The Rise of Anti-Semitism in Trump Country
by Rafaella Gunz
Donald Trump will become the 45th president of the United States. Throughout his campaign, he’s touted messages of racism, xenophobia, sexism, and ableism. After his win, there has been an increase in hate crimes, including a great deal of anti-Semitism.
At my alma mater, The New School — a historically progressive university in New York City which famously provided jobs to European Jewish professors after they fled Europe during World War II — a swastika was drawn on the dorm room door of three Jewish students.
— sam ☕ (@samlichtenstein) November 12, 2016
Similar incidents have happened at other universities, such as SUNY Geneseo in upstate New York, where I spent the first semester of my college career.
As a Jewish feminist, I’m appalled, and quite honestly scared, that this hatred is occurring in supposedly liberal cities and on college campuses.
I spoke to other Jewish women, including New School students, about this rise of anti-Semitism after the election.
Samantha, a 20-year-old New School student, is scared for herself as a Jewish woman — as well as for her friends of color and her LGBTQ+ friends.
“I am still in shock to see how America voted for a xenophobic, misogynist, bigot homophobe who has no political experience,” she says. “I was extremely surprised how many people continued to vote for him after the KKK officially endorsed Trump.”
“The New School was founded by a group of progressive and outspoken individuals with a mission to educate everyday people and exchange ideas freely. The founders were scholars, economists, historians and artists representing a broad range of intellectual, aesthetic and political orientations. In 1933, it acquired the University in Exile as a graduate school and academic haven for scholars whose work was threatened, allowing them to escape from Nazi Germany and other adversarial regimes in Europe,” Samantha says. “I am extremely disgusted and disturbed by my school and fellow students. The students who did [the swastika on the door] are showing that they are no better than those who the founders of The New School were running away from in 1933.”
Another New School student, 25-year-old Bella, is a first-generation American Jew. Her father escaped from Romania during the communist regime and fled to America. “So for me, the implications of Donald Trump’s election have been terrifying, not only because of the way many of his supporters are currently behaving, but also because I have always understood that Jewish persecution isn’t an abstract idea or something to read about. It’s my family’s experience,” she says.
“I don’t think there are many Jews for whom the swastika doesn’t invoke fear, because we all know what it means,” Bella says. “I think as American Jews, it’s usually very easy to feel like you’re integrated in society because of the white privilege a lot of us tend to be privy to, and so when you’re reminded that there are people here in your own country that arbitrarily hate you because they have extremely convoluted and dangerous opinions on your culture as a whole, it’s heartbreaking.”
“I never thought I’d feel unsafe at my school, and I especially never thought I’d feel unsafe as a Jew in New York City, but I find that hatred often hides in cowardice, and so when there’s a greater societal acceptance of hatred, the cowards become slightly bolder,” she says.
“The resurgence of swastika imagery and graffiti shouldn’t be taken lightly,” says Carys, a 27-year-old from Denver. “During the primaries, the synagogue my grandparents attended, the synagogue my father attended, was spray-painted with swastikas. The overwhelming response: whoever did it, was likely ‘just a kid,’ she says. “I can’t help but feel as though that is as troublesome as the graffiti itself. What country do we live in if ‘kids’ think that spray-painting that image is acceptable? What message is the Trump administration conveying to the youth of our country?”
Jenny, a 24-year-old from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, another city where there have been anti-Semitic hate crimes, finds it difficult to believe that Jews are still facing this kind of hate in 2016.
“Just the other day, I met a man who told me that he strongly believed the Jews killed Jesus and that he knew ‘very few good ones,” she says. “I was disturbed very much by this conversation, but unfortunately not too surprised. Trump is the face of an America that hides under the facade of tolerance and freedom, when in reality we face a country that is filled with intolerance and judgement.”
Bella is also shocked and terrified by the number of Jews who voted for Trump. I concur with this statement; my father, who is a proud Jew, voted for Trump. “Even if you refuse to see his own hateful rhetoric for what it is, you can’t ignore the anti-Semitic sentiment that it has stirred up in many of his supporters. To vote for him is to ignore that, and to enable it,” Bella says.
“Anyone that spews hateful and separational rhetoric is not a friend of mine. It frustrates me that this is the relationship I feel I have to have with our President-elect. I am still heartbroken that this is the man that will represent the ‘land of the free and the home of the brave,’” says Jenny.
People seem to believe that because Trump’s daughter Ivanka married a Jewish man and converted to Judaism, that Trump can’t be an anti-Semite. Bella believes this line of thinking is similar to people who believe they can’t be racist because they have black friends.
After the election, Trump selected Steve Bannon, formerly of Breitbart News, as his chief White House strategist. Bannon has held nationalist, racist, and anti-Semitic views. This selection further confirms Trump’s deeply held anti-Semitic beliefs. “Trump did not renounce the support of white supremacists, which was bad enough, but to actually hire an outspoken anti-Semite, first as his campaign chairman and then as chief strategist in the White House is horrifying on another level,” Bella says.
Bella urges us to take Trump seriously. “Take him for his word now and hope he goes back on it, but don’t think that bad things can’t happen to us because we live in America. Fear and hate are not foreign concepts,” she says. “I have no problem comparing Trump’s campaign to Hitler’s, because the tactics he has used and the fear and anger he has awakened in so many by scapegoating ‘the other.’ This is very real, and very similar to the way Hitler took power. A lot of times people don’t take this sort of threat seriously until it’s too late.”
“I really hope Jewish-Americans will step to the plate here. Many Jews live in America — not because their ancestors thought that moving to America sounded like a good change of pace. Most of our ancestors were refugees. Most were hated when they arrived,” Carys says. “We need to learn to stand up for those who are going through what our ancestors went through. We, as a people, need to send the message that we care. That we won’t tolerate the treatment we endured for centuries for ourselves or anyone else. Should we not do such, we are failing our ancestors.”
Jenny believes this should be bringing American Jews to stand together. “Like a death or tragedy often brings family and friends together, so should this. As a Jew, I feel a stronger need than ever to be supportive of my community, be supported by them, and to actively be proud of who I am within my culture. We have survived so much as a people, and we will survive this,” she says.
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