With surge in anti-Semitism, political leaders need to be aggressive and reflective in response
After the recent rallies, the vigils, the press conferences condemning anti-Semitism- then what?
It is not enough to condemn the surge of hate crimes in America. Bigotry is an infection in the American bloodstream which a few doses of palliative rhetoric won’t cure. Like any disease, it needs early detection and constant monitoring. And it requires a tough look at why in our current political climate it seems so contagious.
One of us is a Republican who played a key role in the election of President George W. Bush in 2000 and 2004. The other was in the Democratic leadership of the House of Representatives and opposed much of President Bush’s agenda. Despite our profound political differences, we agree on this: we are heartened by the protests across the country, but more action must be taken. Bipartisan action.
The statistics are frightening. The Anti-Defamation League’s Annual Audit in 2018 reported that there were “1879 attacks against Jews and Jewish institutions across the country in 2018, the third-highest year on record since ADL started tracking such data in the 1970s.”
ADL statistics from 2019 will prove equally as damning. There is no doubt that we are living in dangerous times.
The response by our political leaders needs to be aggressive and reflective at the same time.
Our political leaders correctly condemn the brutality, but criminals who are willing to murder and maim Jews aren’t dissuaded by a single televised press conference abhorring anti-Semitism. They thrive in the unrelenting drone of intolerance in social media and other platforms. They hear too many of our political leaders questioning the patriotism of their opponents. They see the door open a crack to intolerance and then storm in.
Members of both political parties must stop politicizing acts of extremism and vilification by the members of the other party. Both the Republican and the Democratic parties have elements that engage in harmful and sometimes hateful language. We need to condemn Rep. Steve King’s (R-Iowa) rhetoric just as we must to rebuke the vitriolic commentary of Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), and anyone else eager to engage in anti-Semitic tropes. Political disagreements are natural. We live in a polarizing political climate. However, this is no excuse for opposing bigotry only when it’s spewed by the opposite party.
Second, we need to point out anti-Semitism, intentional or not, cloaked in the legitimacy of policy debate. The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, for example, singles-out Israel for human rights scrutiny while completely ignoring the brutal and systemic violations of fundamental rights by most other governments in the region. One can be either for human rights or against human rights. But when you choose only to apply a boycott to the Jewish state while accepting far worse crimes elsewhere, your motivations deserve debate.
Third, the Senate should pass bipartisan legislation already approved in the House to upgrade the role of Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combatting anti-Semitism as an ambassador rank official. The current position does not have the power or authority of a presidentially appointed finding. Global anti-Semitism is surging and the response deserves a position of greater stature within the administration.
2020 may be one of the most vitriolic years in recent political memory. The rhetoric will be heated, but it must not enflame. We all have a responsibility to pursue discourse with demonizing. And our leaders must set the tone.
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and served as the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee from 2011 to 2015. He is now the director of the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs at Cornell University. You can find him on Twitter @RepSteveIsrael. Fred Zeidman is co-chair and director of the Council for a Secure America and chairman emeritus of the United States Holocaust Memorial Council.