Just to clear the air: I believe that President Trump is a terrible role model in the way he speaks about people. He is demeaning and insulting, even to widows and the bereaved — just the kind of culpable speech so many of us learned about during “Clean Speech Colorado.” His speech degrades us and the good name of the US. I cringe at the language he uses. His policies? Another topic for another time.
But is his speech a cause of the increased anti-Semitism in this country? To say so is an evasion. To say so fills a partisan need for some, but when it comes to analyzing the causes of, and solutions to, the rise in anti-Semitism, it is sobriety, dispassion, research and knowledge of history that are required. To focus on Trump is to evade, not to name, the problem.
The idea that the US is isolated from the rest of the world by the two large oceans on each of its sides became moot over 100 years ago, during WW I. All the more so with the attack on Pearl Harbor in WW II. Anti-Semitism is growing around the world. Growing at a frightening pace. It has returned to Europe. Its soil is not expiated by the blood of the Holocaust, yet anti-Semitic sentiments and violence have drastically altered the lives of Jews in France and elsewhere in Europe. The US is not immune from this. And this long predated the presidency of Trump.
The US is also not isolated from the Islamic world, in which virulent anti-Semitism is pervasive, which is not the same thing as saying that all, or even most, Muslims are anti-Semitic. But if we take the tragedy of Arab-Jewish relations in Palestine (and, after 1948, in Israel) as a model, the central characteristic of this model is the great disconnect between the will for peace on the part of some Arab masses and the anti-Semitic violence on the part of Arab leaders. The spread of Islamic anti-Semitism has, like developments in Europe, affected the US. We are not immune. We absorb anti-Semitism from Europe.
But, you may object. You may ask: What is the primary source of anti-Semitism in the US? Some will say that it is white supremacism, and that white supremacism is not found in Europe or in the Islamic world today, even though Nazism originated in Europe, so that what happens in those places does not affect the US. It follows that the primary source of white supremacism, that is, of anti-Semitism in the US, is Donald Trump.
Wrong again, on two counts.
First of all, there is no “primary source” of anti-Semitism in the US, and there is white supremacism in Europe today. There is anti-Semitism in all circles and races in this country, which, again, is not to say that all, or even most, Americans are anti-Semitic. But when we look at the anti-Semites in this country, we see white supremacists, and African Americans, and Muslims, and others. This should not be surprising, since anti-Semitism has always been an irrational hatred, that is, a hatred that cannot be pegged on a single race or ideology.
I heard on a talk radio show on Dec. 30 that anti-Semitism always comes from the left. Not true, if we say “always.” But anti-Semitism does come from the left. And it does come from the right.
What seems to throw people off is that each source of anti-Semitism rises and falls in intensity. At any given moment, it may well be that most anti-Semitism comes from the right, but then at another moment most anti-Semitism comes from the left, or from any number of other sources, best identified not by political ideology. Anti-Semitism is an equal opportunity hatred.
It has always been this way.
• Anti-Semitism killed countless Jews from the left — from Bolshevism.
• Anti-Semitism killed six million Jews from the right — from Hitler.
• Anti-Semitism killed countless Jews from Christianity (see: Crusades. Expulsions. Inquisition). Christianity is not currently a political ideology, but its history is filled with anti-Semitism. Today, radical Islam is filled with anti-Semitism.
So there is no “primary” source of anti-Semitism. Jew hatred has in the past, and today too, infects a wide range of political, religious, racial and other identities. To focus on a single source, such as white supremacism, is bad history and bad sociology, and therefore a bad strategy for countering anti-Semitism.
Which brings me to the second point: White supremacism is not the only source of anti-Semitism right now in the US. Blacks have committed violent anti-Semitic acts in just the past few weeks, which again does not mean that all, or even most, blacks are anti-Semitic. It does confirm the irrationality of anti-Semitism, that is, the impossibility of confining anti-Semitism to a single source, to a single ideology, race, religion or sentiment.
To peg Trump as the cause of anti-Semitism in the US is to evade the necessary breadth of scope needed to identify anti-Semitism, to analyze it and to counter it. Yes, white supremacism must be marginalized and stigmatized. No less, all other sources of anti-Semitism must be marginalized and stigmatized.
But, you may object, right now it is white supremacism that seems to be the dominant cause of anti-Semitism in the US, and it is Trump that causes it. Wrong again.
First, Trump did not equate the white supremacists in Charlottesville with the protesters there. It’s a misquote. Go back and read the transcript of Trump’s remarks, en toto.
Second, in this day and age of multiple communication platforms, of short attention spans, of news that flits in and out of consciousness, of the eradication of national borders in the communication of news, a single rationale for anti-Semitism will not register in the collective consciousness of those who, for whatever reason, are disposed to hate. It’s not the world we live in.
White supremacism will flourish among some; anti-Israel anti-Semitism among others; anti-Semitism from the left among others. Maybe even anti-Judaism will come back. The point is: To focus on a single type or a single source of anti-Semitism will leave the Jewish community unequipped to fight anti- Semitism today.
Anti-Semitism is a hydra.
To fight it requires mental agility and programmatic flexibility — and a willingness to name it whatever its form, wherever it is, including in one’s favored partisan space — because anti-Semitism will morph in and out of allure and strength and location. To fixate on Trump is to evade the hydra, and therefore to preclude any solution.
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