“I deplore and condemn anti-Semitism in all forms. Perpetrators of anti-Semitic acts will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
That was all President Donald Trump had to say at yesterday’s press conference when he was asked about the recent upswing in anti-Semitic acts in the United States. Two sentences. Simple. It even fits in a Tweet, if, hypothetically, one were inclined to take to Twitter about something that bothered them.
Instead, our President offered up a statement on how many Electoral College votes he’d won (which, to me, seemed like a non-sequitur, but more on that later), and then, he said the following:
“I will say that we are going to have peace in this country. We are going to stop crime in this country. We are going to do everything within our power to stop long simmering racism and every other thing that’s going on. Because a lot of bad things have been taking place over a long period of time. I think one of the reasons I won the election is because we have a very, very divided nation. Very divided and hopefully, I’ll be able to do something about that. And I, you know, something that was very important to me.
As far as people, Jewish people—so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now. A son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four, or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening and you’re going to see a lot of love. You’re going to see a lot of love. OK? Thank you.”
Today, at a press conference, when directly asked about the bomb threats to American JCCs, Trump said, “I am the least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life.” He said nothing to condemn the attacks or anti-Semitism.
I am here to offer four reasons why these statements are woefully inadequate—and why their inadequacy should profoundly trouble Americans—Jewish and otherwise.
1. The logic does not hold.
Someone smarter than I am online posited, “I think his logic was: I won a lot of electoral college votes, which means I am loved. My Jewish family members are therefore also loved. That love now extends to all Jewish people. So anti-Semitism will *poof* vanish.”
I don’t buy it. Because the flip side of that logic would be that the other half of America that didn’t vote for him doesn’t love him, and therefore doesn’t love Jews…when, in fact, the correlation seems more often than not to go the other way. From the moment that Trump refused to disavow David Duke, the former Imperial Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, to the multiple times he has refused to condemn acts of anti-Semitism, to the dogwhistles to the white supremacists, to the placing of Steve Bannon in the White House, there have been many, many causes of concern.
2. No one in this administration has stood up on behalf of American Jews in the face of anti-Semitic attacks.
There are those who would argue that the Trump administration is vehemently pro-Israel. That is a more nuanced argument than I care to go into at the moment, but I will say this: Whatever the Trump Administration’s views on Israel, its views on American Jews are ambivalent at best and hostile at worst.
Standing up for Jews means speaking out when people attack them. It also means not giving ammunition to anti-Semites, which this administration did concerning its statement about Holocaust Remembrance Day, which made no mention of Jews.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that it was his impression that President Trump’s administration now understands that the meaning of the Holocaust was the attempt to eradicate the Jews. Um…that’s great. I think that has been clear to everyone except virulent anti-Semites since the 1940s. But I’m glad someone cleared that up for you, sir.
I used a joking tone there, to be clear, because I do not believe that the omission of Jews from Holocaust Remembrance Day was accidental, nor do I feel that it was well-intentioned by the administration. I feel the omission was hurtful, an attempt at revisionist history and a deliberate attempt to pander to a portion of his supporters who, like it or not, are anti-Semitic.
3. The presence of Jews in one’s administration does not give one carte blanche to ignore anti-Semitism.
Yes, many members of the extended First Family (Ivanka and Jared and their children; Eric Trump’s wife) are Jewish. Stephen Miller and Steven Mnuchin are also Jewish. There are Jews in the White House, regularly. Trump is friendly with Jewish people.
Being friendly with Jewish people, however, doesn’t necessarily mean you are a “friend to American Jews.” Being a friend of American Jews means listening to and acknowledging legitimate concerns of the Jewish community as a whole, and responding to them in a way that shows that friendship through action.
In other words, when children at 60 Jewish Community Centers all over the country were evacuated from their preschools and daycares due to deliberately targeted bomb threats, it is not enough to say that your grandchildren are Jewish—unless that means that you will make sure you protect those children who were evacuated and terrified, the same way you would protect children who have your blood running through their veins.
Ignoring the fact that these threats even occurred—not verbalizing it, not condemning it, not even acknowledging it—is unacceptable. And it is the opposite of “spreading the love.”
4. Anti-Semitism is here. Don’t ignore it: Condemn it. Loudly.
We are here, President Trump. We are Jewish Americans. We are not going anywhere. Some of us agree with your policies, others do not. But surely all of us, regardless of our politics, agree that our children should not be targeted for violence because they are Jewish. That our synagogues should not be vandalized with swastikas and broken windows. That Jewish homeowners should not receive threatening letters. That people who say, “Jews should burn in ovens,” are disgusting and should be loudly acknowledged as such. That bomb threats to JCCs are crimes and should be investigated and prosecuted, with the perpetrators brought to justice.
Do you agree, Mr. President? If you do, you need to explicitly say so. You feel free to express your opinions on Twitter about everything from Saturday Night Live to Nordstrom to Meryl Streep. So why, sir, do you stubbornly refuse to say anything condemning anti-Semitic attacks in our country? Because if you say nothing, I would argue that your silence speaks volumes.