Trump — better late than never on Jews and the Holocaust

Trump — better late than never on Jews and the Holocaust

Photo courtesy World Jewish Congress
Photo courtesy World Jewish Congress

In January, we, along with a host of others, criticized President Donald Trump for his baffling decision to omit any mention of Jews as victims of Nazi terror in the official statement released by the White House on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. This week, he finally got it right.

On Yom HaShoah, the traditional day for Jews to commemorate the Holocaust, the White House released the speech that Trump would give a day later at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., and it included everything we expected to hear the first time, perhaps more. 

“The Nazis massacred six million Jews. Two out of every three Jews in Europe were murdered in the genocide. Millions more innocent people were imprisoned and executed by the Nazis without mercy, without even a sign of mercy,” the president said.  

He continued, “Yet, even today, there are those who want to forget the past. Worse still, there are even those filled with such hate, total hate, that they want to erase the Holocaust from history. Those who deny the Holocaust are an accomplice to this horrible evil. And we’ll never be silent — we just won’t — we will never, ever be silent in the face of evil again.”

Not only were Trump’s forceful statements welcome, they are also timely. On Sunday, the Anti-Defamation League released its annual audit of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, and although most expected an uptick in the numbers, the stats were jarring. Though some were the result of bomb threats called into Jewish institutions — most, allegedly, by an Israeli-American teenager — anti-Semitic incidents against Jewish institutions increased by 35 percent across the country between 2015 and 2016. In the first three months of 2017, the ADL reported 541 incidents. 

Our state, unfortunately, was prominent in the report. In 2016 New Jersey’s anti-Semitic acts rose to 157, compared to 137 the year before, and its 294 combined incidents in those two years ranks third in the nation behind only New York and California. New Jersey had 24 incidents in the first three months of 2017.

Trump’s strong words were especially important for another reason: The ADL reported that at least 34 of the incidents were directly related to the 2016 presidential campaign. 

Despite the oft-mentioned presence of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, adviser, and an observant Jew, Trump has opened himself up to criticism by those who’ve asserted that his words, actions, and associations have been divisive. His campaign slogan, “America First,” was used in the 1930s to urge the United States to resist going to war against Nazi Germany, and he was slow to condemn racist supporters like David Duke, and the KKK. It didn’t help that his campaign was managed by Stephen Bannon, an alt-right supporter, and that the former founder of Breitbart News was appointed as one of his senior advisers, though Bannon’s recent tiff with Kushner appears to have relegated him to the second tier of the president’s inner circle. 

Trump’s speech this week acknowledged, as it should, the non-Jewish victims of the Holocaust. But by including the Jewish people’s unique victimhood in the greatest crime against humanity, Trump appeared to clarify that he will no longer allow his name and his presidency to be rallying cries for Holocaust deniers and anti-Semites. n     

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