Are Jews in America safe in this era?
This week will mark 72 years since the formal establishment of the state of Israel. Three years after the liberation of Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau, and other death camps, there was finally a haven in the world where Jews did not have to worry about antisemitism. So why am I worried?
Worry has been in Jewish blood for millennia. They have always been one mad man or viral movement away from armageddon. They were expelled from 13th century England and 14th century France, burned and purged in 15th century Spain, sealed in a ghetto in 16th century Italy, ordered out of three states by General Ulysses Grant in 19th century America, ravaged by pogroms in 20th century Russia, and then segregated, impoverished, and annihilated by the terrifying Nazis across 20th century Europe.
The founding of Israel reassured Jews that these atrocities were behind them and that they could face the future based on resilience rather than impotence. Despite mistakes and at times policies with which I disagree, Israel projects militarily, diplomatic, and economic strengths unheard of years ago. It is a hub of innovation and among the top three nations with companies listed on the Nasdaq. A senior Israeli official told me last week not to be surprised if the nation is among the first to create a coronavirus vaccine. It has found tacit alignment with many of its formerly belligerent Arab neighbors. It is ancient and trendy. It is spiritual and chic.
The state of Israel is strong. But for Jews in America, it seems downright ominous. Our country has always had antisemites, but the stigma forced most of them to skulk to the murky corners of society. Today they parade down Main Street with megaphones. Indeed, the Anti Defamation League announced this week that antisemitic incidents in the United States have reached an unfortunate record high last year, with 2,100 acts of assaults, vandalism, and harassment. That equates to roughly six incidents a day and over a 50 percent increase in physical assaults from 2018.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive officer of the group, attributes the trend to a normalization of antisemitic tropes, charged politics, and social media. There is chilling evidence from recent years. Eleven Jews were killed in a shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue in 2018. Three Jews were killed in a shooting at a Jersey City kosher supermarket, and five were stabbed at a Hanukkah party in New York late last year.
Florida pastor Rick Wiles has called public efforts to impeach President Trump a “Jew coup” and proclaimed on his poisonous YouTube platform that Jews will “kill millions of Christians.” Then there are those lockdown protesters invoking grotesque images of the Holocaust from slogans to swastikas, as if being ordered not to go to a restaurant equates to being ordered to the crematoria. Two protesters in Ohio waved drawings of a Jew as a long tailed rodent with the words “The Real Plague.”
Think about this. A sign that would have been common in Nazi Germany in the last century was waved in the heartland of America today. This is why I am worried, not only by those lowlifes who wave their Nazi flags and spew their venomous hatred, but by the holder of the highest office in the land, who continues to struggle with whether to condemn them.
In 1977, numerous neo Nazis planned a march in Skokie, Illinois, where one out of six residents were survivors of the Holocaust. At the time, President Carter said, “I want to voice my complete solidarity with those citizens of Skokie and Chicago who now gather in a peaceful demonstration of their abhorrence of Nazism.” Compare it to the response by President Trump to the neo Nazis unfurling swastika flags and chanting “Jews will not replace us” as they marched past Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville. He told the country there were “very fine people on both sides.”
The supporters of President Trump will of course equivocate. They will point to the fact that he moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and produced a peace plan that meets with approval by the leaders of Israel. But what solace is having a commander in chief who believes he is protecting the state of Israel while in charge during the increasingly dangerous state of the Jews in America today?
Steve Israel represented New York in Congress for 16 years and was the chairman for 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.