We are living in a whirlwind of crises: thousands of people dying each day from COVID-19 without national guidance for containing the pandemic, an economic disaster is mounting, widespread protests and civil unrest have been unleashed in a national upheaval against policing, and meanwhile the dictatorial actions of the executive branch and the extremist rhetoric by the president himself are increasing alarmingly.
The recent escalation of antisemitism in this country, as well as abroad, is intricately a part of the social upheaval we are experiencing. The shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue, which killed 11 in Pittsburgh in 2018, was the deadliest attack on the Jewish community in the history of the country. The Anti-Defamation League reported that 2019 had the highest annual number of antisemitic incidents since it began tracking data in 1979.
The white nationalist movement, embraced by our president, has burgeoned both here and abroad. Though supported by only a small minority of the U.S. population, its voice has taken over much of the media. The white nationalists’ goal is to degrade all nonwhites and non-Christians, and it supports acts of violence.
“The Black Lives Matter” protests might be a pivotal confrontation against this movement.
During and despite this turmoil, it is critical that we do not lose sight that justice demands the correct individual be held accountable for thousands of avoidable deaths.
Recently, after being active for the past 17 years in the fight against genocide, I produced Faces of Genocide, a short documentary film. It explores why so little progress has been made preventing or intervening in genocides. Over the past two year I have become increasingly aware that Donald Trump shares many of the traits of leaders of genocides. But I had not thought he would be capable of committing a genocide.
Two respected epidemiologists recently wrote in a New York Times opinion piece that “an estimated 90 percent of the cumulative deaths in the United States from COVID-19, at least from the first wave of the epidemic, might have been prevented by putting social distancing policies into effect two weeks earlier…”
When the evidence had become indisputable that Trump and his administration’s failure to act and their gross negligence resulted in tens of thousands of avoidable American deaths, I was troubled by an ominous question. If a leader, by inaction or action, though not fitting the definition of genocide, causes the deaths of so many citizens with impunity, what will the consequences be for citizens of all democracies?
In an interview with Salon, Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Public Health, said that “the Trump White House’s response to the coronavirus was a monumental error and a monumental sin and a monumental human rights violation. What the Trump administration is doing in response . . . is basically wiping out a whole group of people by public policy.”
And Trump’s support of acts against humanity continues.
It’s been reported that Trump had endorsed Chinese President Xi Jinping’s building of concentration camps for the Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province.
Trump’s holding a rally at an indoor stadium in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a place where COVID-19 is flourishing, could be described as his invitation for his supporters to enter a petri dish of disease. And his subsequent rally for 3,000 students in a church in Phoenix is another invitation for masses of people to endanger public health. Both of these events are sources for exponential spread of this pandemic in our country.
Over the last three-and-a-half years, Trump’s disturbing autocratic tactics have increased. He has adopted the toolkit of fascist leaders: purging to consolidate power, invoking violence against his opponents, and promoting xenophobia. This pattern follows in the footsteps of modern dictators such as Vladimir Putin, Recep Erdogan, and Rodrigo Duterte.
A tipping point of Trump’s embrace of dictatorial action occurred when he mobilized unidentified federal forces and the national guard, as well as military helicopters, to violently disperse peaceful and legal protestors in a public park in order to stage a photo op in front of St John’s Episcopal Church. He demonized protestors as “domestic terrorists.” If those who have trivialized his dangerous and fascist tendencies are not awakened by his current actions, they have been hopelessly conned.
Our country is at a pivotal juncture. Can this be a transformative moment in our nation/world?
How do we deal with racism and antisemitism today in a “Trump world?”
As Jews, our support of the “Black Lives Matter” movement is critical. As Jews, this is our fight too. We know that antisemitism is not only a Jewish problem. Racism and white nationalism are not only a Black problem. All such discrimination is a human problem. As Jews, in spite of any differences we might have, we have to put those aside for the moment, and be completely present for this movement. The Jewish community depends on building strong relationships with diverse religious, ethnic, and community groups. Our goal is achieving mutual respect, justice, and peace. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. According to the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, 130 Jewish groups recently pledged to fight systemic racism in solidarity with the Black community.
In spite of the pandemic, we are seeing a surge of diverse groups joining together to fight against the 401-year-old scourge of racism and violence against Blacks. Hundreds of organizations—religious, ethnic, civil rights, political, LGBTQ, legal, corporate, sports, as well as celebrities—are joining against common enemies. Native Americans—who, many claim, are the victims of the first genocide on American soil—are strongly supporting these protests.
With the daily growth and expansion of the protests all over the country and the world in support of “Black Lives Matter,” I am hopeful that—unlike many movements around the world that started with great promise but ended with dictatorships—the better values of our nation will prevail.
And, if justice prevails, Trump will be held accountable for the tragic and unnecessary deaths of tens of thousands of people from coronavirus.