On Oct. 27, an anti-Semitic murderer whose name isn’t worth the paper it’s written on, walked into the Tree of Life Synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, shouted “All Jews must die,” and opened fire. Eleven congregants were killed, and four police officers and two others were wounded.
The rampage was the deadliest attack against the Jewish community in the United States.
The massacre surprised many Americans. But anyone familiar with Jewish history and how anti-Semitism works shouldn’t have been surprised, especially in today’s politically charged atmosphere.
Waking up dormant hate
It is wrong to blame President Donald Trump for the massacre. The gunman is responsible. However, Trump is guilty of creating an atmosphere that has emboldened racists on the extreme right and, as you will see, the not-so-extreme right.
Although correlation doesn’t imply causation, one must be willfully blind to suggest that Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric hasn’t contributed to the uptick in anti-Semitism and other forms of racism since he began his run for office in 2016.
For example, in February the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) reported that the number of anti-Semitic incidents was “nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than in 2016, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest reported since the ADL started tracking incident data in the 1970s.”
The FBI received 938 reports of anti-Semitic acts against American Jews in 2017. The U.S. Justice Department said it was “particularly troubled” by the spike. Overall, hate crime incidents have been on the rise in the last three years.
Dog whistles heard loud and clear
Trump literally kicked off his campaign with racism when he referred to Mexicans as drug dealers, criminals and rapists. But in most cases, he uses coded language that right-wing extremists understand all too well.
But never mind Trump’s long list of coded or blatantly racist statements — simply focusing on his anti-Semitic dog whistling is enough to make one’s jaw drop, or at least it should.
Speaking to the Republican Jewish Coalition in 2016, Trump told the crowd, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” Politico reported that Ari Fleischer, former White House press secretary for George W. Bush, said the remark was “offensive.” Later at the Coalition event, Trump took a jab at Jewish stereotypes, saying, “I’m a negotiator like you folks. Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals?”
Not so bad? He was just warming up.
During the 2016 campaign, Trump tweeted a meme produced by anti-Semites calling Hillary Clinton the “most corrupt candidate ever!” inside a Star of David. The message: Clinton’s supposed corruption was actually a form of control by Jews.
Trump closed his campaign with a TV ad that denounced “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.” Here’s the real kicker: Those words were imposed over images of Janet Yellen, George Soros and Lloyd Blankfein, who are all Jewish.
Trump regularly slams his enemies as “globalists,” which Jonathan Chait wrote in New York Magazine last October, implies “extra-national loyalty … [a] primary accusation made against Jews.”
Sore at Soros
Some right-wing commentators and elected officials apparently feel emboldened to follow Trump’s (ill-fitting) suit.
Lou Dobbs from FOX News Channel repeated a common right-wing conspiracy theory that Soros — a longtime target of anti-Semites whose name is practically a substitute for “Jew” — was secretly financing a caravan of Central American refugees headed to the U.S. His guest in October, Chris Farrell — head of the conservative activist group Judicial Watch — said the caravan was funded by the “Soros-occupied State Department.”
Florida Rep. Matt Gaetz has also promoted the Soros-financed caravan conspiracy theory.
Not to be outdone, Rep. Steve King of Iowa — who subscribes to the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory that powerful foreign agents (read: Jews) seek to replace white Europeans in the U.S. and Europe with nonwhite minorities — also parroted the Soros caravan conspiracy theory.
And speaking of the “Great Replacement” conspiracy theory, the white nationalists who marched in Charlottesville — some of whom Trump described as “very fine people” — chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
And there’s more.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy tweeted that billionaire Tom Steyer and Michael Bloomberg, who are both Jewish, tried to “buy” the midterm elections for Democrats — with help, of course, from arch Jewish Super Villain George Soros.
Considering all that, it’s hardly surprising that just prior to his murderous rampage, the gunman who attacked the Tree of Life Synagogue wrote online that HIAS (the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society) “likes to bring invaders that kill our people” and that he couldn’t “sit by and watch my people get slaughtered.”
I’m sure there are more examples, but you get the picture.
Anti-Semitism on the left and right
Anti-Semitism on the far left is also a serious issue. But there are salient differences between left-wing and right-wing anti-Semitism.
Left-wing anti-Semitism is primarily aimed at the demonization of Israel and casts Israel as the Jew of the nations. It oversimplifies a complex situation by absolving Israel’s Arab and Islamic foes of any moral responsibility for their actions while heaping all opprobrium on Israel and its supporters.
Left-wing anti-Semitism is annoying and hypocritical. Right-wing anti-Semitism is deadly and genocidal.
Is Trump Anti-Semitic?
Trump’s defenders argue he can’t be anti-Semitic because his daughter, Ivanka, converted to Judaism and is married to Jared Kushner, who is Jewish. Some of Trump’s grandchildren, it is pointed out, are Jewish.
A couple of years ago this argument seemed to hold water. But at this point, Trump’s “I-can’t-possibly-be-anti-Semitic” membership card has long since expired.
Whether Trump harbors ill-will toward Jews is immaterial. Despite repeating warnings to tone down his dangerous rhetoric — which he ignores — Trump has clearly emboldened some of the most dangerous right-wing anti-Semites — and that is what matters.
Zak Mazur is a longtime writer for the Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle