Getting Serious About Anti-Semitism
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
It is time to admit that Donald Trump’s campaign, election, and presidency clearly has let the genie of racism, sexism, homophobia, and anti-Semitism out of the bottle. This is at least one of the conclusions which should be gleaned from the explosion created by Representative Ilhan Omar yesterday in Washington.
Public officials have little compunction about using anti-Semitic tropes however and whenever they wish. Omar and her colleague Representative Rashida Tlaib can package their diatribes in the name of free speech or human rights or equality but anti-Semitic speech—to say nothing of actual anti-Semitic acts—are totally unacceptable. Those engaging in such talk are clearly seeking to stretch the argument as far as they can. If they are criticized for their speech, they clearly believe that eventually Americans will tire of rejecting them and will gradually ignore them; meanwhile, they contaminate the public discourse.
As has become clear anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout the world. The Community Security Trust (CST) just released its annual study of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom. They showed a 16% increase in reported anti-Semitic incidents in Great Britain over the previous year and the third year in a row that it has risen. Without differentiating among the various forms that CST classified and examined, the presence of 1652 incidents should be extremely alarming.
To many observers these numbers are not a surprise given that the political climate in Britain has now elevated a transparent anti-Semite, Jeremy Corbyn, to the position of leader of the Labour Party and the leader of Her Majesty’s opposition in Parliament. While there are Labourites—including former Prime Minister Tony Blair—who have condemned and challenged Corbyn’s positions, he faces nary a serious challenger within his party. There are numerous Conservative Party voices who have attacked Corbyn, but some have discarded these critiques as merely self-serving and political posturing.
Similarly, a study released this week by the French Interior Minister showed that there was a 74% increase in anti-Semitic incidents in France in 2018 (541) as compared to 2017 (311). Minister Christophe Castaner decried the activities and pledged the Government’s strong efforts to fight the rise. President Emmanuel Macron himself has been attacked for being “the whore of the Jews.” While some have blamed the increase on extreme-right and extreme-left “yellow vest” demonstrators, most debunk this theory. The anti-Semitic incidents were clearly rampant before the weekend demonstrations began in November.
Finally, the most recent Anti-Defamation League Study of anti-Semitic incidents which occurred in 2017 stated that there was a 57% rise in attacks against Jews over the previous year. The ADL suggests that there is little doubt that the rise has continued in 2018 as well.
President Trump has conducted a policy in the Middle East that to date has been very supportive of the Netanyahu Government, but it is unclear that his is a principled decision. With respect even to his comments of Representative Omar which were very strong and direct, there is doubt that Trump was motivated by little more than political gain. The President equivocated in his remarks after Charlottesville because he had many supporters in the march. His actions after the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting were not reflective of the wishes of the Pittsburgh community. Appearing to be supportive of Israel is not evidence of a sincere commitment to fight anti-Semitism and prejudice.
The conduct of Representatives Omar and Tlaib very troubling both as to their content as well as how public officials have responded to them. These two Muslim American Representatives entered the Congress this year with the opportunity to actively reach out and constructively reduce the anti-Muslim prejudice which the Trump Administration has engendered. They also could have initiated a non-polarizing conversation with the American Jewish community and pro-Israel supporters throughout the country. To date they have appeared to have adopted precisely the opposite tack. They have used anti-Semitic tropes and extolled anti-Israel positions, which cannot effectively move forward a serious dialogue on any substantive differences. In fact, by being called out by Democratic leadership as well as by almost all Jewish leaders, they undercut their ability to convince the public of their positions. More serious, is that they have given the President fresh ammunition to further stir up his already anti-Muslim base. Their potential support among Muslim-Americans will not come close to the rift that they have created among many hopeful leaders within the American Jewish community. They likely will arouse further anti-Semitism.