Last week was a tough time to be an American Jew. The events in Charlottesville, Virginia and their aftermath, where the effective mainstreaming of neo-Nazi ideas by the current American president brought a powerful ugliness to the surface and led to violence and even death – presented a clear portrait about the state of antisemitism in America. It is a chilling reality that most of us probably did not fully appreciate the scope of until now. It should be a wake-up call and serve as a call to action for all of us.
Nevertheless, there have been some surprisingly timid and even dismissive responses in the Jewish world to these events, where some Jews continue to defend Trump, even as he invites the wolves into the hen house. The unrelenting support among certain Jews for a person who time and again shows no understanding about the dangers of antisemitism or any other form of bigotry for that matter is morally appalling. Defending Trump as a Jew is a perplexing and mind-numbing position. Yet, this is the world we are living in, where some people’s positions are so clogged by warped ideology that they can no longer even see the most basic notions of right and wrong.
And that should really terrify us.
To be clear, Trump has been consistent in his relationship with hate groups. He retweets them, he adopts their language, and he invites their leaders to take jobs in his administration. His team bungled questions about Nazism time and again, from Sean Spicer’s absurd claims that Hitler wasn’t so bad, to Trump’s arrogant dismissal of a Jewish reporter’s question about antisemitism. In case we had any doubt, the KKK and the neo-Nazis endorsed him and are now jubilant with the manner of his handling the events in Charlottesville. David Duke, leading the rally, said he was fulfilling Trump’s campaign promise. His marchers chanted, “Jews will not replace us!” The president has brought antisemitism front and center.
It is not only threats against Jews that he ignores.
He has also been eerily silent on both antisemitism and Islamophobia. Yet another mosque was firebombed just last week and no statement was issued by the White House. Under the current administration, America is not a place that is committed to protecting its people from racial or ethnic violence and bigotry.
The results have been quick to come. Although we do not yet have statistics, anecdotal evidence suggests a spike in antisemitic incidents last week.
Social media has been flooded with stories. According to Alan Zimmerman, president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville, “For half an hour, three men dressed in fatigues and armed with semi-automatic rifles stood across the street from the temple... Several times, parades of Nazis passed our building, shouting, ‘There’s the synagogue!’ followed by chants of ‘Seig Heil’ and other antisemitic language. Some carried flags with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.”
In another incident making the rounds, a woman describes going shopping with her toddler, who was singing a “Shabbat song,” when, she reports, “As we were on our way out of the store I overheard a man and a woman near me say, ‘Hey that’s that Jewish song... yeah, yeah it is.’ And then, ‘Oh yeah she’s got that curly Jew hair... yeah the kid too.’ They started moving closer to me and getting louder. ‘Filthy Jew.
Yeah, filthy Jew and her filthy Jew kid.’ And then...
‘Donald Trump is going to take care of you! Yeah! We don’t have to worry now! Trump’s going to take care of you!’” This is real, and it is because the White House has opened the floodgates. The hyenas have taken over the Prideland.
To be fair, some Jewish leaders have come out strongly against Trump. Jewish-American historian Steven Windmueller wrote last week that this is “the first time in American history where a President has not uniformly and consistently condemned anti-Semitism.” Similarly, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, said that these events are “a reminder of the ever-present need for people of good will to stand strong, to speak loudly against hate,” adding that “once again, hate has killed.” ADL head Jonathan Greenblatt also said in a statement, “There is no rationalizing white supremacy and no room for this vile bigotry. It is un-American and it needs to be condemned without hesitation.... We call on the White House to terminate all staff with any ties to these extremists.”
Still, some of Trump’s Jewish supporters remain stalwart. Both The New York Times and The Washington Post reported on the Jews in the White House holding back instead of speaking out or resigning.
Marc Zell, head of Republicans Abroad in Israel, gave Haaretz the outrageous line that the violence was because “leftist thugs” provoked the neo-Nazis.
With that thinking, German Jews “provoked” Hitler, too.
All over the Internet, threads of Trump-supporting Jews brandishing these head-exploding arguments are competing with occasional stories about rabbis and leaders starting to speak out. But there has not yet been any mass migration from Trump supporters back to the side of reason, truth and morality. And that in itself needs to be noted.
American Jews, whether living in America or in Israel, have a moral responsibility to stand up against Trump. We need to be doing this for ourselves, for the Jews who came before us, and for every vulnerable group who is threatened with violence by the once marginal and now growing movement of hate. We cannot sit and wait for the White House to suddenly change its voice. The curtain must come down. The founding principles of the United States are at stake – and I would say, people’s lives are at stake.
Take action, send emails and letters to members of Congress and business leaders, and don’t stay passive. We are in the midst of a critical moment in history, and we have the power to shape how it will turn out, whether or not we will let hate win.The author is the vice chairwoman for Media and Policy of Democrats Abroad-Israel.