In the early months of the Trump administration, it was an article of faith among many on the left that the president was responsible for unleashing a wave of anti-Semitic attacks. But while Donald Trump deserved criticism for sometimes issuing statements that could be interpreted as encouraging extremism, that argument was largely dropped after the person behind a series of bomb threats against Jewish community centers proved to be a disturbed Israeli teenager.
But in the aftermath of Trump’s statement recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, some are once again blaming the president for anti-Semitism. Attacks against Jewish targets and a surge in anti-Semitic rhetoric in Europe, as well as throughout the Muslim and Arab world, are being blamed on Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
But like the efforts to excuse or rationalize the most vicious attacks on Israel and Zionism as being somehow the fault of the victims, the assertion that Trump or other friends of the Jewish state are somehow to blame for the reaction to his Jerusalem statement is profoundly misleading. Whatever you may think of Trump, the violent pushback is a function of hate, not a reasoned policy critique.
Violent protests in Berlin that featured anti-Semitic chants and attacks on synagogues in Sweden have been roundly condemned. Palestinian Authority leader Mahmoud Abbas has also been criticized for reacting to Trump in a manner that fans the flames of conflict and denies Jewish rights in Jerusalem. By using Trump’s relatively anodyne statement that did nothing to preclude a two-state solution or even a repartition of Jerusalem, Abbas proved once again that the roots of the Palestinian “rage” he is orchestrating have more to do with a desire to avoid a peace that would require them to recognize Israel’s legitimacy than any genuine outrage at Trump.
But the subtext to most of the handwringing about the rising tide of anti-Semitism is the notion that they’ve been provoked by Israeli actions and Trump’s decision. A Newsweek headline that read, “Because of Trump, people are burning Israeli flags and attacking Jews,” summed up the conventional wisdom in which the president’s chutzpah in acknowledging reality in supporting Israel’s rights in Jerusalem is the real reason why Swedish synagogues are being attacked.
While Trump may have supplied a pretext, the notion that anything he or the Israelis have done is the reason why people took to the streets to proclaim their hate for Jews and to commit violence against them is a lie.
The rationale for such arguments lies in the idea that the legitimate beef Arabs have with Israel isn’t being addressed, which inevitably leads to violence. Arabs have always resented the return of the Jews to their ancient homeland and would, if they could, revise the history of the last century in which Zionism triumphed. A distinction is drawn between traditional anti-Semitism, which many assume is rooted in fantasies, and a dispute based on something Jews actually did. The “new” anti-Semitism that stems from the critique of Israel is seen as more rational and even justified by those who buy into the lie that Jews are colonists stealing other people’s land rather than exercising their right to self-determination.
At the heart of the century-old war against Zionism is the same kind of thinking that has always demonized Jews. Those who would deny to Jews rights they wouldn’t deny to others are practicing discrimination that in any other context would correctly be labeled as anti-Semitism. Employing the same tropes of Jew hatred for the sake of the Palestinian war on the Jews is no more defensible than in previous centuries. Any attempt to draw a boundary between the “new” and the “old” forms of Jewish hatred amounts to a distinction without a difference. Anti-Semitism is always about the anti-Semites, not what the Jews or their friends do or don’t do.
Trump’s faults are no secret. But when haters take to the streets to proclaim their desire to kill the Jews and even act on those sentiments, don’t blame a man who merely spoke the truth about Israel and Jerusalem. It’s time to stop treating anti-Semitism coming from the Arab and Muslim world as a virus that is any less deplorable than the utterances and actions of others, especially on the right, who share the same goals about violence toward Jews.