Who would have thought, in the year 2017, in the land of the free, that we would have to deal with a surge of anti-Semitic hate crimes? And yet, here we are.
Perhaps it was only a matter of time — ever since the white nationalist fringe began responding to Donald Trump’s campaign themes that vilified Mexicans and Muslims and black protesters — that the craving for scapegoats would turn toward history’s most reliable of targets, the Jews.
In the 10 days after Trump’s election in November, 867 incidents of harassment and intimidation from white supremacists were recorded by the Southern Poverty Law Center. One hundred of these were anti-Semitic, more than twice as many, actually, as anti-Muslim incidents, which garnered far more publicity.
In the last two weeks, Jewish cemeteries near St. Louis and in Philadelphia and Rochester, N.Y., saw hundreds of headstones toppled in acts of contempt against the most defenseless of all, the dead. The particular cruelty of this crime, however, is that the pain is felt by the living, their memories of loved ones literally put to rubble.
And in waves of apparently coordinated phone calls, more than 100 Jewish Community Centers from coast to coast have been terrorized by bomb threats. As of this writing, none have proven more than hoaxes, but they have unnerved entire communities and undermined their sense of security. None were phoned into JCCs in Palm Beach County — although bomb threats cleared the Mandel Jewish Community Center and nearby Arthur Meyer Jewish Academy in Palm Beach Gardens on Jan. 18.
In Palm Beach County, home to a sizable Jewish population, “security protocols [have been] soundly implemented by law enforcement, staff members and our security teams” for synagogues, JCCs and other Jewish institutions, Colin Shalo, a spokesman for the Jewish Federation of Palm Beach County, told the Post Editorial Board.
It was good that President Trump on Tuesday used the opening moments of the first address to Congress to condemn the threats to Jewish Community Centers and cemetery vandalism — which, he said, “remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all its forms.”
The noble words, however, ring somewhat hollow from a man who exploited racist tropes to fan his popularity, who embraces as political adviser Stephen Bannon, whose editorship of Breitbart News has given white nationalists their most prominent forum.
In fact, just hours before his speech to the Joint Session of Congress, Trump had outrageously suggested that the cemetery desecrations and JCC threats were fakes — set-ups meant to embarrass him. “Sometimes it’s the reverse, to make people, or to make others, look bad,” said Trump, according to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro.
The president so quick to take credit for all kinds of things that have occurred since his election, such as the surge in the stock market, refuses to take responsibility for the surge in hate crimes. He speaks as though none of this has anything to do with him.
Asked at a press conference about the distressing rise of anti-Semitism, he answered by talking about the size of his Electoral College victory and mentioning his daughter and son-in-law, who are Jewish. Asked again the next day, he ordered his Jewish questioner to sit down, called the question insulting and said he is “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life.”
But no one had asked Trump whether he, personally, was anti-Semitic. The question was, what is his administration going to do about the growing fear in the Jewish community of anti-Semitic intimidation and violence?
That’s still the question. While it was wonderful symbolism to see Vice President Mike Pence join with volunteers — including, notably, Muslims – to aright the toppled gravestones in University City, Mo., Trump has offered no plan to battle hate crimes such as these, or the racist slurs smeared on black churches, or the shooting death of the Indian tech worker in Kansas mistaken for an Iranian by a man shouting, “Get out of my country.”
Surely the president can direct the U.S. Justice Department to attack the issue with at least the same vigor with which he has ordered an investigation into mythical voter fraud.
This is a moment for the United States government at the highest levels to assert its moral and legal authority. Condemnations are not enough. The cowards must be stopped with action. The arrest of a man in St. Louis Friday in connection with the JCC threats is a good start. Let’s see more.
Note: This story was amended on March 6 to include the information that bomb threats were made on Jan. 18 at Jewish facilities in Palm Beach Gardens.
President Trump has offered no plan to battle hate crimes.