Remember when the best way to spend a night at college was to hang out in the bar and play pinball?
That was a better use of time than going to hear Richard Spencer, the alt-right leader and head of the white nationalist National Policy Institute, who appeared at Texas A&M University on Tuesday night.
In trying to gather support for white nationalism, he pulled an interesting move: trying to equate his movement with Zionism.
“Jews exist precisely because you did not assimilate. That is why Jews are a coherent people with a history and a culture and a future. It’s because you had a sense of yourselves. I respect that about you. I want my people to have that same sense of themselves.”
Spencer wants a "Zionism" for white people.
Let's be clear. Zionism is the movement for the national liberation of the Jewish people. It is the desire of the Jewish people to live (quoting Hatikvah, the national anthem of the state of Israel) "as a free people, in our land, in the land of Zion and Jerusalem."
Zionism means that Jews live as free people: free from persecution; free to create a society that embodies Jewish values and ideals; free to create a uniquely Jewish culture in a Jewish land; free to create a society in the land of the Bible; free to fulfill the Jewish mandate to live on the land.
It also means that we should be able to free ourselves from distortion of Judaism and Jewish history.
Several months ago, I was meeting with a young Jew, and we were discussing politics.
He told me that he respected Donald Trump -- "because he supports our people."
"Which people is that?" I asked. "Jews? Israel?"
"No," he said.
That was the moment when I forgot all of the pastoral counseling skills that I learned in rabbinical school.
"No!" I said. "There is no such thing as white people. There is no such thing as white identity."
"Sure, there is," he said. "You go to north Florida, and there are many white people who have their own culture. They hunt, they fish..."
I tried to explain to him that, however laudable hunting and fishing might be, those pastimes do not point to any particular culture.
I tried to explain to him that there are distinct national and ethnic cultures that are associated with peoples that are "traditionally" "white" (whatever that means): Polish, Irish, Italian, Scotch-Irish.
But, he wasn't buying it.
Let's say this loudly, please.
There is no white country. There is no white culture (I resist the temptation to cite "Ozzie and Harriet" as the exception to the rule).
Yes, there are individual countries and nations. So, if Richard Spencer got up and argued, for example, that he is in favor of supporting Irish culture, I would say to him: "Great. Learn Gaelic. Read James Joyce. Learn ancient Irish mythology. And if you want to live Irish culture full-time, here is Aer Lingus's toll-free number. Erin go bragh!"
Italian, Armenian, Polish, or Czech culture: same thing.
Jewish culture: you can support it, and live it, in the Diaspora, or in the state of Israel.
This is why we don't need Richard Spencer's interpretations of Zionism.
Because he perverts Zionism.
It is not only that he thinks that white people should be like the Jews -- with their own culture and place. That is bad enough.
It is also that he thinks that Jews should be like his imagined category of "white people."
For the moment, let us not focus on whether Jews or actually "white," or when they "became white."
Let us focus, rather, on this.
If we fail to refute Spencer's fun house mirror distortion of Zionism, then we perpetuate one of the greatest lies of the past seventy years -- the "Zionism is racism" canard.
On November 10, 1975, the UN General Assembly passed Resolution 3379, declaring that “Zionism is a form of racism and racial discrimination.”
My friend, Gil Troy, has written a spectacular biography of the man who was the only hero of that day -- the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations.
His words, as thundered in the General Assembly:
The United States rises to declare before the General Assembly of the United Nations, and before the world, that it does not acknowledge, it will not abide by, it will never acquiesce in this infamous act.
Moynihan understood Zionism. He knew that it arose “in the context of a general upsurge of national consciousness and aspiration that overtook most peoples of Europe and in time spread to all of Africa and Asia.”
Moynihan scoffed at the idea that the Jews were a race. “There are black Jews, brown Jews, white Jews, Jews from the Orient and Jews from the West…the State of Israel has been extraordinary in the ‘racial stocks’ from which it has drawn its citizenry.”
The “Zionism is Racism” resolution was rescinded in 1991.
No matter: the damage had been done, and it has been thorough, and that damage continues.
We will let no one further that damage. Not our enemies in the Third World; not far leftist activists.
And, no -- especially not Richard Spencer.