“The passage of this legislation is an important victory against the BDS movement, which seeks to inflict economic harm on the State of Israel and its people,” said American Jewish Congress president Jack Rosen. “BDS not only hurts Israelis of all religions, ethnicities and political beliefs, but also hurts countless Palestinians employed by Israeli businesses.”
“Never Again” means thinking the unthinkable: that it can and will happen again, if we are not constantly vigilant.
By Jack Rosen
Every year on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we say “Never Again.” To many of us, to forget would be impossible. But for each new generation, the memory of the Holocaust grows more distant. Only by remembering can we prevent the repetition of history – by teaching, educating, and having difficult conversations.
“Never Again” means thinking the unthinkable: that it can and will happen again, if we are not constantly vigilant. As the son of Holocaust survivors and a lifelong Jewish advocate, I have a duty to my ancestors, to my children and to my people to preserve that memory.
In light of that duty, I would like to share with you five reasons why everyone must remember and understand the Holocaust today.
1. The Holocaust happened recently.
Seventy-four years ago, the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. And 74 years sounds like an awfully long time. But if you were not around in 1945, your parents were, or your grandparents.
This fall, I had the privilege of seeing my grandson, Alex, deliver a moving speech about antisemitism. In that moment, I felt newly connected to the future of the Jewish people. Then, I thought of my own grandfather, burned alive in the very house in which he sought shelter.
Two generations is more than enough for the whole world to change.
2. No one saw it coming.
We like to think we could see a genocide from a mile away, but that’s simply not true. In fact, most of the world did not realize the extent of the Holocaust until years after the end of World War II.
Jews were well integrated into German society over the course of several hundred years. German Jews felt relatively safe prior to the rise of Nazism; even after Hitler became chancellor, they could not have known what was coming.
It’s easier, more digestible, to think the signs were obvious. The warning signs for the next genocide will not be clear either, until it is too late.
3. It only takes a decade.
The nightmarish ideology of the Third Reich did not develop overnight, yet the actual timeline of escalation is horrifyingly short. Adolf Hitler took power in January 1933. Kristallnacht, the Night of Broken Glass, was in November 1938. By 1941, the Nazis’ “Final Solution” was under way. By 1945, it was over.
That’s 12 years from the first anti-Jewish law the Nazis passed to the six millionth Jew they murdered. It is critical that we remember not only the scale of the Holocaust, but the speed at which the Nazis went from being a fringe hate group to the architects of hell on earth.
4. It could happen to any group.
The Holocaust doesn’t hold lessons only for the Jewish people, but for all minority groups, everywhere. Again, Jews felt safe in German society.
The organization I lead, the American Jewish Congress, was founded in 1918 on the principle that in order to build a better society for Jews, it must be better for everyone. Conversely, freedoms and rights are not truly protected for anyone, if they are not protected for everyone. As long as we live in a world where genocide can occur against any group, no group is truly safe from genocide.
5. The warning signs are here today.
In recent years, we have seen a striking surge in antisemitism. FBI statistics on hate crimes show that crimes against Jews in 2017 accounted for more than half of all hate crimes against any religious group.
In October, 11 worshipers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh were gunned down because they were Jewish.
The year 2017 saw a 37% increase in antisemitic hate crime – rising for the third year in a row. Meanwhile, a recent CNN poll revealed that 1 in 20 Europeans had never heard of the Holocaust.
Last year, Poland passed a bill to deny Polish involvement in the Holocaust. This denial is a lie. Just ask my grandfather.
But that’s not all. In our divided political climate, hateful ideas are taking root as I have never seen before. In November, Arthur Jones, a Holocaust-denying American Nazi, ran for a seat in the US Congress and won 25% of the vote in his district.
Just this month, US Congressman Steve King was censured for defending white supremacy. Months ago, he met with a Nazi-founded far-right group during a trip to Auschwitz funded by a Holocaust memorial group. He has been elected eight times.
These are the warning signs. It can happen here. We cannot afford to miss the signs again. If given the chance, it will be attempted again.
But we have one advantage over Germans in the 1930s: Now we know the stakes. We have seen what is possible.
So today, 74 years later, I call upon each of you to remember. Remember what happens when good men and women do nothing. Remember that “Never Again” is not just a phrase – it is a promise we make to each other.
The writer is the president of the American Jewish Congress.
By Jack Rosen
With political tribalism in America ever-rising in pitch, the number of issues where agreement across the aisle is possible appears to be shrinking. Long gone are the days when policy differences stopped “at water’s edge,” and a united front on matters of foreign policy and national security were seen as central to America’s strength and prestige. Perhaps no subject is more emblematic of this partisan estrangement than American support for Israel.
Support for Israel was long a subject of bipartisan consensus. When the Jerusalem Embassy Act was passed in 1995, laying the groundwork for the eventual transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, it was with near unanimous support from both houses of Congress. Today, vocal support for Israel is increasingly shifting toward the right wing, and in today’s political climate, when an issue is embraced by the right, it becomes toxic to the left. (And vice versa).
Among Republican politicians today, the support of Israel — its policies, its defense, its right to exist — is essentially party orthodoxy. It has become part of a “package” that Republicans are expected to incorporate into their platforms. As a result, Democrats are keeping support for Israel at arm’s length so as not to appear acquiescent to the other side, and thereby missing out on the chance to support the only country in the region that aligns with their values.
When both parties view themselves so much as opposing teams in tug-of-war, issues like Israel become compartmentalized as extra inches of rope rather than significant, complicated issues. It also creates confusion for voters as to whether their elected representatives are truly for or against Israel, or if they are merely following the herd.
Indisputably, President Trump’s policies have made strong steps for Israel, not only for its defense and prosperity, but also for its normalization and legitimacy on the international stage. But in doing so, Trump has stamped the issue of Israel with his own brand. Only 21 percent of Democrats think Trump is striking the right balance on Israel, but a full 73 percent of Republicans do, according to a Pew survey.
More broadly, data shows the partisan divide on Israel is widening. In 2001, when asked if they sympathize more with Israel or the Palestinians, 50 percent of Republicans and 38 percent of Democrats said Israel; in 2018, those numbers have diverged to 78 percent and 27 percent, respectively. In other words, as Republicans skew more toward Israel, Democrats skew away. This effect is amplified farther from center; support for Israel among conservative Republicans has reached 81 percent, and among liberal Democrats has dropped to 19 percent.
As a lifelong advocate for the State of Israel, I cannot help but worry that Americans, especially impressionable young voters, will be pushed away from Israel — not by ideology, but by allegiance to a party. The majority of American Jews vote Democrat, but what happens when young Jews believe they have a social obligation to reject the State of Israel?
There are numerous strong reasons that liberals and conservatives alike should align with the support and defense of the Jewish State. As one of the closest allies we have, we cannot allow our discourse to deteriorate such that Americans do not apply their own values case-by-case.
Disturbingly, extreme anti-Israel voices and dangerous political beliefs are increasingly finding footing in the progressive movement and being legitimized in the mainstream. For example, Women’s March leadership with ties to notorious anti-Semite Louis Farrakhan have refused to step down. I cannot imagine that these individuals would have been so embraced in the political climates of decades past.
Last, but far from least, I am gravely concerned by how this effect will manifest itself in the 2020 presidential election. In the past, the president usually reflected the moderate wing of his party. In its search for a young, firebrand anti-Trump, however, the Democratic Party might choose a progressive candidate who subscribes to anti-Israel attitudes. Will their nominee be compelled to oppose Trump on all issues, and reject the current U.S.-Israel relationship for political points? For the Democrats to choose an anti-Israel candidate in 2020 could be disastrous for U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.
The State of Israel is not a political prop. It is not a partisan matter. It is a thriving, diverse nation nearly 9-million strong. It is a symbol of hope and rebirth for an ancient people scattered around the world, who in it found a second chance after nearly being extinguished. It is a vital ally whose story is intertwined with ours. And it is a bastion of democratic and, yes, progressive values in the Middle East, offering liberty to citizens of all religions and ethnicities. We cannot allow our allies and our values to be made into bargaining chips or publicity items. Israel matters too much to be lost to the tide of party politics.
Jack Rosen is the president of the American Jewish Congress.
By John Lyman
To understand how anti-Semitism is on the rise not just in the United States, but globally as well, I turned to the American Jewish Congress for answers.
Below is the text of my interview with Dan Rosen, board member and senior leader, of the American Jewish Congress. The interview was conducted via email.
The mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue was in late October. Can you describe what impact the shooting has had on American Jews and where the community goes from here?
What the Pittsburgh shooting really did was reveal how serious and dangerous any and all anti-Semitism can be. Anti-Semitism has absolutely been on the rise in America in the last few years, but most incidents have been nonviolent, and I think many Jews, as well as non-Jews, could become complacent. But this immense display of violence demonstrates that all of these seemingly small incidents were part of a larger trend that, if unchecked, leads to violence. Going forward, we must speak out against anti-Semitism and hate wherever they appear, because they do add up and build momentum.
Has the shooting had any impact on your organization’s mission and goals?
Our mission has not changed. But Pittsburgh certainly alerted us to how dire the situation is becoming and how necessary organizations like the American Jewish Congress are. With the shooting comes a need for extraordinary effort to fight antisemitism. Israel and international Jewish communities will always be high priorities for us, but it’s hard to fight for Jews abroad when Jews don’t feel safe here.
Anti-Semitism has always lurked beneath the shadows in American politics and society. In the past few years, it has become more overt. George Soros conspiracy theories and the rally in Charlottesville are prime examples. Why is anti-Semitism coming out from the shadows?
Anti-Semitism is not only emerging, but also spreading, and those are different but connected processes.
Our society is increasingly divided. Americans increasingly blame their problems on others – other parties, other states, other ethnic or religious groups – and our politics as a nation reflect that. And when people need a scapegoat, anti-Semitism is almost inevitable. For centuries, Jews have been used as the ultimate scapegoat, and that idea still lies dormant deep within our culture. When people feel desperate and helpless and cannot find someone to blame, they will eventually look to the Jews. Additionally, different forms of hate feed into one another, and once society becomes more willing to hate one group, it also be willing to hate other groups.
Anti-Semitism always lurks, in the dark corners of society, but the internet has increasingly given anti-Semites different ways to gather as a community. Where once anti-Semites were forced to keep their hatred private, or at least localized, now they can be connected with other hateful individuals around the country. They reinforce each other’s views and create echo chambers in which these toxic worldviews grow and multiply and convert others. The Pittsburgh shooter was very active in white supremacist social media communities, and posted immediately before entering the synagogue. He is not the first mass shooter to have been radicalized by a hateful online community; we must recognize that online hate does not stay online, and is no less real than an in-person meeting of anti-Semites or racists.
I would add that a more divided, resentful society is more receptive to hateful ideas. One thing that makes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories so insidious is that many people who believe and perpetuate them might not even realize they are anti-Semitic. George Soros conspiracies are a prime example of this, where those who subscribe to and espouse these beliefs might not realize that they are playing on centuries-old anti-Semitic rhetoric. The same goes for hatred of Israel, which is frequently used to justify or explain anti-Semitism around the world; people read about it online and buy the rhetoric without understanding why it is dangerous.
Outside of the U.S., what global politicians have contributed to the anti-Semitism rhetoric and what effect does this bring on the global community?
The most extreme examples are leaders who openly call for the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. The Iranian regime calls routinely for the annihilation of Israel, uses horribly anti-Semitic rhetoric, and propagates – perhaps even believes – absurd Jewish conspiracy theories, such as Israel controlling the weather. Hamas leaders use the most disgusting and appalling language for Jews, and the Hamas Charter, which is still the organization’s foundational document, references age-old anti-Semitic tropes and calls for the genocide of the Jews.
Many are quick to dismiss such leaders as outliers and extremists with empty words. But when these beliefs are given an international platform and Iran can spew this vitriol at the United Nations, or when the UN and world leaders fail time and time again to condemn Hamas – or even justify it – then it becomes normalized.
The Palestinian Authority is also complicit in this, though to a lesser degree. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has a long record of Holocaust denial, but it’s almost never talked about, or it’s explained away. That matters, especially when Palestinian schools and television, in both Gaza and the West Bank, teach children to deeply hate Israelis and Jews and tells them killing Jews is good.
Speaking of Holocaust denial, the Polish government passed a bill last year rejecting hard evidence of Polish complicity in the Holocaust and preventing anyone from suggesting that the Polish people played any role. This essentially shuts down Holocaust research, education, and free speech in Poland. When world governments deny the Holocaust, it legitimizes Holocaust denial in the eyes of deniers and would-be deniers around the world.
Broadly speaking, though, any world leader or public official who uses, enables it, or fails to recognize anti-Semitic speech is contributing. We don’t arrive at Pittsburgh from nowhere; that comes from years of slowly encroaching anti-Semitism that becomes normalized bit by bit. So when people like Jeremy Corbyn displays casually anti-Semitic beliefs and language, and he is allowed to get away with that over and over with little to no consequence, it becomes normalized in the public view, and it adds up.
The mid-term elections saw the Democrats take the U.S. House of Representatives by a fairly significant margin. What, if any, impact do you predict on U.S.-Israeli relations?
I don’t expect that this will have a significant impact on U.S.-Israel relations. The majority of Democratic and Republican members of Congress support Israel and our relationship to it. Yes, some younger Democrats are taking less pro-Israel stances, but I believe that for the most part, their time serving on Capitol Hill will show them why Israel is such a crucial ally for us and why American support of Israel matters.
Donald Trump has been steadfast in his support for Israel. He has taken steps in cutting off funding to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA). Does this help or hinder the peace process?
In the long run, this is an asset to the peace process. One of the largest obstacles to peace is that Israel is talked about in different terms from any other country, and the situation of Israelis and Palestinians is treated as somehow exceptional. It prevents the world from looking at the conflict in a practical way. The United Nations significantly contributes to this issue, and cannot be a fair international body if it can’t look at Israel objectively.
UNRWA is an example of this. The world faces so many refugee crises, but Palestinian refugees are the only ones with their own UN body like this; the rest fall under the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR). So the emphasis on UNRWA codifies this idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be handled by the same institutions or rules that other difficult global conflicts are handled by. UNRWA also defines Palestinian refugees differently than other refugees. And that’s not even touching on UNRWA’s role in funneling UN funds into Hamas terror operations, or UNRWA schools in Gaza teaching vile anti-Semitic beliefs and horrible lies about Israel to young children.
Now, many people do not realize these things, and as a result might misunderstand and be frustrated by the U.S. decision to cut funding to UNRWA; Palestinian leadership certainly did not take it well. But I believe in the long run, it’s a step in the right direction for a lasting peace.
Is an Israel-Palestine peace process possible as long as Hamas is in power?
Not a final, complete peace process, no. While Hamas is in power, Israel and Palestinian Authority leadership can absolutely make steps toward peace, come to productive agreements regarding the West Bank, and lay the groundwork for a lasting peace. But ultimately, the peace process must involve a resolution to the situation in Gaza, and that cannot happen with Hamas in power.
Israel cannot negotiate peace with a terrorist organization that vows Israel’s destruction and the genocide against the Jewish people, including in its foundational documents, and that seeks violence against Israeli civilians. The Palestinian Authority cannot represent all Palestinians when many of them are under the repressive rule of Hamas. And the people of Gaza cannot thrive and grow when they are manipulated and brainwashed to view Jews as nonhuman oppressors from childhood on, and denied basic infrastructure and services in favor of rockets and terror tunnels.
Moreover, Hamas does not want peace. Hamas does not want Gaza to recover or get better. It will never accept less than the complete destruction of Israel. Hamas rejects aid from Israel and redirects international aid money into violence. The Hamas government cannot provide for the people of Gaza; it maintains power by manufacturing a continual violent struggle. Only when Hamas is no longer in power and Gaza is allowed to heal will a true Israeli-Palestinian peace be attainable.
By Jack Rosen
All politics are local, goes the famous axiom. What affects us most personally closely shapes how we vote. While American Jews live in every state in the nation, the tragedy in Pittsburgh, in which 11 worshippers were killed in the Tree of Life Synagogue by an anti-Semite just days before the midterm elections, was surely close to our hearts.
Jewish-American voters are by no means monolithic in partisanship or orthodoxy. But we spoke in a clear, loud voice that a change in direction was needed. As a matter of fact, exit polls show that the violence in America and the growing divisions and intolerance that spawn it was on the minds of most voters — Jewish and non-Jewish — as they entered their polling places this past Tuesday.
Pittsburgh is one of many hate crimes in recent months. It was not the only one that led to mass violence against a minority, or that took Jewish lives. Over two successive days in October, two Orthodox Jewish men were assaulted in my home city of New York. Pittsburgh was not even the only lethal hate crime committed in the United States that very Saturday. Yet Pittsburgh stands out in the national psyche.
Pittsburgh was a climactic event that proved definitively that anti-Semitism is not an empty threat. The majority of anti-Semitic hate crimes in the news have been nonviolent, or at least nonlethal. Nazi-inspired graffiti, the defacement of gravestones, and the false JCC bomb threats were all frightening harbingers of the dark forces coursing through America’s veins.
And just last month, Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who already had a record of anti-Semitic speech, publicly compared Jews to termites. In past years, these incidents, taken individually, could be written off as anomalies. But in the context of Pittsburgh, none of these instances can be ignored.
This moment brought all other recent American anti-Semitism into focus. Not only is anti-Semitism not dead, it is thriving. Multiple candidates in the midterms were openly white supremacist and anti-Semitic. Arthur Jones, an avowed Holocaust denier and neo-Nazi, became an official Congressional candidate in Illinois and won 25 percent of the vote; Russell Walker, a North Carolina state candidate who espouses white supremacy and said Jews descend from Satan, won 37 percent of his electorate. Leslie Cockburn, an unsuccessful Congressional candidate from Virginia, is the author of an anti-Semitic book portraying Israel as the cause of America’s internal problems.
Still other campaigns used anti-Semitic imagery to target their Jewish opponents. Most notably, Ed Charamut, a Connecticut state candidate, released a widely-condemned anti-Semitic depiction of his opponent in the days following Pittsburgh.
These and other anti-Semitic candidates were defeated at the polls this year. But voters should not let their guard down; these candidates are moving into the mainstream. They are now within the perimeter of what is considered acceptable political expression. Complacency is not the answer, vigilance is.
Prior to this year, many Americans, including Jews, thought anti-Semitism to be in decline. Jews have made remarkable strides in this country over the decades, and until recently, anti-Semitism was significantly less dangerous than it once was.
For a mass casualty attack against Jews to take place in 2018 suggests that we are regressing as a nation — a sentiment deeply concerning not only to Jews, but to other minorities, and indeed to any citizens who believe in American democracy. The conclusion, then, is that something needs to change.
At a press conference last Wednesday, President Trump deflected a question about anti-Semitic attacks by citing the progress he has made for the State of Israel. And yes, Israel is important to Jews, but a stronger Israel can’t lift up Jewish-Americans; only America can do that. Indeed, Jewish-Americans cannot build a stronger Israel if we feel threatened at home. Partnership with Israel is not a substitute for protecting America’s Jewish communities. No foreign policy act can replace the work that must be done to address the division gnawing at America’s consciousness and the hate tainting its soul.
I call on all our leaders, no matter their party or religion, to address hate at its source. Do not put the blame solely across the aisle. Do not expect a solution to come from abroad. And above all, don’t wait for another Pittsburgh to decide enough is enough.
Many new Members of Congress — from both parties — have expressed a desire to improve the tone and substance of political discourse in America. This is a needed first step to healing the nation and addressing the dark forces that vex our nation. Congress can show that it means business by holding a special joint session dedicated to promoting interfaith understanding and to celebrating the pluralism that is at the heart of our national creed.
This session should set an example for all Americans and the world by abolishing the partisan aisle and commingling Republicans and Democrats in the chamber.
To all those who won their elections last week: Congratulations. We are counting on you. The reuniting of America must be job one. Let’s get to work.
Jack Rosen is the President of the American Jewish Congress.
By Jack Rosen
In the shadow of the tragedy in Pittsburgh, I confess that of late I have grown weary of writing messages of condolence and solidarity to ethnic and religious groups that have been the targets of the increasing hatred and violence gripping our nation. I have issued too many unheeded warnings about intolerance. Our nation is in danger and we must have more than words and warnings. We must take firm action.
While I lead an organization dedicated to the issues and interests of American Jews, I know full well that the survival and success of the Jewish people is not an end itself, but an example of the American idea of tolerance and diversity at work. It is this very idea that was threatened in Pittsburgh. It is this very idea that was threatened in Charlottesville, in Charleston, and everywhere unchecked racial and religious intolerance has lapsed into its inescapable outcome: violence.
In these dispiriting times, I offer below four ideas that can help set America on a course to heal and triumph over the worst among us:
- President Trump should speak to all of America and not just his base.
The president has not held a single “fireside-chat”-style conversation with the American people during his administration. In the wake of Pittsburgh he should address the nation people directly by whatever means he chooses on the topic of the tone of discourse in America. President Trump is key in helping change the incivility and divisive rhetoric that is dividing the nation and inflaming
- Congress should call a joint session on religious unity, with no party lines.
Hate is not something we face as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans. My suggestion is that Congress hold a joint session featuring a diverse gathering of religious leaders to address interfaith understanding, tolerance, and peace. For a special session like this, “bipartisanship” is not enough; I propose dissolving the aisle. I challenge our congressmen and senators to sit beside members of the opposite party, so they may enter this difficult and critical discussion not as members of a party but as Americans first.
- Houses of worship must stand together and adopt “collective security.”
Religious leaders in every house of worship, from every denomination, should immediately adopt a single pledge for their parishioners that states that an attack against one faith is an attack against all. Not only is freedom of worship guaranteed in our Constitution, collective security among the faithful would be a powerful bulwark against those who think and act violently in their name.
America’s spiritual leaders — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, Humanist, and others — should also dedicate a sermon this month to the teachings of another faith, and in particular address their areas of common concern and belief, like mercy, compassion, and peace.
- Every American must reconnect with what makes us Americans.
Ordinary Americans should reconnect with the idea of diversity and pluralism that makes America great. I challenge every family to make an American pilgrimage this year. Travel — in person or virtually — to Washington, D.C. and read the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence with your own eyes. Travel to Gettysburg and other Civil War sites to see the bitter scars of a country divided. Travel to Colonial Williamsburg to the First Baptist Church, built in 1776 by free and enslaved African-Americans, and ring the Freedom Bell that stood silent since Reconstruction. Each of these places were at some point tainted with America’s original sins but each stand today as symbols of America’s uncanny ability to learn, heal and persevere. They can teach us again.
Eleven Jews perished in Pittsburgh: a piece of our national soul did as well. Only through a national reckoning undertaken together can we restore our commitment to one nation that is home to people of many beliefs and backgrounds. This is at once deeply personal and an intimate national process. We must all look within ourselves on how to live the American creed, and we must look to our leaders to help us fulfill our destiny as a shining example of tolerance, diversity, and human progress.
Jack Rosen is the president of the American Jewish Congress, an advocacy organization focused on civil rights and civil liberties of minorities.
By Jack Rosen
With midterm elections once again around the corner, Democrats, Republicans, and people of all different political beliefs are anew vocally encouraging all Americans to get out and vote.
Yet, for many of us, this election is different from others. Our politics today feel more divisive and existential in a way not seen in recent memory. For Jewish Americans across the country, rising anti-Semitism and a chaotic and ever-changing world with rapidly evolving U.S. policies have left many with critical choices that will have a lasting impact on the direction of this country and the world for years to come.
As a lifelong Jewish American activist and president of the American Jewish Congress, I cannot recall an election when anti-Semitism was so visible on the national stage. Hate crimes rates are up, including toward Jews. Just this week, in my home city of New York, two Orthodox Jewish men were brutally assaulted in the streets of Brooklyn, in separate incidents, two days in a row. This is not normal.
White supremacists have gained an unprecedented nationwide platform from which to spew hatred toward Jews and people of color. Last summer, hundreds of them gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, a college town, to chant, “Jews will not replace us.” That is not normal either.
Meanwhile, several candidates for national office represent profoundly anti-Semitic and white supremacist viewpoints. Among the candidates who have won their state primaries and who will compete for election to Congress are:
- Russell Walker of North Carolina has stated that Jews are descended from Satan.
- Steve West of Missouri said on the radio that “Hitler was right.”
- Arthur Jones of Illinois, a self-proclaimed member of the American Nazi Party, proudly denies the Holocaust and even brags about protesting Holocaust survivor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel.
None of these men are likely to win an election, but the representation of their hate-filled views on the most important stages of national discussion is concerning.
In addition to emerging candidates, current members of Congress and of the administration have made historic decisions on matters affecting Jewish Americans, the U.S.-Israel relationship and global politics, and will continue to do so in the near future. Some policy items, such as our approach to Iran or the status of Jerusalem, are ongoing. The 2015 Iran Deal (JCPOA) is an item that continues to dominate discussions at the United Nations and in between American and European counterparts.
Likewise, the United States recently recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and relocated its Embassy while several other countries, such as Guatemala, are now following in the U.S.’ footsteps.
Regarding any future peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian leadership, it will be up to the U.S. government to back up Israel and demonstrate that Jerusalem is not up for grabs. And as the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement continues to pick up steam on college campuses and beyond, it’s important to have a Congress that understands BDS’s discriminatory and anti-Semitic nature.
Who we elect now will significantly impact the progress and challenges that we have faced on these issues. For this reason, The American Jewish Congress has compiled data and mapped out where candidates stand on the issues that are most important to Jewish Americans. The data also shows how candidates who have previously served in Congress voted on matters affecting Jewish Americans and the U.S.-Israel alliance.
For centuries, the Jewish people, scattered around the world, lived at the mercy of governments and rulers they had no say in. In some parts of the world, that is still true for us. But here in America, we have the spectacular gift of having a voice. Here we can vote and speak freely, seek education and take part in a free press, and fight to keep those who would harm us out of power. We can never take that for granted.
In a day and age where our politics feel more divisive and in jeopardy, now more than ever, it is critical that we use our political voice — not only by voting but by coming together as a community as Jews and as Americans to discuss what issues are important to us and what we will do to fix them. Some like to say that for every two Jews, there are three opinions – a joke, but one with a degree of truth. In spite of disagreements, we must always strive to unite our community around our common values and devotedly participate in the most valuable political process known to man.
Jack Rosen is the President of the American Jewish Congress, which created an interactive tool showing where midterm candidates stand on issues relevant to Jewish voters.
Someone will say that Florida is a unique case, as a state that has both a considerable Jewish population and an unusually even split in terms of party lines.
By Jack Rosen
When we released the 2018 Jewish Voters Guide initiative last month, I received a lot of feedback. Many people were enthusiastic about having a platform that aims to energize the Jewish voters, but others were skeptical. One response in particular, which I heard several times, really got my attention: that the Jews, as a minority making up just 2% of the population of the United States, are not able to influence elections.
What struck me most in their arguments was the tendency to see constituents as static groups that rarely change voting patterns, and to underestimate the power of local realities. But, it is precisely on the overlooked state and local level that so many elections are decided. So to those of you who doubt our ability to make a difference, I’d like to offer two strong examples to you today: Florida and Nevada.
You don’t have to be a political expert or a pundit to know that Florida is one of the most important electoral battlegrounds in the United States. For older Americans, the memory of the 2000 presidential election is still vivid; for younger Americans, it is one of the lessons that is constantly revisited in political science courses and in civic engagement campaigns. That was the year the political future of 300 million people came down to 0.009% of the vote in the state of Florida.
Florida offers a valuable insight into how pivotal the Jewish vote can be on these midterms. In the presidential election of 2012, president Barack Obama won the state by less than 1%, while candidate Donald Trump won in 2016 with 1.3%. In the current Senate race, the latest election survey shows a difference of only 0.7% between Democratic incumbent Senator Bill Nelson and his Republican opponent Governor Rick Scott. But, if that is only one survey, the aggregate of all polls, still places the difference between the candidates within merely 2%. The gubernatorial race is very close as well. According to the same survey, Democratic candidate Andrew Gillum and Republican candidate Ron DeSantis are within a 2% margin.
With these polls in mind, it is important to remember the considerable Jewish population in Florida. Jews are estimated to make up approximately 3.3% of the state population. Although there are no exact numbers, in terms of share of voters, the Jewish community accounts for roughly 3.4% of the electorate. Consider how possible changes in one group’s voting patterns can have a profound impact on elections outcomes. And the importance of the Jewish vote is channeled also on key congressional races, as swing districts in Florida and could very well determine which party holds the House of Representatives.
Someone will say that Florida is a unique case, as a state that has both a considerable Jewish population and an unusually even split in terms of party lines. That’s where Nevada comes in.
Despite having a relatively small Jewish community, the Jewish vote in of itself can sway the fate of the midterm elections. The Senate race in Nevada between incumbent Republican Senator Dean Heller and Democratic challenger Congresswoman Jacky Rosen is one of the biggest toss-ups and most closely-monitored races of this election season.
Secretary Hillary Clinton won Nevada in 2016 with margin of 1.6%, but the aggregate of the polls on the current Senate races shows a difference of just 0.7%. It may seem far-fetched, but it is a possibility that the roughly 1.2% of voters that identify as Jewish in Nevada might hold the keys to the Senate seat.
The American Jewish Congress launched the 2018 Jewish Voters Guide as a way to feed political activism and encourage voting by making it simpler for Jewish voters to get information about the positions of the candidates on Jewish and Israel-related issues. The incredibly fast news cycle and national politics have suffocated local realities, and in many cases have blurred the nuances of candidates by simply categorizing them according to partisan lines. The platform’s goal is to move beyond the headlines and to focus on what really matters: the issues and where the candidates stand.
To the skeptics that I mentioned earlier, I’d like to leave you with one incredible number: 537. That was, in the end, the difference in votes between candidate George W. Bush and candidate Al Gore in Florida. That is the difference that ultimately made George W. Bush President of the United States. It is the sort of difference that might once again decide elections in Florida, in Nevada, or in other states as well – who will become governor, who will represent the states and the districts in Congress. With a Senate currently controlled by a razor-thin majority (51 to 49 seats) and a House that is subject to a huge number of toss-up races, that small difference in votes might very well decide which party holds our next US Congress.
So don’t forget to vote this November, no matter what the odds look like. Your voice matters – and it might carry farther than you think.
The writer is the president of the American Jewish Congress.
A disorganized but persistent threat from the same Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members and Confederates remains
By Jack Rosen
The scenes from Charlottesville a year ago shocked our nation, revealing in harrowing coverage the bigotry, racism and anti-Semitism that remains in the United States. As an American Jew whose parents fled the Nazis in Europe and as president of the American Jewish Congress which is rooted in the belief that Jews are more secure in a society that actively protects the rights of all its citizens, I have closely watched how American society and politics have changed since that fatal day. While the overwhelming immediate response from all races and all religions was positive with many uniting to stand united against discrimination and hatred, a disorganized but persistent threat from the same Neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klan members, Confederates and the “alt-right” remains.
Jason Kessler, who organized Unite the Right, the name originally given to the Charlottesville rally by the “white civil rights activist,” is planning a second rally after an application was denied for Charlottesville. This time the right will gather outside the White House in Lafayette Park.
If there ever was a trace of doubt of how racist and anti-Semitic the organizers are, recent internal Facebook chats from Unite the Right planners (obtained from an anonymous source by the media collective Unicorn Riot, a left-leaning investigative journalism nonprofit) show them arguing over subjects such as whether there’s a good way to “normalize” anti-Semitism without appearing to do so (in other words, without using anti-Semitic memes). This behavior is typical of alt-right members that didn’t necessarily identify with far-right and Nazi organizations according to Dara Lind, but soon began to participate “from the use of “cuck” to deride anti-alt-right conservatives to Twitter harassment of Jewish journalists by Photoshopping them into images of Nazi gas chambers.”
Of course Unite the Right and those behind the Charlottesville riot are not the only ones promoting this type of hatred and violence. A string of rallies have been held, most recently in Portland where the “Proud Boys” and others engaged in a violent demonstration. These rallies are indicative of a growing number of hate groups in the United States. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the annual count of hate groups increased from 917 to 954, while there was a 22% increase in neo-Nazi groups last year, to 121.
However, many supporters of “white rights” remain disorganized or wary of public confrontation. An upcoming investigative documentary by PBS Frontline will expose how some of the white supremacists and Neo-Nazis involved in the 2017 Charlottesville rally went unpunished and continued to operate around the country. Yet several candidates in 2018 like Corey Stewart, the Republican Senate nominee from Virginia, have adopted hardline views and policy positions openly catering to these same supporters. The bottom-top and top-bottom rally cries mutually reinforce the racism that was denounced by both parties in 2017. Leaders from both parties must continue to denounce candidates that endorse or even flirt with these fringe ideologies.
To avoid Charlottesville like riots in 2018 and prevent the institutionalization of platforms of hate for white supremacists, anti-Semites, neo-Nazis, we must continue the bipartisan and cross-faith efforts to clamp down and find ways to stop hateful ideologies from spreading and seeping into our society. Rallying together remains our only tool in fighting these atrocities. The institutions that make us great: our freedom, our democracy, our passion for justice are ones that were built, not given. We must go to great efforts every day to maintain them against repressing and hateful ideologies.
Scenes like Charlottesville are ones that many of us had hoped were confined to the history books. Nazi flags and new forms of hateful ideologies have no place in American politics. I am proud to work alongside Jewish Americans every day in speaking out against racism and anti-Semitism, as well as with our partners across civil society. We, as a part of American society with a unique perspective, have no other option than to stand up and do so.
Jack Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress, an organization fighting for the civil rights and civil liberties of minorities.
Poland and Israel are treating the Holocaust as if it was their property to decide what happened and what did not. It is not their prerogative and with that they took a step too far.
By Jack Rosen
For the past century the American Jewish Congress – an organization I have the privilege to lead – has stood as a staunch, robust opponent of any and all who would harm our people. While this is our primary mission, we are equally duty bound to call out friends and family should they stumble in their uncompromising defense of the Jewish people. In this vein, and with a heavy heart, I feel it is my obligation to critique the State of Israel for signing a joint statement with Poland praising the latter’s efforts to end a dispute over Holocaust legislation that would have criminalized identification of Poles complicit in Nazi crimes.
The Holocaust is one of the most significant events in modern history and the worst genocide in human history. It is an event that changed the course of the Western world and had a monumental effect on Jews across the world. The Holocaust is no one’s property and no one has the right to rewrite or decide on its facts and stories. Nevertheless, Poland and Israel are treating the Holocaust as if it was their property to decide what happened and what did not. It is not their prerogative and with that they took a step too far.
While the bill in question may have been rendered less dangerous, it goes nowhere near to ensuring that the legions of Poles who, by turning a blind eye to or through direct cooperation with German wartime crimes, enabled the Holocaust. By signing this cosmetic statement, the Israelis fail to address the underlying issue that gave rise to this problem in the first place: rising antisemitism and extremism in Poland, manifested by a concerted, strategic campaign of Holocaust denial.
Don’t just take the word of this one man, born in a post-World War II displaced persons camp, whose family was annihilated through direct Polish support for the German extermination campaign. Yad Vashem and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum – two institutions with unimpeachable credentials in ensuring that Holocaust research remains accurate and thorough – have been unsparing in their reasoned condemnation of Israel’s willingness to be party to potential Holocaust revisionism.
The Joint Israeli-Polish statement runs counter to objective historical research and, by failing to address resurgent Polish antisemitism, gives cover (inadvertently, I am sure) to revisionist arguments asserting that the Polish government-in-exile during World War II defended Jews in the face of the Nazi onslaught. The reality, precisely to the contrary, is not only that the government did not defend beleaguered Jews, but in many cases was an active partner in their destruction on an industrial level. I address this issue from a deeply personal place: My own Polish Jewish family was burned alive during the war by Poles who purported to protect them.
I am of a generation of Jews who, from the cradle, proudly looked to the Jewish state as a “light unto the nations,” an exemplar of righteousness, humanity and fealty to historical accuracy in the face of those who would deny the undeniable in furtherance of intolerance and hate. It is my sincere hope that Israel’s momentary deviation from this ethos is a fleeting anomaly.
As much as I love the Jewish state and would defend it with my life, I will never agree that it has the right or ability to alter history, especially when such revisionism is potentially so damaging to the Jewish people.
The writer is the president and chairman of the American Jewish Congress.