This latest round of attacks make 69 incidents, at 54 JCCs, in 27 states, so far this year. The upsurge in the number and level of violence of anti-Semitic incidents and attacks after Trump’s election have been increasing and scary, from a woman called a “dirty Jew” on the C train to the swastikas appearing across the country with regularity and now, these repeated bomb threats made on JCCs across the US. Repeated. Is it only a matter of time until there is a terror incident in the US directed at American Jews?
Do American Jews now have to weigh Trump’s hoped-for support of Israel against not only their religious and moral convictions, but their safety in the US (and in the world)? Trump’s rhetoric and domestic policies fly in the face of traditional Jewish humanitarian values, and the idea of turning away refugees jar many who remember when it was Jewish refugees being turned away. But even those American Jews who don’t care about that and are concerned more for their personal safety and a strong Israel can’t be certain that either of those will actually be goals of the Trump administration — particularly given the influence of advisors like Steve Bannon, former mouthpiece of alt-right white supremacist heralded Breitbart News, accused of making anti-Semitic comments and decried by Jewish groups, among others. Furthermore, Trump seems as reluctant to decry specifically anti-Jewish, anti-Semitic incidents as he claimed Obama was to say “radical Islamic terrorism.”
There is a pattern emerging. Last October 13, Trump warned that Clinton “meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of US sovereignty” and made reference to “a global power structure” — classic anti-Semitic rhetoric too close to the “Elders of Zion” for comfort. Made worse by his campaign’s closing ad, which showed Jews: George Soros, Janet Yellen, and Lloyd Blankfein, while again playing those lines.
Trump then utilized “America First” rhetoric, initially used as a basis for early US World War II isolationism, in his inaugural address. Look on David Duke’s website and find such comments highlighted as “Donald Trump stood up on the steps of the Capitol virtually surrounded by powerful establishment political sellouts and Jewish Neocon warmongers, open borders traitors — and he declared war on them.”
The Trump administration’s Holocaust proclamation didn’t mention that six million who perished in the Holocaust were Jewish (arguing later that removing Jews from the Holocaust narrative is being inclusive). White supremacists hailed the “de-Judification” of the Holocaust. De-Judification.
Trump tweeted that the tears of long-serving Jewish senator Chuck Schumer, emotional in contemplating a refugee ban (given that much of his family having perished in the Holocaust) were fake. He commented on Schumer’s “acting coach.”
At his press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Trump responded to a question about anti-Semitic incidents by citing his election statistics and talking about Jewish family and friends. No specific condemnation of anti-Semitic incidents.
When, the following day, a journalist from an ultra-Orthodox magazine asked specifically about anti-Semitic incidents and particularly about the JCC bomb threats, Trump attacked the journalist, claiming that it wasn’t a fair question and that the journalist had lied about the fact that he’d be asking a simple question. Trump’s only substantive answer? “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.” While he refused to answer a question about anti-Semitic incidents and condemned a religious reporter for asking about them.
Now, in addressing the repeated and terrifying bomb threats made against JCCs, a White House statement attributed to press secretary Sean Spicer read, “Hatred and hate-motivated violence of any kind have no place in a country founded on the promise of individual freedom,” and “The president has made it abundantly clear that these actions are unacceptable.” As in the Holocaust statement, no specific reference to violence against Jews. Direction from white supremacist advisors? Afraid to alienate an anti-Semitic base? Why won’t he say it?
That Trump so offends — doubling down and refusing to correct that offense when given the opportunity to, and that some of his closest advisors have been accused of anti-Jewish sentiment should scare us all, regardless of his proclaimed loyalty to Israel that to date has been voluble, but so far no more than verbal. This is the institutionalization and normalization of anti-Semitism — making it acceptable, laying the ground for future policy to be made on that basis.
Even if Trump’s support for Israel does materialize, will it obviate anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic attacks domestically — and abroad? And, ultimately, can the Trump administration even be trusted to support Israel, and how and to what extent? That the proximity of Jared and Ivanka Kushner demonstrates Trump’s loyalty to American Jews and Israel isn’t enough. Other anti-Semites in governmental positions of authority had Jewish advisors too. The real question is who is calling the shots, and whether Trump is willing to alienate a Jew-S-A chanting, alt-right supported base. With Steve Bannon seemingly in charge, and given President Trump’s apparent reluctance to specifically condemn violence against Jews (even to name them as victims of the Holocaust), is it realistic to think that Trump will put a stop to anti-Jewish sentiment instead of fanning its flame?
There’s an oft-quoted Yiddish saying: “Don’t pee on my back and tell me it’s raining.” Which, here, may say it all.