US Jewish leaders call on government to take decisive action against antisemitic attacks

American Jewish Committee (AJC) CEO David Harris told The Jerusalem Post that he has found the new administration's response to the phenomenon "disappointing, to say the least."

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February 21, 2017 18:56
Malcolm Hoenlein

Malcolm Hoenlein. (photo credit: CONFERENCE OF PRESIDENTS)

 
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American Jewish organizational leader Malcolm Hoenlein has called for international mobilization against antisemitism, as other prominent groups called on US authorities to take action following the latest in a series of anti-Jewish incidents across the country.

The latest string of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers on Monday, coupled with the desecration of tombstones at a St. Louis area Jewish cemetery over the weekend, provoked a flood of angry and concerned statements.

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Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, on Tuesday called for the establishment of a world conference on antisemitism, similar to the 1971 and 1976 international gatherings in Brussels convened to address the plight of Soviet Jews.

He then said that statistics on antisemitism indicate that the situation for Jews in Europe is even worse than in the US. Hoenlein – who is currently in Israel for the organization’s annual conference – called on Jerusalem to play a key role in enlisting heads of state and other prominent world leaders to the initiative.

“A successful mobilization against antisemitism will strengthen the fight against all forms of bigotry,” he said.

US President Donald Trump was among those Hoenlein said should join the effort.

Trump has been subject to considerable criticism over his response – or lack thereof – to the recent uptick in antisemitism in the United States.



American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris told The Jerusalem Post that he has found the Trump administration’s response to the phenomenon “disappointing, to say the least.”

“We’ve only just reached the stage today – thankfully, if belatedly – of hearing President Trump acknowledge the issue and call it by its rightful name – ‘antisemitism,’” he said. For the first time since his inauguration, Trump on Tuesday broadly condemned antisemitism in response to Monday’s events.

“For reasons that escape me, until now it’s been about generic words like ‘hatred’ and ‘intolerance,’ or about the president defending himself against nonexistent charges that he’s an antisemite,” Harris remarked. “It’s elementary: To combat a problem you first have to define it, and the definition of this particular problem is antisemitism, pure and simple. Then you need a robust plan of action. Let’s hope it will be forthcoming – and soon.”

He added that the AJC strives to focus the government’s attention on the growing danger. “They have the resources to assess, monitor and address the challenges far better than any non-governmental institution possibly can.”

The Simon Wiesenthal Center joined the chorus of voices and urged the United States attorney- general to establish a special task force to apprehend the culprit or culprits behind the four waves of bomb threats against Jewish community centers in the past five weeks, as well as for Trump to outline his administration’s plan to combat surging antisemitism.

“The multi-pronged threats of antisemitism today demand concerted action. We look to President Trump to take a leadership role in addressing the problem of antisemitism and hate in America head-on in a speech, at a time and place of his choosing,” the center’s dean and founder, Rabbi Marvin Hier and Rabbi Abraham Cooper, the center’s associate dean said in a statement they issued.

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan A. Greenblatt also appealed to political leaders “at all levels to speak out against such threats directed against Jewish institutions, to make it clear that such actions are unacceptable, and to pledge that they will work with law enforcement officials to ensure that those responsible will be apprehended and punished to the full extent of the law.”

World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder echoed that sentiment, calling for a “strong and decisive reaction by the authorities at all political levels to combat it.”

The Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect had a harsher response to the remarks Trump made on Tuesday: “Mr. President, your too-little, too-late acknowledgment of antisemitism today is not enough.”

“The president’s sudden acknowledgment is a Band-Aid on the cancer of antisemitism that has infected his own administration,” said Steven Goldstein, executive director of the center, branding Trump’s comment “a pathetic asterisk of condescension after weeks in which he and his staff have committed grotesque acts and omissions reflecting antisemitism, yet day after day have refused to apologize and correct the record.”

“Make no mistake: The antisemitism coming out of this administration is the worst we have ever seen from any administration,” he continued.

“The White House repeatedly refused to mention Jews in its Holocaust remembrance, and had the audacity to take offense when the world pointed out the ramifications of Holocaust denial. And it was only yesterday, Presidents Day, that Jewish community centers across the nation received bomb threats, and the president said absolutely nothing. When President Trump responds to antisemitism proactively and in real time, and without pleas and pressure, that’s when we’ll be able to say this president has turned a corner. This is not that moment.”

The Trump administration was not the only government taking flack. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has also been called out for remaining silent in the face of the deteriorating situation in the US.

Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai told the Post that this situation, in which the government has remained silent against these acts, is horrific. “Although the government usually stands next to the Jewish communities in the Diaspora after antisemitic incidents, this time it is perplexed and hesitates in its reaction,” he said.

Shai believes that the Netanyahu- led government is keeping quiet in order maintain the developing ties between it and the Trump administration, and claimed that it prefers to avoid being critical or making moves that could damage the relations.

“And even so,” Shai said, “there is no justification for the indifference they demonstrate. The Israeli government should look after the entire world Jewry, including the United States.”

Udi Shaham contributed to this report.

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