there are now plenty of other scapegoats that are more easily identifiable and distinct than Jews who are largely assimilated and are a pretty tiny group anyway..
So back to my question: Why do the current neo-Nazis hate Jews? I am genuinely baffled.