By Jack Rosen, President of the American Jewish Congress
Published originally in the New York Daily News.
Former President Donald Trump’s decision to dine at Mar-a-Lago with outspoken anti-Semite Kanye West and the even more virulent Nick Fuentes represents an inflection point, a new low in the mainstreaming of American anti-Semitism. It demonstrates, above all, the disturbing lack of leadership inthe struggle against Jew-hatred and indeed all forms of hate. And, even worse, it emboldens extremists. Indeed, just days after the Mar-a-Lago dinner, both West and Fuentes went on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ “Infowars” show, with West praising Hitler and the Nazis, and outright denying the Holocaust.
The mainstreaming of anti-Semitism has been well underway for some time. Over the past two decades, the taboo on Jew-hating statements and actions has steadily eroded, as the memory of the Holocaust has begun to fade and radical forces on the left and right have risen on both sides of a divided nation.
These forces do not represent a majority of Americans, but they are growing and fanatically devoted to their hatred. We see the results in “alt-right” figures like Fuentes, with his fulminating Holocaust denial and neo-Nazism; cultural figures like Brooklyn Nets star Kyrie Irving recommending a false, Holocaust-denying documentary and then showing little to no remorse; far-right elected officials like Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene accusing “space lasers” owned by the Rothschilds of causing the California wildfires, while buddying with neo-Nazis and white supremacists; and anti-Semitic statements from radical left-wing politicians, such as Rep. Ilhan Omar, who goes far beyond just criticizing Israeli policy, which often can be viewed as anti-Semitic, and embraces conspiracy theories about Jewish “Benjamins” buying control of Congress.
As a result of the efforts of such haters, anti-Semitism has become increasingly acceptable in public life. This has had real-world consequences. Spectacular atrocities like the Tree of Life synagogue shooting have been accompanied by innumerable smaller incidents.
Hate crimes large and small are being committed against Jews in many cities. A leftist group has published a “Mapping Project” of Jewish targets across Massachusetts. Right-wing anti-Semites continue their violent activities, as shown by the New York Police Department’s recent successful interdiction of two men planning more synagogue attacks.
The most disturbing aspect of this rising wave of hate, however, is the absence of leadership on the issue. Yes, some brave conservatives and Republicans have denounced Trump’s dinner with West and Fuentes, but many in the party have chosen to hedge their bets, remaining quiet or issuing token criticisms. At the same time, neither Omar nor her ally Rashida Tlaib have been censured or shunned by their own party despite their anti-Semitic statements.
Even worse, some partisans have rushed to excuse or even defend the anti-Semitism in their midst. For example, some have asserted that, during his presidency, Trump pursued pro-Israel policies, and therefore should not be held responsible for encouraging anti-Semites.
While it is true that Trump was a strong supporter of Israel, if you support Jews in Israel but endanger Jews in America, you are endangering all Jews. Wherever they may live, the Jews are one people.
This is a bipartisan problem, however. When Omar made her “Benjamins” remark, many liberal and leftist figures in politics and the media rushed to her defense, claiming that she was only criticizing the influence of the “Israel lobby” and that her hateful remarks had been “taken out of context.”
All of this is unacceptable. An absence of leadership on an issue of such importance creates a vacuum, and into this vacuum have rushed all manner of monsters. If they are met only with equivocation, excuses and inaction, they will only grow stronger.
If anti-Semitism is to be successfully countered, then our national, state and local leaders must take a strong, concerted and united stand against it. There must be a zero-tolerance policy for such hate speech, not only against Jews, but against all minorities.
Our leaders must condemn anti-Semitism and those who traffic in it — and those who minimize or make excuses for it — in the strongest possible terms and distance themselves from anyone who legitimizes or, worse, encourages it. Politicians who engage in anti-Semitic discourse must be shunned and, if possible, expelled from public life.
In practical terms, certain immediate steps can be taken. The Republican Party as a whole must distance themselves from Trump’s actions. Considering his stature and platform as a former president and declared contender in 2024, such denunciation would show that the Republican Party is truly committed to rejecting the normalization of anti-Semitism. Moreover, the incoming Congress must act immediately to support the struggle against anti-Semitism by committing significant funds to efforts to combat hate and racism, and promote social inclusion and education.
Silence and inaction have helped mainstream anti-Semitism. The majority of Americans who embrace tolerance and reject hate deserve a voice as well, and it is time to give them one.
Rosen is president of the American Jewish Congress and chairman of the American Council for World Jewry.