Alissa Wise* – Newsweek
Last week’s Trump campaign rally, with its sickening “send her back” chant, was undeniably shocking. The racist, blatant scapegoating, the casual slander and naked hatred were new lows, even for Trump—and I remain horrified and outraged. But what came as no surprise for me was how Trump, right before he allowed the crowd to chant that Rep. Ilhan Omar should be “sent back,” falsely accused her of anti-Semitism.
He’d been accusing Omar, as well as Congresswomen Tlaib, Pressley and Ocasio-Cortez (aka “the Squad”) of anti-Semitism all last week, in increasingly racist tweets. Indeed, the Trump administration—and now also his campaign—has been laying the groundwork to use Jews as a shield for racism and attacks on free speech for a long time. It’s disgusting and wrong and straight-up dangerous to Jewish people everywhere—and it has stop, now.
The past few weeks in particular have witnessed a frenzy of false concern about anti-Semitism and Israel in our nation’s capitol, especially at two high-profile events: The national summit and lobby day by the powerful evangelical group Christians United for Israel (CUFI) and a Conference on Combatting Anti-Semitism hosted by the Department of Justice.
Trump sent five of his top officials to speak at the CUFI national summit, knowing their six million members represent a large chunk of his base. CUFI’s founder Pastor John Hagee has suggested on at least one occasion that Nazis were essentially divine agents, and that the Holocaust was necessary to push Jews towards Palestine, hasten the creation of a Jewish State, and therefore put in motion a chain of events that would lead to the end times (some twenty years later Hagee attempted to walk back the remarks, after a recording of the sermon was released by the Huffington Post.) The theology underpinning CUFI holds that Jews who do not convert to Christianity before the end of days will go to Hell. There’s hardly a more anti-Semitic notion than that.
This contradiction was well represented in the focus of CUFI’s lobby day: rallying support for the misleadingly named Anti-Semitism Awareness Act (ASAA). Currently in committee, the ASAA would effectively label any and all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic—and empower Trump’s department of education to punish universities that fail to “discipline” students and faculty should they criticize the state of Israel. Schools’ access to federal funding from the Department of Education would be jeopardized, thereby encouraging university administrators to preemptively silence their students to avoid the possibility of censure. Likely, this chilling effect is by design.
Still, we’re undeniably witnessing the rise of genuinely anti-Semitic attacks in all forms. Now is absolutely the time to speak up, stand up and challenge this latest surge of violence and hate speech against Jewish people in America. And in this climate of growing anti-Semitism in the U.S., you might think that the White House’s Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism, held a week later, would have been welcome news. That is, until you look at the list of speakers or, worse, heard what they had to say. There was very little on the rise of violent attacks against Jewish people, or the growing trends of anti-Semitic memes shared across the internet—at times by Trump himself. Instead, the Conference on Combating Anti-Semitism worked very hard at claiming any and all criticism of the actions of the Israeli government is anti-Semitism. Much as Trump himself did last week in his accusations against Omar.
The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act doesn’t even pay lip service to the violence against Jews in this country. Likewise, the Combatting Anti-Semitism conference dedicated none of its session to the rise of white nationalism, even as all violent anti-Semitic incidents that have taken place have been by white nationalists.
And, of course, anti-Semitism is never alone. As attacks on Jews are increasing, still greater are the attacks on people of color, queer and trans people, immigrants, and Muslims. The feigned concern for anti-Semitism coming from seemingly every corner of the right likewise comes with profound Islamophobia.
At the White House conference on anti-Semitism, Jonathan Tobin, editor in chief of the Jewish News Syndicate (owned by pro-Israel Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson), spouted a particularly noxious mix of Islamophobia and anti-left sentiment: “Anti-Semitism is the most successful ideology of the 20th century because it morphed and attached itself to various ideologies—fascism, communism, radical islam’—now radical Islam is spreading and allying with left wing elites.” Not a word about any of the attacks on synagogues perpetrated by the far-right, in case you wondered.
And speaking to the CUFI summit last week, Vice President Mike Pence spoke out about anti-Semitism—but only in a thinly veiled stab at Omar, saying: “Anti-Semitism has no place in the Congress of the United States – or anywhere in this nation – and anyone who slanders the historic alliance between the U.S. and Israel should not be sitting on the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Representatives.”
So if this isn’t about safeguarding American Jews, what is it about?
Partly, this is about safeguarding Israel and the seemingly unconditional Israeli-American alliance from its critics, undermining the power of those fearless leaders not cowed by the bullying of the anti-Palestinian lobby.
If the Trump administration has its way, it would be anti-Semitic to demand that the State of Israel ensure basic freedoms for Palestinians. Nonviolent tactics, like boycotts, divestment campaigns and calls for sanctions, would be deemed anti-Semitic. But calling for the conversion or destruction of all Jewish people to ensure the Second Coming? Not anti-Semitic, according to Trump & Co. Chanting “Jews will not replace us?” is not anti-Semitic, but rather something that “very fine people” do, according to the President. Anti-Semitism is being distorted beyond all recognition to mean nothing more than something “against the right-wing agenda.” And it is terrifying both in how these false accusations are being deployed against people of color, and how it makes it harder and harder to recognize real anti-Semitism.
Closer to home, the relentless, but highly selective accusations of anti-Semitism are used in two ways. First, it’s to shore up the legitimacy of a White House reliant on a base whose members, in the past year alone, spray-painted swastikas on my grandfather’s synagogue in Indiana and murdered Jews at prayer in Pennsylvania and California. When these and other incidents are brought to the door of a President who described neo-Nazi torch marchers as very fine people, the Administration throws up its hands: Us? Racist? But we speak out against anti-Semitism day in, day out! And secondly, of course, anti-Semitism is perversely used by the same President to whip up a mob into a racist frenzy against our nation’s first hijab-wearing Congresswoman and other progressive politicians of color.
The charge of anti-Semitism has long been used as a cudgel to stifle pro-Palestinian activism. It’s now being used, ingeniously, to shield actual neo-Nazis, bona-fide racists and their enablers from criticism. And all the while real, murderous anti-Semitism is allowed to fester in the United States to a degree not seen since the Leo Frank lynching. It’s not just morally bankrupt; it’s truly, actively, urgently dangerous. The time to draw a line on what anti-Semitism is and what it isn’t is now, before Trump’s incitement to violence last week turns deadly.
*Rabbi Alissa Wise is Deputy Director at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and co-founder of JVP’s Rabbinical Council. She is a contributor to On Antisemitism: Solidarity and the Struggle for Justice.The views expressed in this article are the author’s own.?????