If It Walks Like a Duck…
In the Donald’s words, there is no one less Anti-Semitic you’ve ever seen. There is no one less racist, so sayeth our tiny handed, orange tinged, and unhinged leader. Trump, it has been noted, has Jewish grandchildren, a Jewish daughter and son-in-law. And according to Trump, Benjamin Netanyahu has been a friend for decades and never once called him an Anti-Semite. His defense is the equivalent of “I’m not racist because I have black friends / family!” His daughter may have taken on the faith, but Trump seems willfully ignorant on any subject that doesn’t concern his favorite subject, himself.
I’m really starting to wonder: at what point does his silence, outright deflection, and actions outweigh any pronouncement to the contrary? Trump took his sweet time in denouncing David Duke. His right-hand, Steve Bannon, is a man with very troubling thoughts on Jews and Judaism. Trump readily parrots stereotypes of Jews, saying”you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money”, and in the process bombing in a room of conservative, Jewish donors. Retweets of white nationalism with anti-Semitic and racist overtones featured prominently in his campaign.
Jews were conspicuously left off the Holocaust Remembrance Day proclamation. There was no mention of the 6 million plus murdered, or how centuries of vibrant European Jewish life was snuffed out. True, Jews were not the only victims – Roma and Slavs were also targeted because of their ethnicity. Yet, Nazism hand-picked the Jews from the outset, a convenient minority that had sheltered blame since their European arrival. Discussing the Holocaust and leaving out the Jews is a lot like saying “All Lives Matter” when discussing a singular issues like police treatment of African American communities. There was speculation that its was either ignorance or oversight, but evidence shows the contrary. This was intentional.
The Jewish community represents perhaps 2% of our national population, yet we Jews represent 53.3% of religiously motivated hate crimes. Crimes went up 9% in 2015 alone, to say nothing of the rash of attacks and threats since election day. In January 2017, 57 bomb threats were made to 48 Jewish centers throughout the United States, prompting evacuations, police sweeps, and closures. While nothing was found, it has rattled the Jewish community. White supremacists have been emboldened to spray-paint swastikas, or vandalize synagogues (including here in Chicago). According to watchdog groups, the amount and tenor of Anti-Semitic language has skyrocketed. We can’t afford to view these developments as idle threats. Even in a country where Jews have flourished, we remain targets of hate.
Against that backdrop, Jake Turx, an Orthodox Jewish reporter from Ami Magazine asked a softball of a question. While taking great pains to comment that Trump wasn’t seen as Anti-Semitic, how was the government going to deal with the rise of Anti-Semitism? An easy answer would have been to say, “The United States does not tolerate, nor condone Anti-Semitism. We will do everything we can to prevent its spread and prosecute those who perpetuate it.” Easy. 15 seconds at most. Our fears are somewhat placated, and he can move on to whatever insanity he chooses.
Instead, Turx was cut off mid-question. Trump gave a customary non-answer while self-aggrandizing (surprise!). Turx persisted and was cut off yet again (quiet, quiet, quiet and sit down). There was nothing offensive about the question, but ever thin-skinned, Trump took it as a personal affront despite the lengthy preface. From CNN, “later on in the news conference, Sirius XM’s Jared Rizzi said, ‘I’ll follow up on my colleague’s question about anti-Semitism. It’s not about your personality or your beliefs. We’re talking about a rise in anti-Semitism around the country. Some of it by supporters in your name. What can you do to deter that?’
In response, Trump said, ‘Some of it is written by our opponents. You do know that? Do you understand that? You don’t think anybody would do a thing like that?’ He went on to insist anti-Semitism was coming from his political opponents, who were doing it to generate anger: ‘Some of the signs you’ll see are not put up by the people that love or live Donald Trump.’
What?!?! I cannot wrap my head around a man who somehow believes that being labeled an Anti-Semite (even though he wasn’t!) is somehow worse than actual Anti-Semitism. And it’s not as if we don’t know who is saying what or what groups are most committed to anti-Jewish ideology and action. We know there is a subset of the Right who do this. Richard Spencer, for one with his intimidation campaign in Whitefish, Mont. Trump is on the warpath against any group he believe to be opposed to him, whether it’s the entire mainstream press corps or anyone from the Democratic Party. It’s true that Anti-Semitism is not unique to the Right, but in addition to deflecting the original question, he’s perfectly fine spreading any lies that suit his agenda.
If walks like a duck, talks like a duck, and acts like a duck – it is a duck. I hope the pressure increases for Trump to formally denounce Anti-Semitism. I hope it leads him to actually address this rising tide. I hope he goes deeper than tired stereotypes. I hope, maybe, he listens to his daughter and son-in-law and acts, if for no other reason than deference to them. I hope he actually listens to real fears and concerns from the Jewish community. But, I’m not holding my breath.
Four days after writing this, Trump finally, personally read a statement, “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil.” This of course comes after 10 more synagogues were evacuated for bomb threats and over 100 tombstones were desecrated at Jewish cemetery outside St. Louis. Worse still, was Trump’s lack of awareness of his own complicity in emboldening anti-Semitism as evidenced by, “You don’t know where it’s coming from, but I hope they catch the people.” Actually, we do know where it’s coming from (largely), especially as a number of the highest profile members of the administration have espoused these views. Embedded within his message was another cheap shot unmistakably directed at prospective Muslim immigrants (i.e. keeping the nation safe). At least in the US, physical attacks and threats on the Jewish community aren’t coming from Muslims or from immigrants. Even if the BDS movement (in my opinion) is often wrong-headed in their double standard towards Israel, they at least hold a tenable position communicated (largely) through peaceful means. Threats and desecration of holy places and spaces are a fear-based terrorism campaign taken directly from the white supremacist playbook.
Ivanka beat her famous father to the punch, finally addressing it via Twitter on Monday. In both cases though, this is far too little, too late. Even if it is an important step that had to happen, we need a President who does the right thing without being poked and prodded to do so. Any President claiming to speak for the nation should readily denounce acts of violence or intimidation against his fellow citizens. Ivanka often invokes her Judaism, so her own silence has been notable (even as we don’t require her to be political). And, if in the infamous Nordstrom tweet, Ivanka always pushes her father to do the right thing; why didn’t she push her harder, if not for herself, but for her children and husband?
Perhaps because of his familial ties, the President has been given a pass he should never have been given (particularly among Orthodox Jews). It’s important the Jewish community remind the President when we aren’t feeling protected or even acknowledged. It is important that bigots who look to Trump for guidance hear that their hatred and the actions produced are not acceptable. It is vital that Trump do so of his volition and not seen to be caving to “liberal” forces, giving those emboldened a wink and nudge to follow his actions, and not his contradictory words. If Trump is really not an Anti-Semite, we need to a see a lot more, regardless of how long he’s the president for.