Opinion |

A Year After Pittsburgh, anti-Semitism Is Still Rising – and U.S. Jews Blame Trump

Three-quarters of U.S. Jews disapprove of how Trump is handling the threat of anti-Semitism. They see a president who emboldens the violent Jew-haters who look up to him

Aaron Keyak
Aaron Keyak
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US President Donald Trump walks after arriving back at the White House in Washington, DC, October 23, 2019, from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
US President Donald Trump walks after arriving back at the White House in Washington, DC, October 23, 2019, from a rally in Pittsburgh, PennsylvaniaCredit: AFP
Aaron Keyak
Aaron Keyak

This month marks the one-year anniversary of the horrific shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. A lone-gunman, armed with an AR-15, entered the sanctuary shouting anti-Semitic slurs, killing 11 congregants and injuring many others. The incident marked the deadliest assault on the Jewish community in the history of America. Unfortunately, this act did not occur in isolation.

Anti-Semitism is not only alive and dangerous in the United States, but it is on the rise.

Just last week, a Jewish man in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York was slapped across the face and called "a dirty Jew" – the latest in a growing series of violent assaults targeting Jews around Brooklyn. This month, anti-Semitic posters were plastered to the doors of a synagogue in Grand Rapids, Michigan, featuring the head of Adolf Hitler and the caption: "Did you forget about me?" and the slogan: Time for a "crusade against Semite-led subhumans."

In a just-released survey by the American Jewish Committee, more than 80 percent of Jewish respondents say they have witnessed an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. over the past five years, with 43 percent indicating that the increase has been significant.

That anti-Semitism is spiking is not only a matter of perception, however. The Anti-Defamation League reported a 150 percent increase in recorded incidents comparing 2013 to 2018.

American Jews clearly see that the hike in white supremacy goes hand in hand with the hike in anti-Semitic incidents across our country. 89 percent of AJC respondents believe the extreme political right presents a threat to Jews.

Donald Trump's presidency has helped embolden white supremacy throughout America. He has routinely refused to condemn their hatred. At the same time as Trump often refuses to criticize far-right extremist groups, he himself has engaged in harmful rhetoric, most recently claiming that any Jewish person who votes for a Democrat shows "either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty." Throughout history, we know how deadly questions of Jewish loyalty can be.

It is no wonder that the AJC poll showed nearly three-quarters of Jewish voters disapprove of Trump’s handling of the anti-Semitism threat, with more than six in ten showing strong disapproval. Only 22 percent of Jewish voters have a favorable opinion of Trump's performance; 76 percent have an unfavorable opinion.

Trump's irresponsibility contaminates his party. 41 percent of respondents to AJC’s survey believe that the Republican Party bears all or close to all responsibility for the current levels of anti-Semitism. And 58 percent stated that the Democratic Party bears no, or close to no, responsibility for it.

It's therefore hardly suprising that American Jews continue to show strong support for the Democratic Party; in the 2018 midterm elections, exit polls showed that three-quarters of Jewish Americans voted for Democrats. Despite what President Trump falsely claims, the Democratic Party remains our political home.

Now, Jews are speaking out. Anti-Semitism is an existential threat to our community and we all have a role to play to stop it. The impact is felt communally as well as individually, from increased security patrols to mentally scoping out the best exit from your shul seat for yourself and your children if, God forbid, the worst were to happen. Tragically it is not a matter of when the next terrorist attack occurs, it is a matter of when.

A mourner stands in front of a makeshift memorial outside the Tree of Life Synagogue with the names of eleven congregants killed by a white supremacist shooter. Pittsburgh, Oct. 29, 2018Credit: Matt Rourke,AP

What's more: this cannot be a partisan fight. Democrats must do more to call out anti-Semitism on the far left, while Republicans must stand up against Jew-hatred on the right.

When 82 percent of U.S. Jews view the BDS movement's delegitimization of Israel as fundamentally anti-Semitic, those progressives, sadly including a couple of members of Congress, who still support this form of "protest," should listen. Unwittingly or not, they are cozying up to those who want the world’s only Jewish state to cease to exist.

At the same time, Trump's own rhetoric, equating civil rights protestors and neo-Nazis at Charlottesville's Unite the Right rally as "very fine people, on both sides" embolden the violent Jew-haters who look up to him.

That is only one example of the countless times that the occupant of the most powerful elected office in the world has failed to stand up to racists and anti-Semites. His supporters in our own community must consider how to do much more to challenge this.

As we honor those who were murdered a year ago at the Tree of Life Synagogue, we must stand united against hate and redouble our efforts to fight anti-Semitism – wherever it is found, and not least among those who claim to be our political brethren.

Aaron Keyak is a former head of the National Jewish Democratic Council and a founder of Bluelight Strategies in Washington, D.C. Twitter: @akeyak

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