Of white supremacists and statues of confederate leaders

The real issue is the increased number of demonstrations by white supremacy groups.

By
August 20, 2017 21:13
Members of the Ku Klux Klan face counter-protesters as they rally in support of Confederate monument

Members of the Ku Klux Klan face counter-protesters as they rally in support of Confederate monuments in Charlottesville, Virginia, U.S. July 8, 2017. (photo credit: REUTERS / JONATHAN ERNST)

Many of the reactions to the terrorist attack in Charlottesville, Virginia on August 12 by a white supremacist, which resulted in the death of one counter-demonstrator and the wounding of many others, have suffered from gross factual inaccuracies, and the bandying around of buckets full of red herrings, designed to distract attention from the real issue.

The real issue is the increased number of demonstrations by white supremacy groups against the background of a nationwide movement to remove officially condoned confederate flags and the statues of confederate leaders throughout the United States. The movement was sparked by the 2015 killing of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, by a white supremacist. The movement has gained force since the election of President Donald Trump with the enthusiastic backing of white supremacists.

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The background to the specific event in Charlottesville was a decision last April by its city council to remove a statue of confederate general Robert E. Lee which had been erected in 1924.

Mike Signer, the mayor of Charlottesville – a Democrat of Jewish origin – had voted against the decision, preferring to change the context within which the statue is presented. In other words, the context should not be the original one of the segregation and discrimination, but rather of freedom and emancipation. As a result of the events of August 12 Signer changed his position, and is now in favor of the statue’s removal (the issue is currently in court).

The recent “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, with its white supremacy, neo-Nazi and Ku Klux Klan participants arriving from all over the United States, was not the first to take place in the small historical town, (population less than 50,000) since the city council’s decision.

Since these rallies, in which both Nazi and confederate flags are flown, are invariably accompanied by both verbal and physical violence, counter demonstrations by anti-supremacists – both from Charlottesville (a Democrat stronghold where Hillary Clinton won close to 80% of the votes) and from out of town – have become part of the event. Among the outside supporters of the counter demonstrations are the Black Lives Matter and “Antifa” (anti-fascist) movements.

These two movements are virulent opponents of President Donald Trump, and in addition openly support an anti-occupation policy regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, thus creating a community of interest on this issue between Trump and Israel’s more extreme Right.

While Trump condemned the white supremacists, neo-Nazis and KKK for their part in the violence in Charlottesville, he did not actually accuse them of committing an act of terrorism (somewhat reminiscent of president Barack Obama’s refusal to utter the words “radical Muslim terrorism”), and has insisted that there are “bad guys” on both sides, disregarding the fact that the supremacists had initiated the event, and that the act of terrorism was committed by one of their own, whom they failed to condemn.

While no one denies that radical movements of all ideologies are inclined to violence, to place an ideology propagating racism, hatred and subjugation on par with one that protests against fascism and calls for equality and an equal fulfillment of rights is outrageous.

Trump’s position on the Charlottesville issue has created a backlash of opposition in the US, not only from Democrats but also from Republican congressmen, generals, right-wing journalists, and corporate factors that had agreed to collaborate with Trump’s various economic projects.

It is thus rather nauseating to find some Israeli right-wingers, including the prime minister’s 26-year-old son Yair, supporting Trump’s position.

Netanyahu junior actually went so far as to tweet last Tuesday night that in his eyes the radical Left is more dangerous than the neo-Nazis, who – according to him – are insignificant. Knowingly or unknowingly Yair was reflecting what Steve Bannon had said in an interview to The American Prospect several days before being fired from the White House: “Ethno- nationalism – it’s losers. It’s a fringe element...

these guys are a collection of clowns.”

Professors Moshe Zimmerman from the Hebrew University and Dina Porath from Yad Vashem argued on TV Channel 2 on August 19 that the white supremacists are, in fact, growing stronger in the US.

Trump has correctly pointed out that the pretext for the Charlottesville rally was the issue of the Gen. Lee’s statue, and then proceeded to lament the removal of “beautiful statues and monuments” commemorating the confederacy, expressing sadness regarding the ripping apart of “America’s history and culture.” He totally disregarded the issue that the confederacy and its Civil War heroes represent to millions of Americans a glorification of what the confederacy stood for during that war – namely slavery and disunity.

In dictatorships and former dictatorships it is common practice to pull down the statues and remove the pictures of ousted dictators. But what about democracies that have experienced political upheavals? Is it right to tear down the statues and vestiges of the heritage of leaders or regimes that have been defeated – whether by means of elections, or by means of civil war? The answer to this question is not simple and straightforward. I believe that for the sake of unity and healing old wounds, a way should be found to avoid the destruction of the old artifacts, and to integrate them into the current reality, even at the cost of changing the context within which they are displayed. This is what the mayor of Charlottesville had originally sought to do. The violence and bloodshed – for which in this case the white supremacists were exclusively responsible, despite what Trump says – were what changed his mind.

This is regrettable, since the removal of the old statues and monuments will merely deepen the schisms in the American society, and strengthen an atmosphere of civil strife.

In Israel statues of leaders are a rarity – largely because of the prohibition on the making of idols.

However, can anyone imagine what would happen if someone were to decide – on political grounds – to remove the bust of David Ben-Gurion from Ben Gurion Airport, or that of Yitzhak Rabin from Rabin Square in Tel Aviv? Or worse still, to remove their names from these sites? I hope I am not giving Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev any ideas.


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