Racism at ‘highest levels’ must be opposed

JCRC Scene
Matt Goldberg

Matt Goldberg

President’s Trump recently took to Twitter and called for four American congresswomen of color to go back to the countries from which they came.
The president’s tweets are not something that can easily be dismissed as just another example of hard-nosed politics.These tweets were clearly racist and xenophobic; they cannot be viewed any other way.
Far from just questionable love-it-or-leave-it statements, these tweets send the message to immigrants and people of color that they less than full Americans.
To be clear, three of these women were born in the United States, the fourth has been a naturalized citizen for many years.
Very few of us are native to America, we are mostly descended from immigrants and refugees, and whether someone’s ancestry in America goes back 10 years or 400, American citizens are as American as anyone else.
While the president was rightly condemned, his follow up tweets defending his statements, which directly involved the Jewish community and Israel, complicated matters.
Accusing these women of anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism to defend his past statements should not provide us any comfort. The president’s words served only to distract from the racist nature of his original tweets.
Ordinarily, a president so vociferously attacking anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism would be a good thing, and some statements by Rep. Ilhan Omar made earlier this year were anti-Semitic in nature (though the freshman from Minnesota quickly apologized for them). But the accusations of anti-Semitism levied by our president are hollowed out when used the way he did.
In other words, the president has turned loyalty to Israel into a litmus test for loyalty to America. That means anyone exercising their free speech rights to level criticism against the Israeli government risks being accused of being un-American.
That offends not only national sensibilities, but Jewish ones as well.
Anti-Semitism is a real thing, and it is getting much worse, both here and abroad. Hate crimes against Jews have increased at a staggering rate. The ADL has tracked almost a 100-percent increase in incidents and Jews are now the most targeted group in the country. The horrific attacks at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and Poway Chabad are only symptoms of this new reality.
But racism of all sorts is on the rise in this country. The FBI reported 7,175 incidents of hate crimes in 2017 (the most recent data available) – a 17-percent increase from 2016 and the third consecutive year of an uptick.
Black churches have been burned down, a LGBTQ night club was scene of a mass shooting, Hispanics legally seeking asylum are being detained like criminals, their children taken from them.
And strong women who choose to speak out instead of staying silent have been targeted with lies and death threats.
None of this is in accordance with Jewish teachings. Perhaps that is why Jews in such large numbers have spoken out against the president’s remarks.
And it’s not just progressive Jews who are speaking
The Rabbinical Council of America, an Orthodox body that has embraced Trump, recently issued a strongly worded statement that “condemns the most recent outburst of racist rhetoric in the highest levels of government,” an apparent reference to the president’s remarks.
“Whether statements that question the loyalty of American Jews when the safety and security of Israel is at stake or rallies that call upon descendants of immigrants to return to countries they never knew,” the RCA statement continued, “we see these pronouncements as dangerous to the core values of our faith and the foundations of American society.”
With all the problems facing Jewish communities around the world, strong moral leadership condemning hateful remarks at home is vital. President Trump can and should be that leader. But using a charge of anti-Semitism to justify racism does everyone a disservice.

(Matt Goldberg is director of the Jewish Community Relations Council.)

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