White supremacists shelter behind their shields after clashing with counter protesters at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, US, August 12, 2017..
(photo credit: REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS)
Even as we are focused on our own problems, our eyes and ears can’t avoid turning attention overseas to the United States, where events are taking place that make Israel seem like an island of stability.
The weekend debacle in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white nationalists gathering under a racist umbrella to protest the removal of a statue of Confederate general Robert E. Lee from a public park sparked clashes, violence and death, is another alarming sign that American society is in danger of splitting apart at the seams.
A terrorist driving a car into a crowd is a headline one would expect to see emanating from our region, but when it happens in the US, it’s time to sit up and take notice. And when the driver allegedly subscribes to the hateful beliefs of white supremacists, the Ku Klux Klan and neo-Nazi elements that present a threat to Jews, Muslims, blacks and every minority that calls the US their home, it starts to become personal.
The car slammed into a crowd of people on Saturday, killing 32-year-old Heather Heyer. Video on social media and Reuters photographs showed the car hit a large group of counter-protesters who gathered to confront the white supremacists, sending some flying into the air.
There is no denying that near the top of the list of those people the racists hate are Jews. Although the focus of the white supremacists ostensibly was on preserving symbols of the confederacy, there were overt expressions of Nazi sympathy, including swastika flags and signs that said “The Jewish media is going down.”
According to media reports, chanting by the white supremacists at times targeted Jews and named the town’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer.
There is no middle ground about who is right and wrong in Charlottesville. The sight of racist goons wielding their hate-filled agenda conjures up images of an America many hoped was in the past, where minorities lived in fear and faced discrimination at all turns. It demands unequivocal condemnation – from the top.
However, given the chance to do so and line up with the moral, just side of the great country he represents, President Donald Trump failed miserably. Speaking from his golf club in Bedminster, New Jersey, Trump said: “We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence on many sides, on many sides.” He added, correctly, that these kinds of events have been going on for a long time throughout American history. But, as the Anti-Defamation League wrote on its website, the Charlottesville scene was “the largest and most violent gathering of white supremacists in decades.”
Sometimes there is a right and just side and a wrong and morally bankrupt side. It’s no wonder Signer placed the blame for the atmosphere that allowed it to fester and proliferate on Trump. “I’m not going to make any bones about it,” he said. “I place the blame for a lot of what you’re seeing in America today right at the doorstep of the White House and the people around the president.”
Trump’s mealy-mouthed remarks failed to identify the root cause of the violence or to express the moral outrage over the warped ideology of the white nationalists. It recalls the feeble statements issued by US State Department or White House spokesmen following Palestinian terrorist attacks, which condemn all violence and call for restraint on both sides.
In a tweet, conservative US columnist Bill Kristol concisely summed up what Trump should have said: “To racists and anti-Semites who claim to support me, know this: I denounce your bigotry and reject your support.”
But it seems that Trump, like his predecessor, Barack Obama, may have a problem saying certain words. For Obama, it was the term Islamic terrorism. Trump’s Achilles heel seems to be the inability to acknowledge the monster of white supremacy. Until he does, America will be paralyzed in a morally ambiguous muck that threatens to rip apart the fibers upon which the country was established. As Jews, and as human beings, it’s a cause for dire concern.
As Heather Heyer wrote in her last Facebook post: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”