I was in Pittsburgh last week. While driving home near the Pennsylvania Turnpike, I saw the turnoff for “Squirrel Hill”. I thought nothing of it, except to get that little smile that subconsciously crosses my face whenever I know I’m approaching the Jewish section of a city.
Two days later Squirrel Hill was international news. Eleven Jewish worshipers at the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) Synagogue were murdered, four police officers shot and other congregants left in critical condition. Making no doubt of his motive, the synagogue attacker yelled “All Jews Must Die” before opening fire at the Shabbat morning crowd. He kept yelling anti-Semitic comments even as he was shooting at the police.
The shooter apparently claimed that Jews were responsible for the migrant caravan of Central Americans approaching America’s southern border. As President Trump has been using the caravan as a campaign issue, the killings increased pressure on the President to tone down his rhetoric.
There can be no doubt that Trump’s language has been over-the-top, divisive and belligerent, but he’s not alone. The bullets that massacred those innocent Jews were fired by a man who appears infatuated with the radical right, but the hatred is being fostered just as much by the radical left. The Nazis who rallied at Charlottesville, Virginia last year have a new hero, but so do the followers of Lewis Farrakhan. Just last week Mr. Farrakhan referred to Jews as “termites”. Farrakhan and Former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke may not agree on much, but they both hate Jews. American political culture is more circular than linear.
Whenever anger, hate and victimization become prevalent in political conversation you can guarantee one thing – we Jews will pay the price. The extreme right is scarier than the extreme left, but the extreme left always brings out the extreme right. Just ask Angela Merkel.
To be a Jew in American today is to wonder which way our political discourse will go. Anti-Semitic incidents are way up over the last few years, with each side pointing the finger at the other. It’s often a cop out to say “everybody shares responsibility,” but it is true in our country today.
For many members of the main stream media, the culprit solely is President Trump. Indeed the media is abuzz with nonstop criticism of the President’s tone. If they really care about our political discourse, however, journalists and commentators will be just as tough on the other side.
I know lots of good people whose political views lean right. They will not accept that today’s hatred and xenophobia solely germinates from them. Colleges need security to host conservative speakers, not liberal ones. Far more Republican political figures get chased out of restaurants than Democratic ones. The angry demonstrators who tried to break down the doors of the Supreme Court surely weren’t conservatives.
In this environment, convincing responsible people of the right that only Donald Trump is causing our political coarseness is both impossible and irresponsible. Have you spoken to pro-Israel students on American college campuses recently? The hatred directed at them stems far more from the left than the right.
Even the word used by so many on the left, “resistance,” contributes to our corrosive political culture. Let’s be very clear about this. In America we don’t have a “resistance”. We have a loyal opposition.
The media is absolutely correct in insisting that President Trump own and curb his excessive language. We have one Constitution and one President. To consistently try just to divide does damage to the very fabric of our nation. But simultaneously the media must insist, with equal intensity, that Democratic figures like Maxine Waters, Hilary Clinton and Eric Holder own their own excesses. Failure to do so simply breeds resentment. It reinforces the idea that the media is biased against anyone not considered a “progressive”. And all Anti-Semites believe they know who controls the media don’t they?
It is now for all people of good will across the American political spectrum to call out the excesses coming from his/her own side. To be an American patriot now is to be someone who differentiates but does not divide.
Jews always will be the prime target of the haters. It is the lesson of history. But we will not be the only ones. Hate will not stop with us. The founding principle of the United States really is an experiment to see if all of the peoples of the world can live together. That ideal will be upheld by each of us first looking inward then acting outward, not the other way around.