Even before we knew many details about the horrific slaughter of 11 Jews on Saturday morning in Pittsburgh, critics were rushing to make the shooting about President Trump — in some cases, going to the lengths of blaming pro-Israel Jews who support Trump.
Now, there’s plenty to criticize in Trump’s rhetoric — something I have consistently done since I condemned Mitt Romney in 2012 for accepting his endorsement and that I continued to do through the 2016 election and into his presidency. But by trying to turn this attack into a referendum on Trump and his supporters, critics are only diminishing the much broader problem of anti-Semitism and ensuring that it gets swept under the rug. The sense one gets from reading a lot of media coverage is somehow, if we could just throw out Trump and his enablers, suddenly the problem will go away.
The reality is that anti-Semitism is an evil that has been with us for thousands of years and, despite the great blessings of freedom and religious liberty enjoyed by Jews here, it existed in America long before Trump entered the political scene. If we only talk about anti-Semitism within the limited context of Trump, we will fail to understand and combat it.
[Also read: Pittsburgh mayor: Trump visit will be a distraction]
Since the FBI started keeping data in 1996 and through 2016 (the most recent year for which statistics were available and the year prior to Trump’s presidency), there were 19,023 anti-Jewish hate crimes recorded. That represented about two-thirds of all religious hate crimes in the U.S. — a shocking statistic considering that Jews only make up about 2 percent of the population. Those crimes occurred under both Democratic and Republican presidents.
It’s common for Jews to navigate armed guards, police, and metal detectors when going to worship at synagogues, drop their children off at Jewish daycare centers, or attend activities at local Jewish community centers.
The Pittsburgh shooting was the worst anti-Semitic attack in American history, but for many of us, something like it has felt inevitable for a long time. There were were shootings at a JCC in Los Angeles in 1999; at the Seattle Jewish Federation in 2006; at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2009; and the Overland Park, Kan., JCC in 2014. Bomb plots have also been thwarted. Those were fortunately less successful for various reasons, including heroic efforts of security and law enforcement personnel.
As somebody who has spent a long time raising alarms about anti-Semitism, it’s frustrating to see that people who have ignored the festering problem for so long only care about it when they can weaponize it against Trump.
Anti-Semitism comes in many shapes and is not confined to Right or Left, either in the U.S. or throughout the world. It thrives among those who are completely ignorant and among educated elites. In recent decades, it’s often been cloaked as opposition to Israel.
Suddenly, liberals want to portray any criticism of George Soros — a man who has spent a fortune attacking the state of Israel and funding organizations leading the charge for boycotts — as anti-Semitic. Where were these same people when Sheldon Adelson was at the receiving end of vile attacks conjuring up centuriesold prejudices about Jews exerting undue influence on government?
When former President Barack Obama took a shot at Adelson during the White House Correspondents' Association dinner, the Washington press corps laughed uproariously. And it was not the only time that Obama or his appointees took aim at Jewish influence in politics. Obama hired Chuck Hagel as his defense secretary, a man who decried the influence of the “Jewish lobby” on American foreign policy. Within this context of attacks on Adelson and his elevation of a critic of the “Jewish lobby,” Obama complained about donors undermining his Iran deal, arguing that they didn’t care about national security — giving oxygen to the anti-Semitic idea that America Jews have dual loyalty and put the interests of a foreign country over their own.
The straw man that "not all criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic" has too often been translated into "no criticism of Israel can be anti-Semitic" — an attitude that has helped anti-Semites launder their hatred of Jews by disguising it as merely criticism of Israel as violence against Jews spreads worldwide and on U.S. college campuses.
Last year, a German court ruled that the attempted firebombing of a synagogue was merely an expression of protest against Israeli actions in Gaza. A report on anti-Semitic activity on college campuses from the AMCHA Initiative found a spike in attacks during the first half of 2016 at over 100 universities with the highest concentration of Jewish students. Anti-Semitic incidents were eight times more likely at campuses that had at least one anti-Zionist group, such as Students for Justice in Palestine.
The Pittsburgh gunman was not a fan of Trump, who he said he did not vote for. "Trump is a globalist, not a nationalist. There is no #MAGA as long as there is a kike infestation," he wrote. It turns out, the man who shot up a synagogue, like many before him, really hated Jews.
By all means, criticize Trump for his crude words and tone-deaf response to incidents, such as the white supremacist riot in Charlottesville, Va. But if we’re going to have a national conversation on anti-Semitism, let’s have one that actually looks at the much broader problem in all of its manifestations.