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ANALYSIS: How should Trump ‘extract the poison of antisemitism?’

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Antisemitism has been on the rise since 2014 – meaning before Trump became or even announced that he was running for president – but spiked by nearly 70% in 2017.
By Lahav Harkov
“This is a case where if they had an armed guard inside they might have been able to stop [the shooter] immediately,” US President Donald Trump said on Saturday, after the Sabbath massacre at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Later he tweeted, “This evil antisemitic attack is an assault on humanity. It will take all of us working together to extract the poison of antisemitism from our world. We must unite to conquer hate.”As often happens with Trump, his comments reflect two divergent paths that would lead to very different policies.Should US Jews be barricading themselves inside their synagogues, the way many European Jews do, because antisemitism is a foregone conclusion? Or should there be an active effort to eradicate antisemitism?

The practical answer is both. American Jews should be doing what they have to do to keep themselves safe, whether it’s putting bulletproof windows in their institutions, hiring more guards, or whatever else security experts recommend. And the US government should be doing more to fight the scourge of antisemitism.

But the statements made after a massive, tragic shooting like the one in Squirrel Hill carry more weight than being purely prescriptive, and while armed guards are not a bad idea, there is a broader discussion that needs to be had.

Many were outraged by Trump’s original comment because it reeks of victim-blaming. It’s true that this is not the first shooting at a Jewish institution – the deadly shooting at a Kansas Jewish Community Center in 2014 comes to mind, as do countless recent incidents of vandalism around the US – but we in Israel know well that having guns around, while helpful, does not prevent all casualties.The real problem is not the lack of guards, it’s the need for guards.

Antisemitism has been on the rise since 2014 – meaning before Trump became or even announced that he was running for president – but spiked by nearly 70% in 2017, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The vast majority of Jewish Americans did not vote for Trump and do not support him. Less than half (46%) supported his moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, so even his most dramatic pro-Israel move seems unlikely to move the needle on Jewish political support.

Yet, the killer in Pittsburgh was under the impression that Trump is in the thrall of a Jewish conspiracy and working to promote some kind of Jewish agenda. Those ideas don’t come from a vacuum.

The idea of Jews being an “infestation,” as the killer called it, go as far back as the Book of Esther, in which Haman described “a certain people scattered abroad and dispersed among the peoples.... Their laws are different from every other people’s and they do not observe the king’s laws; therefore, it is not befitting the king to tolerate them.” Haman’s proposed solution to the “Jewish Problem” was “to destroy, to slay and to exterminate all the Jews.”

In more modern times there is Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which originated in Eastern Europe and was repackaged and published in the US by Henry Ford as The International Jew. That conspiracy theory of sneaky Jewish domination was re-purposed by Charles Lindbergh of the America First Committee in an effort to keep the US out of World War II. “America First” is one of Trump’s favorite slogans.

And that is not the only way those ideas have been floated from the very top of the American political pyramid in recent years.

Trump has repeatedly called Jewish critics (and others) “globalists” – meaning they’re not putting American interests first – and made the particularly horrifying assertion that there were “nice people” among white supremacists. There’s also his fixation on George Soros who, it must be said, should not be immune from criticism, but has become an antisemitic bogeyman on the scale of the Rothschilds.

The Left is not immune to dog-whistling, either: The Obama administration, for example, implied that Jewish opponents of the Iran Deal in Congress were warmongers who had dual loyalties. This is, in a way, almost more sinister than Trump’s statements, in that the statements could come off as much more innocuous but still have antisemitic overtones.

While we cannot read either of their minds, it seems absurd that Obama or Trump is an out-and-out antisemite. But their intentions are almost beside the point.

They sent messages that extremists picked up on and turned into action, whether that was their intention or not. Extremists chanted “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville, Virginia, and distributed flyers blaming Jews for the arduous process of getting Brett Kavanaugh confirmed as a US Supreme Court justice. Iowa Rep. Steve King talked last week about a “great replacement” of white people with other, apparently undesirable, types, funded by – who else? – Soros, and he sought the “Polish perspective” on the Holocaust, minimizing the Jewish one. On the Left, conspiracists are taking elected office: Ilhan Omar, who said Israel has “hypnotized the world,” is likely to be voted into Congress from Minnesota this week, and Leslie Cockburn, who wrote a book about how Israel supposedly controls US foreign policy, is leading in Virginia’s Fifth District.

Many have repeatedly pointed out what Trump is broadcasting when he says these things. Former National Economic Council director Gary Cohn reportedly resigned in part because of Trump’s “nice people” statement. And yet, many times since then, including this week, Trump has gone on about Soros and the globalists in ways that could be understood dangerously.

So while Trump’s tweet about the attack in Pittsburgh and his call “to extract the poison of antisemitism” are commendable, they need to be backed up with change. He and many others in the public sphere should be giving more thought about how they speak about Jews and prominent Jewish individuals, because the messages they mean to send are getting jumbled and are being received as antisemitism.
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