As Jewish liaisons to four different presidents, we had the responsibility inside the White House to give voice to the perspectives and priorities of the American Jewish community. While our community may not be unified in matters of policy and politics, our spiritual practice, cultural traditions and history have instilled in American Jews a shared commitment to protecting those targeted by bigots, racists and others spewing hate and division.
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The presidents we served repeatedly used their bully pulpit to condemn hatred and bigotry when it appeared, whether in America or overseas. A video of President Ronald Reagan’s speech at the 1981 NAACP Convention following the lynching of an African-American man in Alabama has gone viral in recent days. President Bill Clinton led the nation’s mourning following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, and we all vividly recall President George W. Bush’s eloquent remarks standing on the rubble of the World Trade Center in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 and President Barack Obama’s eulogy and rendition of “Amazing Grace” following the murder of nine African-American worshippers at a historically African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.
President Donald Trump, in his reaction to the violence in Charlottesville and to other examples of anti-Semitism, shows that he neither understands his responsibilities nor the nature of the ancient hatred of anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. His equivocation and unwillingness to speak clearly, without restraint, against blatant examples of racism, anti-Semitism and related manifestations of hate, as well as his refusal to lay blame for violence, are anathema to the best traditions of his office and to the examples set by the presidents we served. And in his failure, he exposes not just Jews but all Americans to greater danger.
If we were working in the White House today, we hope we would have had the courage, honesty and integrity to call upon President Trump to demonstrate moral leadership – and to resign in response to a failure to do so.
If we had a successor in the current White House — there is no liaison to the Jewish community in the Trump White House — we hope he or she would have done so, too.
We need that leadership more than ever. The reason is not just because we have witnessed violence in our streets.
We need moral leadership to respond to the rise of hatred we are witnessing in the nation we love – hatred motivated by the things we cannot change such as the color of our skin, the faith we practice, the land of our birth, the language we spoke as toddlers.
We former Jewish liaisons know that the Jews in America feel hate and reject it, whether it’s directed at them or someone else. We are commanded by our faith to welcome the stranger, to comfort the oppressed, to reach out to the weak and dispossessed. We Jews have always been targeted and called out because of our differences from the majority. And even when we’re not called out and targeted, we know that those who use hate as a political tool will eventually turn their sights on us.
We hear today the chants against the Jews or the “Zios.” We hear in an American city the “alt-right” protesters chant “Jews will not replace us” and the Nazi marching trope of “blood and soil.”
We see in some academic and media circles the casual lumping together of Jews as enemies of the state, incapable of loyalty to America.
We see the use of the language and the imagery of anti-Semitism – the hooked noses and the bloody hands — resurrected in modern digital media to deny to Jews our humanity, our individuality and our agency. We see the rough language of Brownshirts casually tweeted by young Americans – “toss them in the ovens,” “throw rocks at the yahood [Jews].” We see the resuscitation of the blood libel.
And we know, the experience of Jews in America may be different from our historical experience as a religious minority elsewhere in the world, but this anti-Semitism is not different. We’ve see this hatred before.
So we say to the president:
“Mr. President, this nation has a problem. People think they can say and do hateful things with impunity. You have a responsibility. Not to weigh hatred against hatred. Not to divide blame equally among ‘both sides.’ Not to excuse those among you who hate by pointing out others who hate worse.
“There are among your supporters and your appointees people who are anti-Semitic. Do not treat them as a cost of doing your political business. Cast them out – not only from your political tent, but from the conversation about America’s future. They don’t have a place in either.
“You must stand on this nation’s strongest moral foundations and principled aspirations and against the violence and hatred. And you must recognize that whenever the Jew is attacked, there is a deeper hatred at work. Anti-Semitism serves as a gateway to other forms of group-based bigotry and hatred.
“The language of anti-Semitism is the language of national suicide – it is, sadly, a mother tongue to discredited and extinct ideologies known throughout human history. If anti-Semitism takes root in America, it will be America’s ruin. Because whoever gives voice to the ancient and tired tropes of anti-Semitism, his mouth goes dry with ashes.
“Mr. President, you must call out and stand against any creeping normalization of anti-Semitism —without obfuscation, hesitation or equivocation – not only because anti-Semitism is odious, but also because it will invariably lead to other forms of hatred and bigotry that divide and destroy our nation.”
Matt Nosanchuk (Barack Obama)
Noam Neusner (George W. Bush)
Jarrod Bernstein (Barack Obama)
Adam Goldman (George W. Bush)
Jay S. Zeidman (George W. Bush)
Scott Arogeti (George W. Bush)
Deborah Mohile Goldberg (Bill Clinton)
Jay K. Footlik (Bill Clinton)
Jeanne Ellinport (Bill Clinton)
Amy Zisook (Bill Clinton)
Marshall J. Breger (Ronald Reagan)
(The authors each served in the White House as the president’s liaison to the American Jewish community in Democratic or Republican administrations.)