Jews around the world will usher in a new year this week as they gather in synagogues like they have through history, sometimes amidst expulsions, inquisitions, invasions, pogroms, and a Holocaust. Their experience in the United States, however, has been different for many decades.
It was captured succinctly and elegantly by George Washington in a letter that he wrote to the Hebrew Congregation of Newport. Our first president claimed, “For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.” But for this new year, his assurances seem fragile. Here are numerous reasons why.
President TrumpDonald TrumpBaldwin calls Trump criticism following 'Rust' shooting 'surreal' Haley hits the stump in South Carolina Mary Trump files to dismiss Trump's lawsuit over NYT tax story MORE said there were “very fine people” on both sides of the neonazi rally in Charlottesville. He suggested to a room full of Jews that they have bribed politicians in this country. He tweeted out an image of Hillary Clinton across this pile of cash next to the Star of David and the phrase “most corrupt candidate ever!” with their heated race.
He released a campaign ad featuring the faces of powerful Jews with a voiceover claiming they are part of a “global power structure” that has “robbed our working class” and “stripped our country of its wealth.” He praised followers of QAnon, the viral conspiracy theory that generates rabid antisemitic views. He tweeted out comparisons between himself and the “king of Israel” and even the “second coming of God.”
He has accused American Jews of showing disloyalty to Israel by voting for Democrats. He started to ramble in remarks at a manufacturing plant in Michigan and talked about Henry Ford, whose antisemitism had been virulent, and said he had “good bloodlines.” Simply saying that Ford had revolutionized the automobile industry would have been fine.
In fairness to Trump, he did sign an executive order meant to discourage antisemitism on college campuses. But he invited divisive pastors Robert Jeffress and John Hagee to the ceremony to celebrate the new American embassy in Jerusalem. Jeffress has damned Jews to hell, while Hagee has described Adolf Hitler as a “hunter” sent by God to kill Jews.
Trump gave out press credentials to antisemite Rick Wiles, who called the impeachment a “Jew coup” and said Jews lie and “do whatever they have to do to accomplish their political agenda.” Trump told a private audience with Jews in Florida, “A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you well. You are brutal killers, not nice people at all.”
His convention invited as a speaker Mary Ann Mendoza, who tweeted out a thread with an antisemitic conspiracy theory and was later pulled from the lineup. He coddles authoritarian peddlers of antisemitic tropes, such as Viktor Orban of Hungary, whose party belives there is an international scheme from Jews to replace Christians with Muslims in that country. He has also refused to condemn the brandishing of swastika and antsemitic slogans at the many protests about the lockdown mandates.
There have been record surges of antisemitic incidents during his time in office. From his inauguration to last year, the United States has witnessed the highest increase in antisemitic incidents since tracking sttrted in 1979. It includes the murder of nearly a dozen people at a Pittsburgh synagogue by a man who said Jews were trying to destroy the country.
A recent survey finds that two thirds of Jewish voters support Joe Biden. The behavior with Trump simply runs beyond contradicting our values. It encourages people who threaten the safety of American Jews. While the president closed several deals to promote more peace in the Middle East, many American Jews feel less secure in the United States.
For the record, I do not believe that the president is antisemitic. But he seems to enjoy dancing with those who are. By sanctioning bigotry and fueling persecution, he mocks those words of Washington.
Steve Israel represented New York in the House over eight terms and was chairman with 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 follow his updates @RepSteveIsrael.