Saying the Words
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
The fumbling around and unnecessary flap that Donald Trump created for failing to call out anti-Semitism is becoming more and more serious as the days pass. First, there was the International Holocaust Remembrance Day pronouncement which failed to mention the six million Jews—specifically—who were murdered by the Nazis. This was followed last week by the absurd, totally irrelevant, tangent that the President used in a response during his press conference with Prime Minister Netanyahu to an Israeli journalist’s question about the increase in anti-Semitic incidents. Trump then topped it off on Friday by silencing an ultra-Orthodox Jewish journalist who himself sought to address the matter of anti-Semitism during the President’s 70 minute press conference; where he was cut-off and told to sit down as the President carried on about himself and his strong opposition to prejudice.
Finally, on Tuesday while speaking from a teleprompter from prepared remarks at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, the President addressed the matter of bigotry, hatred, prejudice, and, specifically, anti-Semitism. This followed after more than 20 Jewish Community Centers had received threatening telephone calls and a Jewish cemetery had been desecrated outside of St. Louis.
This ugly episode–which probably will not end and may well increase–has flourished during the first weeks of the Trump Presidency, largely as a result of an environment within the Trump White House which is composed of many high-level advisers who have a long association with bigotry, prejudice, racism, and anti-Semitism. The actions of the President go beyond the fact that he is psychologically unable to accept criticism and thus was not capable of responding appropriately and immediately. Rather, he fell deeper and deeper into his own ridiculous effort to defend his indefensible position.
The President cannot hide behind the fact that his son-in-law is Jewish—and the grandson on Holocaust survivors—that his daughter converted to Judaism, and that he has three Jewish grandchildren. (One might even suggest that he wheels that fact out whenever he can as a reflection of the fact that he really cannot make peace himself with this fact.) In fact, Ivanka herself commented on the incidents over the weekend and, like her father, addressed bigotry and prejudice but could not utter the word anti-Semitism.
Except for the ADL—which has been all over the President for weeks—there was paltry little outcry from American Jewish leadership. Even the editor of the publication whose Jewish reporter was embarrassed by the President at the press conference, sort to justify the President’s remarks and to parse his response.
While Netanyahu did provide Trump some cover by recognizing that the President has spoken out today against anti-Semitism, the Israelis have their own geo-political issues to address with Washington which requires Bibi to moderate his responses. While understandable, this position is not acceptable from someone who continues to call himself the leader of all the Jews. As for American rabbis and leaders, especially within the Orthodox Jewish community,–many of whom had ardently supported Trump in November—they were so focused on moving the American embassy to Jerusalem and having David Friedman confirmed as ambassador, that they were unable to call out the President for his weak-kneed, delayed response to anti-Semitism.