President Donald Trump’s critics were quick to blame him for an apparent rise in antisemitic incidents in the United States.
The folly of those critics was exposed with last month’s arrest of a 19-year-old American Israeli, who has been accused of perpetuating the overwhelming majority of some 150 bomb threats to Jewish organizations across the US in the first months of 2017.
Removing those bomb threats from the list of antisemitic incidents could demonstrate that, despite all the reports about rising antisemitism since Trump took office, the number of antisemitic incidents is actually down.
During the administration of president Barack Obama, more than 7,000 antisemitic attacks occurred but did not make waves in the media. At that time, no one thought to blame Obama for the antisemitic incidents in the manner in which Trump is currently being blamed.
A case can be made that the antisemitic incidents since Obama left office can be attributed not to the rise of Trump, but to Obama’s departure.
During Obama’s term in office, his efforts to challenge the Jewish state were always in the headlines.
Antisemites in America could keep their hatred for Jews beneath the surface because, from their perspective, an anti-Israel (and thus anti-Jewish) position was already being implemented at the highest level.
It should be acknowledged that Obama has always spoken very warmly about the American Jewish community, with whom he has had close ties since his days as a community organizer in Chicago in the 1980s. Indeed, his hagiographer, Atlantic magazine editor-in-chief Jeffrey Goldberg, even called him “the first Jewish president.”
President Obama also provided Israel with unprecedented, guaranteed military aid that cannot be included in Trump’s planned foreign aid cutbacks. It was the most generous financial package ever offered to Israel by any US president.
Yet, since Israel’s founding, the Jewish state has been a channel for articulating and implementing antisemitism. As Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman claims, it is not Israel’s policies but its very existence that generates antisemitism. One can add to that envy of the Jewish state’s extraordinary success, which was once again recently demonstrated by the sale of Jerusalem-based Mobileye to Intel for $15 billion.
It can be argued that antisemites perceived Obama’s policies as supportive of their own views. In his June 4, 2009 speech at Cairo University, Obama undermined Israel’s narrative of the Jewish state’s continuous existence because of its connection to its land going back to the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs. He adopted the false Palestinian narrative that Israel exists only because of the Holocaust.
Obama further reinforced that false narrative by going straight from Cairo to the Buchenwald concentration camp and not to Jerusalem.
Obama also encouraged the development of J Street, an organization that has actively polarized the Jewish community and made Israel into a divisive issue instead of the unifying force it has heretofore been on Capitol Hill. The president tried (and failed) to do the same with Israelis, urging dovish college students in Jerusalem to push their political leaders to take risks on behalf of peace.
The tensions between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were initiated by Obama to demonstrate to the Arab world that the US was no longer “in Israel’s pocket.”
Former Obama adviser Dennis Ross wrote in his book Doomed to Succeed: The US-Israel Relationship from Truman to Obama that Obama made a deliberate, strategic decision to add daylight between the US and Israel to improve his relations with the Muslim world.
Obama also made a strategic decision to seek a deal with Iran, the terrorism- supporting Islamic republic that sponsors contests for antisemitic cartoons.
But one could argue that perhaps no action by Obama encouraged antisemitism more than his efforts over his eight years in office to demonize Israeli settlements. Those efforts sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly portrayed Israel as an aggressor, and incorrectly painted the Jewish state as the primary obstacle to Middle East peace and the sole source of Palestinian misery.
That effort culminated in December with the refusal of the Obama administration to veto UN Security Council Resolution 2334, which states that the establishment by Israel of settlements in the Palestinian territory including east Jerusalem, “occupied” since 1967, has no validity, constitutes a flagrant violation of international law and is a major obstacle to the achievement of the two-state solution and a just, lasting and comprehensive peace.
The resolution demands that Israel immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the “occupied territories,” including east Jerusalem.
It implicitly encouraged the International Criminal Court to prosecute Israeli officials as war criminals for advancing West Bank construction.
The most harmful impact of the resolution is the provision that “Calls upon all states to distinguish, in their relevant details, between the area of the State of Israel and the territories occupied since 1967.”
It is noteworthy that this provision contravenes existing American state and federal legislation. The Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement is a decade-old international campaign, modeled after the South Africa divestment campaign, to place crippling economic pressure on the State of Israel until it submits to conditions supportive of the Palestinians.
In recent years, BDS has been successfully combated by state and federal legislation. Such legislation makes the rejection of BDS a top priority for US negotiators as they work on free trade agreements. Yet, when he signed the anti-BDS Trade Facilitation and Enforcement Act in February 2016, president Obama said he would not enforce it with regard to Israeli settlements.
With such a friend as Barack Obama in the White House, the Jewish People’s enemies did not feel compelled to act. Now with Donald Trump, a president perceived as truly pro-Israel, they have resurfaced to ensure that antisemitism will continue, not because of the policies of the White House.The writer is the president of the Religious Zionists of America.