How American Jews Are Responding to Anti-Semitic Acts and Neo-Nazis Under Trump
“People didn’t suddenly become anti-Semitic, they always have been. It’s just now they think it’s okay, because they see who the country elected.”
Marginalized groups have been living in fear since Inauguration Day. And while Jews in America mostly have white-passing privilege, the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who support President Donald Trump (some, like Steve Bannon, who are even in his administration) are making it clear that Jews should be just as scared to live in Trump’s America as any other minority.
Between the multiple Jewish cemeteries across the country that were vandalized throughout February and March, the constant bomb threats Jewish schools and community centers received and the Trump administration’s refusal to acknowledge Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day, Jewish people in America are starting to feel less and less safe.
According to CNN, anti-Semitic incidents rose 86 percent during the first three months of 2017.
“I think the widespread anti-Semitism we’ve seen, both during the campaign and since Trump’s election, has been the direct result of his hateful rhetoric,” says Adam Sank, a 46-year-old gay Jew from New Jersey. “The American voter who loves Trump because he bashes Mexicans, bashes Muslims, bashes immigrants — this person isn’t going to be like, ‘Oh, but I love Jews.’ White nationalists and avowed racists are Trump’s fundamental base, and that’s a base he actively courted, ever since he jumped on the absurd birther bandwagon in 2011.”
Deb Morbeto, a 48-year-old Jewish woman from Virginia is “disappointed that [Trump] has not made more public statements against the neo-Nazi groups that have gained momentum because of his presidency.”
“In neglecting to do so he has sanctioned hate,” Morbeto says.
Morbeto works at a synagogue, so the anti-Semitic attacks on Jewish schools, community centers and houses of worship hit close to home for her. “The staff had to be briefed on tactics in the event of a bomb scare,” she explains. “During this time, in a gesture of kindness, we received a plant from a fellow local house of worship. While the gesture was lovely my first thought was, ‘what if there is a bomb in the planter?’”
Abigail Noy, a 24-year-old Jewish woman living in New York City was angry and scared after hearing about the hate crimes committed against Jews. “People didn’t suddenly become anti-Semitic, they always have been. It’s just now they think it’s okay, because they see who the country elected. Those attacks and threats are directly correlated to Trump becoming president,” she believes.
Many Trump supporters have claimed Trump can’t possibly be anti-Semitic, due to the fact his daughter Ivanka converted to Orthodox Judaism upon marrying Jared Kushner. Sank, Morbeto and Noy don’t buy into this as Jews, though.
“Jared and Ivanka’s religious affiliation is meaningless if they won’t or can’t pressure Trump to speak out forcefully against anti-Semitism and all forms of hatred and bias,” Sank says. “They are tokens; all they do is provide cover for Trump against those who point out that a large chunk of his supporters are Jew-haters.”
“Simply being related to someone who is Jewish does not make one exempt from harboring racist thoughts,” Morbeto says. “Beyond that, Trump’s loyalties seem to be in tune with what is good for the wealthy, which may or may not include Jewish people.”
“Trump and the members of his administration have proven time after time that they are not for equality of any kind. David Duke actively supports this administration. Steve Bannon hates Jews,” Noy states. “I don’t care that Jared and Ivanka are Jewish. It means nothing to me.”
Zach T., a 25-year-old Jew from Seattle, however, doesn’t believe Trump is inherently anti-Semitic. “He just seems ignorant, for the most part,” Zach says. “He may have some implicit biases against Jews as many do, but I don’t think he’s going to be enacting policies to directly harm us. Immigrants, especially Muslims and Mexicans, seem to be more his targets of choice.”
However, Zach believes the administration needs better PR and preparation, especially in regard to Trump’s Twitter account and White House spokesman Sean Spicer’s lack of competency when it comes to speaking on the administration’s behalf (like when he said Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons).
“While I get that he meant gas as used for chemical weapons attacks in war rather than as genocidal extermination methods, I think the distinction is a minor one. It just speaks to the deep incompetence in the Trump administration that they can’t have a Press Secretary who doesn’t make himself into the story,” Zach says.
Zach is afraid of the potential Trump has for starting new wars and the large-scale problems that could come as a result of his poor policies. This is something Sank agrees with, believing Trump to be “the most dangerous person we’ve ever had in the White House.”
“I’m more afraid of the administration, because they’re the ones who have enormous power at their fingertips at the moment. And they’re the ones channeling this national hatred,” Sank explains. “I mean, Trump didn’t invent those white nationalist groups; they were here when Obama was president, and when George W. Bush was president, and when Clinton was president and before that. But those men, even W., whom I think was a disaster, had the common decency and the understanding of history not to empower those groups.”
And though many are afraid of these hate groups Trump enables, Zach isn’t that scared of them. “Knocking over headstones, spray-painting swastikas, and calling bomb threats are ‘easy’ because they don’t involve any real confrontation or effort on the part of the perpetrators,” he believes. “It’s emblematic of larger problems but those specific acts don’t make me afraid.”
“I’m not afraid of neo-Nazis, because they’re all cowards. That’s the important thing to remember, I think,” he says. “They don’t have the courage to do anything outside of their online anonymity. They would rather hide behind insinuations like that rather than just come out and call me a ‘kike’ to my face. They’ve always been cowards, and while they might be coming out in public more now, they’ll remain cowards. Fascist ideology is inherently based on fear.”
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