The Black Hebrew Israelites are a hate group – and they operate within the toxic ecosystem of American racism

Over the last few months of 2019, there were several anti-Semitic attacks in the United States. Two of them, occurring in December last year, were perpetrated by assailants described by the authorities as having links to the black Hebrew Israelites. The latter, designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC) does not have a history of violence, but has become more apocalyptic in its rhetoric in recent years.

If you are asking yourself who the black Hebrew Israelites are, you are not alone. Let’s get some details first, and unpack these issues.

It is undeniable that anti-Semitic attacks have increased under the Trump administration. The latter has directly contributed to the rise of anti-Semitic hate crimes, platforming a range of anti-Semitic themes and providing political cover for white nationalist groups. The attacks on Jewish communities in December last year fit into an overall pattern of hate crimes.

The attack on the Hasidic Jewish community during Hanukkah in late December last year was carried out by Grafton Thomas, an African American man said to be linked – at least interested in – the black supremacist theology of the Hebrew Israelite church. Earlier in December, two assailants attacked the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic Jewish community in Jersey City, New Jersey. In that fatal incident, the New Jersey authorities have stated that the killers expressed interest in the black Hebrew Israelite movement.

The majority of anti-Semitic killings have been perpetrated by white supremacist groups – and while African American organisations have trafficked in anti-Semitism, black American attacks against Jews are exceptionally rare. These recent murders have thrown the spotlight on the Hebrew Israelite theology. This focus is to be welcomed, but the speed of the media in highlighting black anti-Semitism stands in stark contrast to the decades it took for the US ruling class to admit the lethal threat of white nationalist domestic terrorism.

The black Hebrew Israelites, a theological movement that dates back to the nineteenth century has splintered into different sects, factions and detachments – but all of them share a basic set of beliefs. Black Hebrew Israelism dates back to the days of emancipated slaves and Reconstruction after the civil war.

The various churches that belong to the Hebrew Israelite tradition regard the black population as the literal descendants of the Lost Tribes of Israel. In their worldview, it is the blacks who are the original chosen people – the Israelites. Today’s Jewish population, they contend, are mere imposters, falsely claiming that they are the Hebrews of the Bible.

While the roots of Black Hebrew Israelism are nonracist, they have adopted anti-Semitic rhetoric, denouncing the Jewish people as usurpers of the ‘chosen people’ mantle, engaging in worldwide financial conspiracies to enrich their own people at the expense of others. Their adherents have been non-violent, however, there are sects within the overall church that have encouraged confrontations with persons from non-African American backgrounds.

With the dispersion of ten out of the twelve ancient tribes of Israel after the Assyrian conquest, the black Hebrew Israelites contend that their mission is to regain their biblically-sanctioned rightful place as the descendants of the dispersed Hebrews. Drawing up a tortuous, bizarre theological ancestry from the purportedly lost ten tribes of Israel, the black Hebrew Israelites promote a theme of an oppressed people returning to their promised land.

The myth of the ten lost tribes of Israel, familiar to Western audiences through their knowledge of the Bible, has long provided fertile grounds for the growth of increasingly bizarre, pseudoarchaeological theologies that underpin many Christian-like cults until today. The Mormons, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), have incorporated into its theological doctrines a story of descent from the mythical lost tribes of Israel.

Certain Mormon doctrines hold that the indigenous Americans are the literal descendants of those scattered lost tribes. That sounds unusual to those of us on the outside of the Mormon church, however, the English-speaking world is not unfamiliar with such doctrines. Anglo-Israelism, sometimes called British Israelism, is the pseudoarchaeological contention that today’s people in Britain are the genetic descendants of the lost tribes of Israel.

The black Hebrew Israelites are a minority group, but they have shown a willingness to commit acts of politically motivated violence. This move away from their traditional nonviolence takes place within the toxic ecosystem of white American racism – an ecosystem fed by the Trump administration and its supporters. The Hasidic Jewish community has faced growing expressions of intolerance and hate as it has moved out of New York and into the suburbs.

As the ultra-Orthodox Jews have moved into Monsey, Rockland County – the scene of the Hanukkah attack – local authorities have passed zoning laws preventing the construction of ‘new places of worship’, such as synagogues. Republican party legislators and their supporters in the area have spoken of a ‘Jewish takeover’ of the county, undermining the ‘American way of life’. Such rhetoric has entirely foreseeable consequences.

Perhaps what makes the black Hebrew Israelites so outrageous for the white power structures is that they see a reflection of themselves. An oppressed group, such as African Americans, will search for a sense of belonging and cultural fixation in a system in which they are lost.

While conducting this search for meaning, and looking for a way to explain their suffering, they have adopted the doctrines of their white American oppressors. The black Hebrew Israelites are a reflection, in their own way, of the religiously-informed political outlook upon which the white American state is founded.

Nikki Haley, the Confederate flag and the fraudulent ‘Lost Cause’

Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina – and previous US ambassador to the United Nations – made a curious remark about the Confederacy. Earlier in December 2019, Haley stated that the Confederate flag represented ‘service, sacrifice and heritage’ until it was ‘hijacked’ by Dylann Roof. The latter is a white supremacist murderer responsible for the shooting deaths of multiple African American worshippers at a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.

When carrying out his attack, Roof was wearing, among other racist emblems, the flag of the Confederacy. Haley, who was governor in 2015, oversaw the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina legislature building. Her remarks defending the flag as an honourable emblem may seem surprising, at least initially. Haley, the child of Indian immigrants, represents an American success story. Intelligent, articulate and resourceful, her life typifies the social mobility of non-white migrants for which America is supposedly famous.

So why, as a member of a racial minority, is she defending a symbol of an openly racist enterprise? Haley has positioned herself – with help from her colleagues in the Republican party – as a moderate and reasonable voice, in contrast to the overtly misogynistic, vulgar and racist Trump. With her comments defending the Confederate flag she has, in one swoop, demolished her status as a ‘moderate’, but has also used her racial-minority status to deflect from her party’s racist platform.

The Confederate flag – a response to civil rights

The deployment of the Confederate flag, and the building of statues of slave-owning Confederate generals, is not a benign exercise in remembering the past. The flag, and associated monuments to the military leaders of the Confederacy, were erected as a direct response to the push by African Americans for civil rights. As black Americans organised themselves to fight segregation and racist legislation, politicians from the former Confederate states – such as South Carolina – raised the Confederate flag on state buildings.

In the immediate aftermath of the US Civil War, Confederate monuments and symbols all but disappeared. They were resurrected after World War 2, as the struggle of black Americans for civil and economic rights gathered momentum. National Geographic magazine published an article, in 2015, detailing how white segregationist politicians revived the Confederate flag in order to promote the white supremacist cause. Rather than being simple reminders of the Civil War, the Confederate monuments provided a rallying point for modern-day white racism fighting a rearguard action.

Since the end of the Civil War, there have been attempts by the neo-Confederate partisans to whitewash the purpose of the Confederacy by claiming that states’ rights was the main rationale for secession. Today’s defenders of Confederate monuments make the same claim. But this dishonest explanation is undermined by the words of those who began the Confederacy – slavery and white supremacy was encoded in the founding documents of the slave-owning states.

The ‘Lost Cause’

White supremacy was defeated, but it also metamorphosed – into segregation and legalised discrimination. In the 1950s and 60s, as segregation was being rolled back, the Confederate flag reemerged as a symbol of a white racist backlash. In the discussions about race and racism in the United States, the myth of the ‘Lost Cause’ was born – the Confederacy’s violence against African Americans was obfuscated by a wilful rewriting of its history. Racist vigilantism against black communities was rationalised as defence of a ‘lost cause’ and the values of an imagined past.

White Southerners have been passing on this mythology of the ‘lost cause’, wrapping the Confederacy in a reimagined past of honour and sacrifice. The South consisted of ‘gentlemen’ willing and able to sacrifice themselves against the Northern invaders – the Confederacy became a fixture of regional identity. Reinventing the Confederate flag as an emblem of ‘Southern pride’ allows white supremacy to cast itself in the role of victim – precisely the kind of voters Haley’s political career depends upon.

The neo-Confederate revision of history – sanitising the racism of the white South and promoting a fictionalised version of the Confederacy – is a main plank in the platform of the Alternative Right today. When Haley contributes to this fictional portrayal, she is actively aiding and abetting the extreme racism of the white Right. Dylann Roof did not ‘hijack’ the flag, but carried out the kind of violence the flag represents. Since the conclusion of the Civil War, white supremacy has fought a racial-vigilante-type of warfare against the African American community.

Lawless racist vigilantes – the forerunners of the Ku Klux Klan – may sound like relics from a bygone era, but today’s white supremacist terrorism falls squarely in that tradition. The main emblem of these killers is the Confederate flag. It is not unusual for white vigilante groups to direct their violence against federal authorities – white victimhood at the hands of ‘multicultural elites’ is a recurring theme of racist organisations.

When Haley defends the Confederate flag, she is providing a platform for recycled racism – or at least a ‘respectable face’ for white supremacy. She has proven that she is articulate and intelligent, unlike Trump – but just as extreme as the US President in her ideology. When she excuses Trump’s racist comments directed at Representative Ilhan Omar – ‘go back to where you came from’ – she is facilitating a white nationalist agenda. There is no rehabilitating white supremacy.

The slogan ‘Support our troops’ is meaningless

The South Korean mercenaries who fought in the Vietnam war are not heroes. The statement ‘support our troops‘ is not only completely meaningless and idiotic, it exhorts us to uncritically accept the agenda of the politicians who have deployed them.

Let’s unpack all of this, because while the Vietnam war finished decades ago, its repercussions are still with us today.

When we memorialise soldiers and the wars they fought in, we must ask ourselves what exactly we are being asked to remember. It is possible to recognise the suffering they endured, but be critical of the predatory and imperialistic goals for which they fought.

This sentiment is not original, and is certainly not my own invention. Sam Husseini, writing in Counterpunch magazine, stated his reflections on the passing of Vietnam veteran and POW John McCain. He, similarly to the Confederate soldiers of the slave-owning South, endured horrendous suffering, but fought for a cause that was economically predatory and motivated by racist misconceptions regarding the official enemy.

Current Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe faces strenuous criticism from, among others, South Korea and Australia, when he attempts to rewrite the history of Imperial Japan’s conduct in World War 2. Abe, like other conservative Japanese politicians before him, visits the Yasukuni Shrine in his endeavour to minimise the crimes of the Japanese military during WW2.

The shrine is ostensibly dedicated to honouring the Japanese soldiers who died serving in that conflict. When Abe, and rightwing Japanese politicians, visit the shrine to honour the dead soldiers – the equivalent of ‘support our troops’ in our political culture – they are engaging in a concerted campaign to rewrite the history of WW2 to absolve the Japanese ruling class of its culpability for crimes against humanity.

South Korean troops in the Vietnam war

Another imperialistic war fought for economically predatory and racist motives was the American assault on Vietnam. This attack, more so than other overseas wars, has attracted more than its share of attempted rewriting and mythologising, in particular along the lines of ‘supporting our troops’. While the overwhelming focus of retrospectives on the Vietnam war examine the conduct and suffering of American soldiers, less well known are the contributions of their South Korean allies.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in has honoured those troops who served alongside the Americans in Vietnam. His comments have been criticised by the government of Vietnam as an attempt to whitewash the numerous crimes committed by Republic of Korea (ROK) forces in that conflict. The South Korean President in the 1960s, General Park Chung-hee, sent the first contingent of thousands of South Korean soldiers into the Vietnam war in 1965.

Overall, 320 000 South Korean troops would participate in the Vietnam conflict, forming part of the American-led effort. By the early 1970s, South Korean soldiers outnumbered their American counterparts, and the ROK became a model client state. In fact, much of South Korea’s success in transforming its economy, and becoming an economic miracle’ story, is because of its participation in the Vietnam war. The Park Chung-hee era, a military dictatorship characterised by its cultivation of clan-based conglomerates, the chaebol – was a solid ally of the US in the Vietnam war.

In the aftermath of the 1968 Tet Offensive, the American government and its ROK allies embarked on a massive campaign of retaliation. Unleashing an orgy of violence, South Korean soldiers targeted civilians, killing women and children, and committed terrible atrocities. While the voices of South Korean veterans from that conflict are steadily being heard, the war crimes they committed have not received the attention they warrant.

In much the same way as South Korea demands an apology from Japan for the latter’s kidnapping and use of Korean ‘comfort women’ during WW2, Vietnam is demanding answers from the Seoul government regarding the exploitation of Vietnamese women, raped and abused by South Korean troops in the Vietnam conflict. Campaign groups are urging recognition and for Vietnamese women afflicted by sexual violence from South Korean soldiers, and their children produced by such forced unions.

Cliches are soothing for the conscience

Empty slogans such as ‘support our troops’ make us feel good about ourselves, but they do nothing except shut down critical debate about the role of the military in overseas wars. In fact, such slogans help to disguise the criminal character of imperial wars, and implicitly portray anti-war dissidents as potential traitors – why would you not ‘support our troops!?’ Steven Salaita, writing in Salon magazine, states that unthinking patriotism, typified by the ‘support our troops’ slogan, makes for an exploitable consumer commodity.

Salaita makes an interesting observation:

Who, for instance, are “the troops”? Do they include those safely on bases in Hawaii and Germany? Those guarding and torturing prisoners at Bagram and Guantánamo? The ones who murder people by remote control? The legions of mercenaries in Iraq?

The Vietnam Veterans Against the War campaign organisation, in gathering evidence about the conduct of American troops in Vietnam, detailed how US troops cut off the heads and ears of Vietnamese deemed to be the enemy, used electric shocks on their victims, poisoned the wells of Vietnamese farmers, killed their livestock, burned down villages and scorched the countryside of South Vietnam. Future Secretary of State and Vietnam veteran John Kerry has stated how such crimes were known at all levels of command.

Such war crimes cannot be covered with anodyne slogans and ridiculous cliches.

The US left the Marshall Islands with a toxic nuclear legacy – and a looming environmental disaster

The Marshall Islands, a stereotypically picturesque getaway in the Pacific, is the scene of a looming ecological catastrophe. The toxic legacy of nuclear weapons testing remains with the Marshall Islanders.

The Marshall Islands, located midway between Hawaii and Australia, was the site where the US conducted nuclear weapons testing, such as exploding their first functioning hydrogen bomb. Reefs and atolls were pulverised by these tests, 67 in all.

The nuclear weapons testing, conducted between 1946 and 1958, left a staggering legacy of ecological damage and associated health effects. The US authorities buried irradiated soil from the ‘ground zero’ of the weapons tests, the Enewetak and Bikini atolls in a massive concrete bunker. Decades after the military had stopped testing, the Runit Dome was constructed to store the waste from the numerous underwater and atmospheric nuclear explosions.

While weapons testing ceased, the nuclear waste problem did not go away.

The Washington Post reported, in May this year, that the concrete dome facility housing the radioactive waste was cracking. An ageing structure, as the dome is cracks, and sea levels rise due to climate change, lethal plutonium-239 waste threatens to leak into the Pacific. Water has begun to penetrate the dome, sparking fears of an environmental nightmare scenario for the Marshallese. Rising sea levels, and the increasing occurrence of typhoons and severe weather events are impacting the structural integrity of the concrete dome.

In the 1980s, the US military built a concrete dome – a ‘kind of coffin’ according to current UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres – to house the radioactive debris and waste. As a result of disrepair, and the increasing effects of climate change, the dome is cracking threatening to unleash an environmental catastrophe in the Pacific Ocean.

The US authorities did not admit to the Marshallese that they had transported tonnes of radioactive waste from Nevada to the atolls. The US military also did not disclose that they had conducted biological weapons testing in the Marshall Islands, in particular on Enewetak atoll.

Cracks have developed in the dome after decades of exposure

A study commissioned by the US Department of Energy in 2013 acknowledged that the Runit Dome is leaking while however downplaying the possibilities of environmental damage and health risks. Climate scientists have insisted that the Pacific waters are rising, and warming, and thus present a growing threat to the old concrete structure. Not only would the bunker be damaged, but groundwater reserves would become polluted.

After the US withdrew its forces, having occupied the islands in 1944 in the days of World War 2, the United States government accepted responsibility for compensating the Marshallese and cleaning up the toxic legacy of nuclear waste. However, the Marshall Islands authorities reported that compensation has been woefully inadequate, and cited a history of distrust towards the US.

The US signed a Compact of Free Association with the Marshall Islands – coming into force in 1986 – in which the latter gained nominal independence. As part of this compact, the US was released from all liabilities arising from the nuclear weapons testing and storage of plutonium waste in the dome.

The Los Angeles Times, in conjunction with the Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, sent teams of reporters to the Marshall Islands five times over a period of 15 months. They documented the ongoing environmental damage, and outbreaks of disease, that afflict the atolls.

From the Los Angeles Times:

“Marshallese leaders acknowledge that America doesn’t bear full responsibility for their nation’s distress. But they say the United States has failed to take ownership of the environmental catastrophe it left behind, and they claim U.S. authorities have repeatedly deceived them about the magnitude and extent of that devastation.”

The dome itself, containing 3.1 million cubic feet of radioactive soil, debris and plutonium, is the consequence of the US saddling the Marshall Islands with a polluting legacy. No other country has to face such potentially devastating consequences from nuclear testing – not even Belarus and the Ukraine, the nations immediately affected by Chernobyl.

Nejre Joseph is now 72 years old. At seven years of age, living on Rongelop Atoll with her family, she witnessed the largest thermonuclear explosion ever conducted by the United States, codenamed Castle Bravo. The nuclear weapons test, carried out on Bikini atoll in 1954, was in the words of Joseph, like watching two suns rise – the usual sunrise and then the explosion. This was the first weaponised hydrogen bomb detonated by the US military.

The fallout from that test rained down a white powder over hundreds of miles, contaminating the water, marine life, and the food and homes of the islanders. People on and near the atolls experienced skin burns, nausea, burning and eventually cancer. The Marshallese were unwitting human guinea pigs for the US military, which was testing the effects of radiation exposure on the human body.

Joseph has suffered radiation poisoning and has had her thyroid removed. She has been taking thyroid medication her whole life. Her example is typical of the health impacts suffered by the Marshallese in the aftermath of US weapons testing.

If the relevant authorities handling the fallout and consequences of the Chernobyl or Fukushima disasters had simply poured concrete on the area and left it, there would be howls of outrage in the media. Stinging condemnations would issue forth from international bodies, and activist-environment groups would find a receptive media willing to broadcast their message. The Marshall Islands are the forgotten ground zero.

This however, is a catastrophe which originates in, and is nurtured by, the actions of the United States. In our corporate media, outrage is selectively deployed against official ‘enemy’ nations – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea – the list is endless. The arrogance of our imperial overlords are rarely if ever questioned. A kind of tribalism is encouraged and promoted – surely we do not do things like that.

Do I think that the Marshallese are super-fantastic people deserving of special privileges? No, I do not. Do I think that there are no other equally important issues deserving of attention? No, I do not. Every political leader must take responsibility, and be accountable for, their decisions and actions. The US has consistently denied, or at least avoided, taking full responsibility for the mess which their predatory actions have created.

The Marshall Islands is where the Cold War legacy of nuclear weapons meets the modern, ongoing problem of climate change. Marshallese Islanders were exiled frim their homes, left in impoverished conditions, and with horrendous health impacts. The United States is a cowardly environmental vandal, damaging the lives of the Marshallese, and refusing to accept culpability. It is time to hold them to account.

Trump, his advisor and the perverse solidarity of white nationalism

In a bundle of leaked emails obtained by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), Stephen Miller, senior political advisor to the Trump administration, expressed and recycled ultranationalist far right and white nationalist viewpoints. Miller, employed by Trump since the 2016 election campaign, regularly emailed his views to the rightwing Breitbart news outlet. Miller restated white supremacist and ultraright talking points, and is an architect of the Trump administration’s policies.

The emails by Miller, covering the period from March 2015 to June 2016, reveal the white supremacist thinking that underlies much of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant and racist policies. Miller lamented the demolition and removal of Confederate statues across the nation – monuments to the slave-owning states. He advocated the ‘great replacement’ conspiracy theory, a racially-paranoid view that sees white populations being systematically ‘replaced’ by immigration from nonwhite countries.

The ‘white replacement’ conspiracy theory is not only bonkers, it motivated far rightist and fascistic killers from Christchurch to El Paso. This perspective provides a perverse sense of solidarity – aggrieved victimhood along white nationalist lines. Such views have influenced the Trump administration’s policies against undocumented immigrants and refugees, denouncing them as a ‘security threat’ and ordering their deportation.

There is nothing particularly surprising about finding a white supremacist political advisor in the White House. However, there are a number of observations to make regarding the place of Miller in such a prominent position in the halls of political power. Earlier this year, Representative Ilhan Omar suggested – in a tweet – that Miller is a white nationalist. Her comment was met with volcanic rage from the rightwing Twittersphere.

Omar’s tweet – greeted with howls of outrage and scornful condemnations by the conservative bloviators – has been vindicated with the most recent revelations. Miller has not only directed his advice along white nationalist lines, he has resurrected racist literature from the recent past. One book that Miller approvingly cites, along with other white nationalists, is the French novel The Camp of the Saints.

The novel, published in 1973 by Jean Raspail, sets out a fictional dystopian scenario – France, a white European power, is overrun by teeming swarms of nonwhite and darker-skinned immigrants from Africa and Asia. Nonwhites, portrayed as ravenous and savage, gradually overwhelm white, Christian France – an early statement of the ‘white genocide’ conspiracy theory.

The portrayal of immigrants and refugees as ‘invaders’ pervades and underlines the immigration policies of the US administration. As refugees from Honduras and other Central American countries set out towards the United States, the Trump government denounced them as ‘criminals’, and began militarising the US-Mexico border. Honduras and El Salvador are afflicted by inequality and poverty. These outcomes are the results of decades of US regime-change policies implemented in Latin America.

The white nationalist fixates on the alleged racial threat posed by the nonwhite refugee, yet refuses to see the economic and political policies that turn those nations – such as those in Central America – into unliveable, poverty-stricken countries. In the wake of Hurricane Dorian, which hit the Bahamas in September this year, the Trump administration’s response to refugees from that disaster was to deny asylum – on the spurious pretext that ‘gang members might be’ among those seeking refuge.

While the mainstream corporate media has focused criticism of Trump on his mental state, narcissistic mindset and duplicity, this perspectives avoids discussion of a deeper malaise. It is not so much that Trump the individual has a fragile ego and frail mind – that may very well be the case. It is the fact that Trump personifies a free-wheeling, free-market white supremacist nationalism which is the scandal of the American political system.

Trump’s skulduggery, his vulgarity and deceitful behaviour are all appalling – but that behaviour is underscores by a white nationalist outlook. His campaign rallies have featured open calls by him and his supporters for vigilante violence against his opponents. When his acolytes chant ‘send her back‘ in reference to Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, they are actively encouraging extrajudicial violence against their political opponents.

Alexander Hurst, writing in the New Republic magazine, states that when immigrants and refugees are routinely described as criminals, invaders, rapists, murderers and animals, vigilante violence against said immigrants in the predictable result. In fact, the United States has a long tradition of vigilante violence, in support of racist state measures. Throughout the history of American settlement, frontier-violence by white settlers was directed at the indigenous communities, abolitionists, ethnic and religious minorities, and civil rights campaigners.

Racial violence against ethnic minorities is not a relic of a long-distant past. The civil rights movement was historic and its accomplishments were game-changing. But let us not draw a false finish line under the issue of racism in the United States because it formerly elected a black president. The presence of Miller as a senior advisor indicates that white nationalism is being codified into institutional bigotry.

Vann Newkirk II, writing in the Atlantic magazine, states that the real scandal of the Trump White House is not the financial malfeasance or corrupt dealings overseas, but its platforming of white nationalist views and policies. Embracing bigotry is not just an academic exercise, but has real-world human consequences.

30 years after the Berlin wall came down, we live in a world enclosed by walls

This month marks 30 years since the removal of the Berlin Wall. Border controls restricting the movement of people between East and West Berlin were demolished. This event was portrayed as ushering in a new period of the free movement of peoples. The wall had come to symbolise the ostensibly tyrannical nature of the former East German government, and its determination to stop free and unrestricted travel for its citizens.

The dividing wall was denounced by American politicians and the intellectual commentariat as an imposition on the inalienable right of Eastern Europeans to enjoy, among other things, freedom to travel. The Berlin wall indicated, for Western audiences, the punitive nature of an undemocratic regime. Surely a government that relies on walls is only demonstrating its politically bankrupt character?

The foreign ministers of Hungary and Austria at the time went one step further – performing a publicity stunt by symbolically cutting the barbed wire fence between their respective nations. This media-friendly PR move was meant to indicate the commitment of European nations, formerly enemies, to break down barriers, opening up a new era of cooperation.

This particular opening of the Eastern bloc border – the so-called ‘Iron Curtain’ – contributed to the restoration of capitalism in the Eastern European nations. The integration of the Eastern European countries into the global capitalist economy led to the formation of an enlarged European Union and the abolition of immigration requirements within the Schengen region.

Thirty years after the Berlin wall came down, the European Union has implemented a series of militarised borders, becoming a garrison against the entry of refugees from non-European nations. Hungary has gone so far as to authorise the deployment of the army to prevent refugees from entering the country. European countries are resurrecting electrified razor-wire borders, hermetically sealing its external borders, denying refugees any entry points. These measures are combined with the abolition of the 1995 Schengen area provisions for internal borders.

Not only have militarised borders been erected in Europe, the United States administration of Donald Trump openly campaigned on a pledge to build a militarised border wall along the US-Mexico border. Demonising Hispanic immigrants as criminals and economic parasites, the Trump administration has pushed on with its determination to build a barrier as part of his xenophobic political platform.

Across the capitalist nations, heavily-fortified borders are being implemented, in particular to stop the movement of refugees and asylum seekers. The hype about welcoming the free movement of peoples has evaporated. Walls and borders do not necessarily have to be physical structures – Australia has enacted a policy of mandatory detention of refugees, involving a series of legislative and coercive measures that punish the most vulnerable – the refugees themselves.

It is no exaggeration to state that Australia’s policy of institutionalised cruelty against refugees is an inspiration to ultra-rightist parties and their conservative supporters around Europe. Former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott has given several speeches at conferences in Europe portraying refugees as basically cheats and fraudsters attempting to unfairly secure a place in the wealthier nations. Such punitive border measures are rationalised by picturing immigration as a civilisational threat.

The European Union has turned the entire Mediterranean sea as a maritime barrier against African refugees, with no expense being spared in turning that sea into a graveyard for approaching refugees. The United Nations has noted that this year marks the sixth year during which the refugee and migrant death toll in the Mediterranean has topped 1000. Migrant and refugee fatalities have become an almost regular feature of maritime traffic in the Mediterranean sea.

One of the African nations from which refugees are fleeing, and which is itself a transit point for asylum seekers from sub-Saharan Africa, is Libya. The latter has been in a state of fractured political and economic chaos since the 2011 European-led war of regime change against former Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi. Having once been a stable nation providing a unmatched level of prosperity for an African nation, Libya has been in a shambles economically as a direct result of policies pursued by the European powers.

Having created a failed state directly across the Mediterranean, the European Union washes its hands of all responsibility in producing an outflow of refugees. Instead, the militarisation of the Mediterranean is the preferred, xenophobic response of countries which once praised the free movement of peoples. The European Union has been outsourcing the refugee problem, by paying the Libyan authorities – at least the ramshackle tottering semblance of a government that the EU recognises – to house refugees in dangerous detention camps.

Sally Hayden, freelance journalist and writer who covers migration and refugee issues, wrote that the EU is funding a Libyan coast guard to prevent refugees from reaching European shores, and thus detaining them in makeshift camps in Libya. The refugees are at the mercy of rival militia groups and economic exploiters. The Italian government has been particularly duplicitous in pushing the refugee problem back into Libyan hands.

The 2017 Memorandum of Understanding between the Italian government and the Libyan authorities in Tripoli institutionalised a system of detention camps, where refugees face inhumane conditions. Such an approach only creates a pool of people vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. These immigration and refugee policies, while implemented in Libya, are designed and carried out by Italian and EU authorities.

In the immediate aftermath of the Berlin wall’s demise, the East German politicians who gave the orders for their border guards to use lethal force were put on trial and held accountable for their actions. Will we see the architects of the EU’s harsh and deliberately cruel refugee policies being held accountable for the deaths their decisions have caused?

While we remember the fall of the Berlin wall, let us not fool ourselves – Europe has erected thousands of kilometres of walls since that time. Building walls not only gives us a sense of xenophobic insularity; they project imperial power over the immigrant and refugee outsider. Walls, razor-wire and surveillance are not purely defensive measures. They have become the new status quo in relations between capitalist states.

American anti-semitism, Jewish immigrants and whiteness

Jews have been classified as white in the United States, but this has not insulated them against vicious and increasing anti-semitism.

In the previous article, we examined the question of whiteness in the United States, and how migrant communities have been categorised into a racially-ordered hierarchy. Those deemed to be white sit at the top of this racial pyramid, and immigrants, such as Italian Americans, struggled to be classified into the ever-fluid classification of whiteness.

However, what about the Jewish people? Technically regarded as white, they were nevertheless ostracised, subjected to anti-semitic attacks, and denounced as an internally-hostile, potentially treasonous element, in the body politic of American society. This month marks one year since the killing of 11 Jewish worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. Since the election of US President Donald Trump, anti-semitic harassment of and attacks against Jewish communities have increased.

How can an ethnic and religious minority, while legally regarded as white, still be subjected to racial attacks and prejudice? Let’s explore this topic by examining the road to whiteness.

Since the US Congress passed the first naturalisation act in 1790, Jews were defined as white and therefore entitled to apply for citizenship in the new republic. However, Jews were nevertheless the outsiders, practicing an ancient creed and its associated customs. Jews did settle in major cities, and also in those US states where slavery was permitted – the US South. In fact, southern Jews – a tiny minority of them – owned and even traded African slaves.

Mordecai Cohen, a prominent and wealthy citizen of Charleston, South Carolina, owned slaves. David Franks of Philadelphia, descendent of a prominent Jewish family and staunch loyalist during the American war of independence – loyal to Britain that is – owned and traded in African slaves. However, Jews were only a marginal player in the transatlantic racial slave trafficking. However, we must decisively reject the false and anti-semitic claim that Jews dominated and/or controlled the slave trade.

That slanderously false claim, made by former grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, and recycled by Nation of Islam leader Minister Louis Farrakhan, only serves to poison relations between the Jewish and African American communities. This claim is not only historically inaccurate, it recycles the old anti-semitic canard of a malevolent and sinister conspiracy of deceitful Jews, setting out to profit from people’s misery.

The notion of a shadowy global Jewish conspiracy is centuries-old, and has undergone various permutations and manifestations. This subject is too large for the current article, but we can state that American anti-semitism, as elaborated by the US ruling class, has served to divide the white population from its Jewish neighbours. In fact, the United States, especially after the end of the civil war and mass immigration from Europe, increased the volume and scope of anti-semitism.

The new science – actually pseudoscience – of race and eugenics changed national perceptions of ethnic and religious minorities. The influx of Eastern European Jewish immigrants – with their customs, traditions and Yiddish language – was accompanied by a national campaign of paranoia that the new immigrants would dilute the ‘purity’ of the white stock and lead to a deterioration of the American lifestyle. The new ‘swarms’ of Jewish immigrants, the teeming masses bringing their culture and refusing to assimilate – these xenophobic themes resonate until today.

Eastern European Jews, escaping the anti-semitic pogroms and prejudice of Tsarist Russia, faced a new type of economic anti-semitism in the new country. Jewish immigrants took up work in the burgeoning factories and growing industries of the capitalist United States.

Henry Ford, the automotive genius responsible for revolutionising car production, was also a vicious lifelong anti-semite. Purchasing the Dearborn Independent newspaper, he used it as a mouthpiece to spread his increasingly anti-immigrant, anti-labour, and anti-semitic views. Ford updated the traditional Jewish conspiracy theory, suggesting that the 1917 Communist revolution in Russia, and its American adherents, were controlled by Jews.

According to Ford, Jewish bankers were responsible for starting World War One, positioning themselves to profit from the destructive conflict. Not only were Jews the sinister bankers at the centre of the financial world, they were also responsible for financing Bolshevik agitators and revolutionaries. The slander of Judeo-Bolshevism was not an exclusive invention of Ford’s, but he did his utmost to publicise this bizarre and ultra-rightist worldview.

The end of World War Two, and the revelation of the horrors of the Holocaust, led to a tactical shift in the United States – Jews would be welcomed into middle-class respectability, moving into comfortable suburbia. Given a small stake in the nation, Jewish communities achieved a level of acceptance, if only grudging, into the white racial hierarchy.

Donald Sterling, the real estate mogul and former owner of an NBA team, is originally Jewish. Imbibing the prejudices and outlook of white America, his bigotry against black Americans led to his disgrace. Able to amass a considerable fortune as a landlord, he held racist views towards African Americans, Hispanics and other racial minorities. His racism was ‘under the radar’ so to speak, during his rise to riches, because he adopted the whiteness necessary for advancement in American society.

However, it would be wrong to regard Donald Sterling as representative of the wider Jewish experience. It is no secret that American Jews participated strongly in the civil rights movement, suffering alongside their African American counterparts in an anti-racism struggle. Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King welcomed Jews as equal supporters in anti-racism campaigns. While relations between Jews and African Americans have sometimes been tense and contradictory, there is no question that Jewish people have a long tradition of cross-ethnic solidarity with black Americans.

As anti-semitism rears its ugly head yet again, this time with the Trump administration providing a suitable platform, it is imperative to remember that whiteness is only a chimera, providing at best an illusory protection against racism. The best antidote to anti-semitism is multiethnic anti-racism and solidarity.