An Open Letter to President Trump on Anti-Semitism
By David Harris and Lawrence Grossman
On one thing both your supporters and detractors can agree: you call it as you see it, without euphemisms or diplomatic niceties.
That’s why your equivocation and seeming defensiveness on the subject of anti-Semitism are so puzzling.
On January 27, International Holocaust Memorial Day, the White House issued a statement that, inexplicably, did not mention anti-Semitism, the ideology that drove the Holocaust, or Jews, its target for total annihilation.
Instead, it spoke generically and euphemistically of “innocent people” who perished, and referred to “victims,” “survivors,” and “heroes” without any national or religious identification.
When this was pointed out, White House spokesmen doubled down and attacked those who called attention to the fact. Why?
Later, at the press conference you held together with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 15, an Israeli reporter asked you about the alarming rise in hate crimes against Jews in the US since the election.
You responded by citing your Electoral College majority and your aspirations to promote peace, stop crime and racism, and bring Americans together.
You mentioned “Jewish people, so many friends,” and noted the presence in the audience of your Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and “three beautiful grandchildren.” The press conference then veered off in other directions.
In other words, whatever else you said, you never answered the question.
During another press conference the next day, a reporter respectfully, even admiringly, asked what you would do about rising anti-Semitism.
Taking this as an accusation, which it most assuredly was not, you responded that you are the least anti-Semitic person, and told him to sit down.
Mr. President, questions about anti-Semitism are especially timely now. On the very day you appeared with the Israeli leader, federal officials in South Carolina arrested a man suspected of planning an attack on a synagogue.
On that day as well, the New York City Police Department reported that, as of February 12, fully half — 28 out of 56 — of the hate crimes committed in the city since the start of the year were of an anti-Semitic nature, the only category of hate crimes that reached double digits.
And this comes as we witness this week the fourth round of bomb threats against Jewish Community Centers across the country, and as swastikas and other Nazi hate symbols have been proliferating on college campuses and storefronts, at bus stops and train stations across the country.
Further, during and after the election campaign, social media platforms have been flooded by anti-Semitic memes. Jewish journalists and bloggers have suffered harassment and ridicule, their names placed inside multiple parentheses to stigmatize them for their Jewish identity.
Attacks on Jews constitute the largest category, both in the aggregate and proportionally, of religion-based hate crimes in the United States.
Not surprisingly, purveyors of hate through social media do not always use their real names, and the recent proliferation of anti-Semitism surely cannot be attributed to any one source.
But the racist and white supremacist nature of much of it suggests that anti-Semites have been at least emboldened, if not openly supported, by the so-called alt-right, which inhabits the extreme of conservative America and lives on nostalgia for a fantasy of “the good old days” when our country was allegedly white, Christian, and Anglo-Saxon.
President Trump, you are a real estate developer from one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, and, as you like to say, the least anti-Semitic person around. Again, you proudly speak of the Jewish members of your immediate family. Yet, until now at least, you won’t comment on the threats that ultimately menace them every bit as much as the rest of us.
Isn’t it time that you speak up, loud and clear, including against those who may have totally misconstrued your call to “make America great again” and put “America First” as invitations to turn against one another?
At the press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu, you told the reporter who asked about anti-Semitism that during your presidency there would be “a lot of good things” happening, including “a lot of love.”
Love can do much good, but, contrary to the Beatles’ refrain, it is not “all there is.” To stop Jew-hatred, you must begin by calling it out and declaring it beyond the pale.
The US has led the world in the battle for human rights and freedom of religion. In our country, we aspire to judge people on the basis of their character and deeds, not ethnicity or faith.
Mr. President, in the American spirit, we urge you to condemn what has often been called “the oldest hatred” — anti-Semitism — and unleash the power of government to match deeds with words.
David Harris is CEO and Lawrence Grossman is Publications Director of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).