We help haters when we do nothing — it’s time to prod our political leaders

What will it take for us as individuals and as a community to finally rise up against the two great scourges of our day — gun violence and the full-blown re-emergence of Jew-hatred here and around the world?

What will it take for us as individuals and as a community to get over the notion that protecting the fortunes of a political party or a particular candidate is more important than demanding action from our government officials of all parties on gun violence and hatred, especially Jew-hatred?

Some weeks ago, my column dealt with the rise of Jew-hatred in the United States and around the world. It included this: “Is it not time for a rally to combat anti-Semitism; a rally for us to shout out loud that we are mad as hell and we won’t take it anymore?” So far, there has not been a peep from anyone regarding that suggestion or offering an alternative.
The statistics regarding right-wing extremist violence — Jew-hatred, in particular — are beyond frightening. I cited these statistics before. Here in the United States, beginning in mid-2015, Jew-hatred suddenly exploded, going up 34 percent in 2016, and another 57 percent in 2017. According to the FBI, more acts were committed against Jews and Jewish institutions in the United States in 2017 than were committed against all other religious groups combined — and that trend, the FBI says, continued in 2018.

New York City, according to Police Department statistics, saw more hate crimes against Jews in 2018 — up 22 percent over 2017 — than for all other religious groups combined.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, there were 50 murders committed by right-wing extremists in the United States in 2018 — with one out of every three victims being Jews. Given the killing last Shabbat of 60-year-old Lori Gilbert-Kaye at the Chabad House in Poway, Calif., this year likely will be as bad, or worse.

Make no mistake about who is committing these heinous acts. Says the ADL:

“Right-wing extremists collectively have been responsible for more than 70 percent of the 427 extremist-related killings over the past 10 years, far outnumbering those committed by left-wing extremists or domestic Islamist extremists — even with the sharp rise of Islamist-extremist killings in the past five years.”

Make no mistake, either, about who has given cover to and in turn is in part responsible for the increased violence from the extreme right: President Donald J. Trump.

The column I referred to above came out the week following the mass killings of Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, New Zealand. In it, I noted that repeated remarks made by President Trump “have helped spur on the hatred from the right (not just here but, as the horrific massacre in New Zealand and the murderer’s so-called ‘manifesto’ show, around the world, as well).” A reader took exception to that and thereby dismissed the point the article was making.

The perpetrator of that horrific crime in Christchurch was a 28-year-old self-identified white supremacist. It was he, not I, who pointed the finger at Trump’s rhetoric. While he said he did not support many of Trump’s policies, he did say, in his manifesto, that Trump was one of his role models. Trump, he said, was for him “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.”

The ADL’s national director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt has said that some of Trump’s rhetoric comes “right out of the white supremacist playbook,” as he put it to the Washington Post. He had this to say to the Los Angeles Times: “When leaders at the highest levels use incredibly intemperate language and repeat the rhetoric of extremists, we shouldn’t be surprised when young people — let alone others — imitate what they see.… Certainly, the president, among everyone, has the biggest bully pulpit.”

Despite all the evidence of the severe uptick in right-wing extremist violence, Trump continues to downplay the threat as nothing alarming. “I think it’s a small group of people that have very, very serious problems,” he said after Christchurch.

The actions of his administration match his words. Despite its attempts at blowing smoke to obscure what it has done, the Department of Homeland Security recently disbanded the very unit charged with monitoring domestic terrorism, which is mainly right-wing extremist terrorism.

Yes, Trump has had harsh words to say about neo-Nazis and white supremacists, but those words came only after almost unrelenting pressure from Republicans as well as Democrats. There is no getting around the fact, however, that he repeatedly downplays the threat, despite all the evidence to the contrary, and that he uses code words and dog-whistle phrases that are as good as a wink and a nod to the haters.

That being said, the Democratic Party has to assume some responsibility, as well. The anti-Jewish rhetoric coming from Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar is a case in point, as is the response from the House Democratic majority, which, to quote House staffers, passed a tepid “kitchen-sink resolution” because it could not bring itself to condemn outright anti-Jewish speech. Most of the Democratic presidential hopefuls either have been silent regarding Omar’s hateful rhetoric, or they have been supportive of her.

The big question, of course, is what we can do about it.

We need to let everyone know we are mad as hell and we won’t take it any longer. Dayenu!
It should not matter whether we are Democrats or Republicans, pro-Trump or anti-Trump. It should not matter that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu supports Trump and wants to name a moshav after him on the Golan Heights. What should matter is that we are not safe even in our own sacred spaces. What should matter is that we want our children in day schools and yeshivot to be safe from the kinds of violence we see elsewhere. What should matter is that Jew-hatred is on the rise, along with other forms of race hatred, and rather than doing anything constructive to reverse the trend, our politicians are giving license to the haters.

We cannot continue to sit on our hands and hope it will go away. The problem is growing, not shrinking. Trump may be playing to his base, but his Jewish supporters must remind him they are part of his base, too, and they will not support him in 2020 — not with votes and not with money — unless he changes his tune, and unless his administration puts battling domestic terrorism back at the top of the nation’s agenda in a forceful, effective way. The Democratic Party may be playing to the anti-Jewish elements within the left, but its supporters must let them know that to do so will mean a loss of support. Financial and electoral, from Jews.

If we receive a funding solicitation from one political candidate or another, we should answer it with: “I will be glad to donate when you come out with a comprehensive program to battle the growing hatred in America, especially anti-Semitism, and when you propose and fight for effective gun-control legislation. Pious statements are no longer enough. Tepid statements will turn me away completely.”

Every synagogue should organize petition drives with similar sentiments, and send copies to all candidates for every office at every level. Synagogues also should organize voter registration and get-out-the-vote drives, and publicize that they are doing so.
Each of us should write letters to Trump, our House members, our two senators, and to the chairs of both major political parties. We should then follow up by calling their offices.

Contact information appears at the end of this column.

We should organize a continuous stream of meetings with local churches and mosques to express solidarity — one-shot solidarity sessions are nothing but photo-ops. We may be the biggest targets of the haters, but they are targets, too, as recent events attest. And we should make sure the media are there to cover each of those meetings each time they are held.

Finally, we should push our national organizations to convene a massive rally on the National Lawn against hate and against gun violence — and we should attend that rally, and encourage others to do so.

Here are the relevant addresses for those letters:

President Donald J. Trump, The White House, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20500. Phone: (202) 456-1111

Senator Robert Menendez, 528 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510. Phone: (202) 224-4744. Fax: (202) 228-2197

Senator Corey Booker, 717 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510. Phone: (202) 224-3224. Fax: (202) 224-8378

Senator Charles Schumer, 313 Hart Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510. Phone: (202) 224-6542

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, 478 Russell Senate Office Building, Washington, DC 20510. Photo: (202) 224-4451

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, 213 Cannon House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515. Phone: (202) 225-4465. Fax: (202) 225-9048

Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. 2409 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC 20515. Phone: (202) 225-5751. Fax: (202) 225-5782

Rep. Nita Lowey, 2365 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20515. Phone: (202) 202-225-6506

Ronna Romney McDaniel, Chairman, Republican National Committee, 310 First St. SE, Washington, DC 20003

Don Perez, Chairman, Democratic National Committee, 430 S. Capitol St. SE, Washington, DC 20003

About the Author
Shammai Engelmayer is rabbi of Temple Israel Community Center, in Cliffside Park, and Temple Beth El of North Bergen, both in New Jersey. A former president of the North Jersey Board of Rabbis, he chose to work as a journalist after being ordained. That career helped him hone the skills that serve him so well on the pulpit, and helped him become a popular adult Jewish education teacher in Northern New Jersey.
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