This past week, I received an expected fan note—from the internet’s neo-Nazis. Now, the alt-right is very familiar with my work. In fact, during the 2016 election campaign, an Anti-Defamation League study found that I was the second-most abused Jewish journalist on Twitter by its partisans. Yet on Friday, a clip of my appearance on a recent panel at the American Jewish Committee’s Global Forum was posted and praised by The Daily Stormer, one of white nationalism’s premier outlets. Under the headline, “It’s a Good Thing Most Young Jews Aren’t Anywhere Near as Self-Aware as Yair Rosenberg,” the video received thousands of views.
I raise this incident not to drive traffic or attention to The Daily Stormer (which is why I’m not linking to them), but because their reaction offers a warning for those who underestimate America’s white nationalists. On the panel they lauded, I explained a key strategic choice made by the far-right that has enabled them to be more electorally successful than the far-left. Their applause is an admission that should trouble their opponents.
Let me explain.
The AJC exchange in question took place on a panel about the alt-right featuring The Atlantic‘s McKay Coppins, the Washington Post‘s Jennifer Rubin, and myself. Early on, the moderator asked us to explain how the notoriously anti-Semitic group squares its support for Donald Trump with his pro-Israel posture and Jewish family members. I had actually posed this question to some of my trolls during the election, and relayed the following response:
In other words, the far-right succeeded in 2016 because it proved far more politically pragmatic than many on the left. The alt-right is not stupid. It did not think Trump was actually the ideal avatar of its preferred policies. It knew he had connections to Jews. But the group recognized that his candidacy offered their best chance, and so they took it—with relish. Meanwhile, many on the progressive left spent the election campaign—and the months after it to this day—feuding internally over the relative purity of their candidates. A significant number ultimately voted for Jill Stein or not at all. One might mock the alt-right’s Pepe the frog memes, but they were far more electorally effective at rallying the faithful than popular progressive hashtags like #BernieorBust or #JillNotHill.
The alt-right knows that their willingness to settle for the real over the ideal gives them an advantage over the left. The Daily Stormer, in its piece on my remarks, admitted as much: “Seriously, we would have a big problem if all young Jewish journalists [read: liberals] were able to reflect like this particular Jew is able to reflect.” The alt-right, in other words, is far more self-aware and pragmatic than many give them credit for—and than many of their opponents are. Until this changes, they will continue to punch above their weight.
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