The mixed reactions regarding President Donald Trump’s behavior following the shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue last month and the 2017 Charlottesville protests have revealed a divide within the Jewish-American community regarding anti-Semitism and its root causes.
Immediately after the shooting at the Pittsburgh synagogue, which left 11 people dead, Trump denounced the tragedy as an “act of pure evil.” At the same time, he blamed the media for the “climate of hatred” that led to the attack while rejecting claims that his administration has emboldened white nationalist and anti-Semitic groups.
On Wednesday, when pressed by a reporter about what he was doing to combat anti-Semitism, Trump did not fully answer the question.
“Nobody has done more for Israel than Donald Trump, and the nice part is that’s not me saying it – that’s Prime Minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” he said, adding that he wants to see the divides within the United States healed.
“One of the things I think can help heal is the success of our country. We are really successful now. We’ve gone up $11.7 trillion in worth,” Trump said.
Matt Brooks, the executive director of the Republican Jewish Coalition, has previously called Trump’s condemnation of anti-Semitism “very powerful and strong.” Other allies of the president, including his press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, accused media outlets of “exploiting” the shooting to criticize Trump.
However, not all Jewish community leaders were so receptive of Trump’s statements.
Polling data shows that the majority of Jewish-Americans have consistently voted for liberal, progressive policies since the 1920’s.
Many of these progressive Jewish organizations have lambasted the president’s rhetoric, in particular his controversial statements regarding the Charlottesville protests, as divisive and a contributing factor to the rise of anti-Semitism within the United States.
Anti-Semitic incidents rose by almost 60 percent last year in the United States, according to the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL, which tracks hate crimes, reported 1,986 cases of harassment or violence against Jewish-Americans in 2017, compared to 1,267 in the previous year.
Rebecca Ennen, deputy director of Jews United for Justice, a progressive advocacy group, told The Globe Post Trump and his “Republican enablers in Congress” have “blood on their hands.”
She added that while anti-Semitism was prevalent well before Trump took office, his statements regarding minorities (not just Jews, but Latinos and Muslims) have helped stoke the fires of white nationalism, which in turn has lead to increased anti-Semitism.
Additionally, she believes that the failure of law enforcement agencies to track and apprehend right-wing terrorist groups have contributed greatly to the wave of anti-Semitism.
According to Sarah Stern, founder of The Endowment for Middle East Truth, a conservative pro-Israel think tank, while President Trump’s reaction to the 2017 Charlottesville protests were “deeply profounding and disappointing,” the proliferation of anti-Semitism is “much more pronounced” in the left as opposed to the right.
Pro-Israel advocates argue that the anti-Israel rallies across college campuses create a hostile educational environment for Jewish students to have to endure. Stern told The Globe Post the passage of the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act would be a “potential remedy.”
The bill would require the Department of Education to consider a broad definition of “anti-Semitism” when determining whether there was a violation of the Civil Rights Act.
Critics of the act, including the American Civil Liberties Union, believe it will restrict free speech, including the right to criticize Netanyahu’s conservative Israeli government.
Anthony Romero, the executive director of the ACLU, said “Unfortunately, the proposed bill risks chilling constitutionally protected free speech by incorrectly equating criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism.”
Ennen added that “Israel doesn’t represent all Jews,” noting many Jewish-Americans are critical of Netanyahu and that opposing the Israeli government doesn’t equate to anti-Semitism.