On the Monday morning after the massacre that killed 11 at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, my editor-in-chief expressed surprise that he hadn’t heard from me over the weekend. I was out of town visiting my son at college, and although I was aware of the tragedy and considered contacting him, I failed to do so. I was saddened and angry about the events, yet I was preoccupied with a busy schedule in New York City, and my focus was admittedly elsewhere.
Once back at work, the magnitude of what occurred began to set in. I saw the coverage of the shootings on jmoreliving.com and in other Jewish and national media outlets, and absorbed its impact in Pittsburgh, Baltimore and across the Jewish world. And I wondered why it had taken me so long to fully comprehend the seriousness of what had taken place.
Was it denial? At first that seemed like an improbable explanation.
After all, I’m openly appalled by the president’s fascistic tendencies — his verbal attacks and policies toward Muslims, immigrants, the LGBTQ community and others.
Ever since President Trump was elected, I’ve blamed him for the insidious rise of xenophobia, white nationalism and anti-immigrant sentiment in America. I’ve been called histrionic and “part of the problem” by some fellow Jews when at times I’ve likened Trump’s propaganda, rhetoric and policies to those used by Hitler in the years leading up to the Holocaust.
Despite all of that, in my heart of hearts, I’m not sure I believed that Jews in America were truly vulnerable — until now. And I am fairly certain I was not alone.
In a Q& A with UC Berkeley’s Berkeley News, the university’s Koret professor of Jewish History, Dr. John M. Efron, explains this kind of denial:
“I think that the major issue is that anti-Semitism has not been taken seriously in this country, even by Jews, both rank-and-file and communal leadership. It is not considered to be a major issue. There’s been an understandable focus on all the groups that Trump has targeted. Jews are not one of those groups, although he’s made anti-Semitic remarks in the past. However, for anti-Semites and neo-Nazis, the belief is that every one of those groups are manipulated by Jews as a means to control the United States.”
Dr. Efron goes on to explain how online communication between members of “right-wing extremist groups is less about immigrants per se and more about their firm conviction that Jews are bringing them into this country with the goal of destroying this country.”
Furthermore, says Dr. Efron, so-called mainstream Republican politicians such as Sen. Chuck Grassley and House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy regularly use anti-Semitic innuendo to vilify Jewish donors such as George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer by accusing them of “buying” elections. Such claims subtly remind the Republican base of centuries-old stereotypes about Jews being rich, money-hungry and controlling.
Jewish Trump supporters are quick to come to the president’s defense, citing the fact that he has a Jewish son-in-law and daughter and Jewish grandchildren, and because Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem.
Forgive me for my cynicism, but in light of overwhelming evidence of his white nationalistic bent (i.e., “There are good people on both sides“) that seems extremely naïve.
And this should give Jewish Trump supporters pause: according to the Anti-Defamation League, “The number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose 57 percent in 2017 – the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since ADL started tracking such data in 1979.”
Is it really an accident or coincidence that the increase coincided with the Trump presidency?
In the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, it’s time for me and other Jews to wake up to the anti-Semitism being stoked by President Trump, the Republican Party and its supporters, and the real threat it poses to our way of life. We must not make the same mistake as German Jews in the 1930s when they assumed that anti-Semitism there would pass and that their significant contributions to the country would protect them.
To fellow Jews who supported Trump, it’s OK to make a mistake. There is still time to change course and join the movement to stop him and his followers.
It starts by voting Republicans out of office in the midterm elections.