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Antisemitism Once More
Amid the discussion around the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago and what it might mean for Trump and the rule of law in America, there is a detail that I worry isn’t receiving enough attention but that points to a dangerous reality in the United States today.
It centers on Bruce Reinhart, the magistrate judge who signed the FBI's search warrant. As his name became public, he has faced a withering volume of threats from those who believe Trump should be above the law. In today’s America, with the MAGA crowd revved up for attack, that was to be expected. But that attacks were to be expected should not obscure the fact that they are dangerous. Very. The possibility of their leading to violence should not be underestimated.
Many of these threats focused on the fact that Judge Reinhart is Jewish. It got to the point that the synagogue where Judge Reinhart sits on the board had to cancel Shabbat services:
Antisemitism is on the rise in America, as those who track such nefarious trends will tell you. It can be found in some form across the political spectrum, but it has become a particular hallmark of elements of the Republican Party, especially in the age of Trump.
In the wake of the FBI search, the New York Young Republican Club resorted to well-worn antisemitic tropes, for example. “Internationalist forces and their allies intent on undermining the foundation of our Republic have crossed the Rubicon,” read their statement, in part. The conspiracy theory that Trump is being thwarted by a global cabal of “elites” funded by “George Soros” in ways that will undermine traditional American “values” represents coded language (and by "coded," I mean as subtle as a marching band through a library) that is pushing a dangerous line of attack. Dangerous on a personal level and dangerous for our country as a whole.
While there are extreme fringe groups who speak bluntly and declaratively of hating Jews, most American antisemitism is less obvious. Republican supporters of Trump say they can’t possibly be antisemitic because Trump’s own son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is Jewish, as were many members of his administration. They say Republicans have strong supporters in Israel, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They point to Democratic politicians who have been critical of Israel, or others with ties to more overt antisemites.
All of this is true. But it is not an excuse for what is taking place now.
It should be noted with emphasis that antisemitism isn’t limited to one political party or ideology. Furthermore, the Israel issue complicates the discussion, because criticism of Israel as a country is not necessarily antisemitic. Many American Jews object to Israeli policy. But there are also ways Israel is spoken of that clearly cross into antisemitic language.
It is impossible in a column such as this to parse the morass of antisemitism in America. But it is vital that we see how the fundamental rhetoric that has propelled antisemitism over many centuries around the globe helps fuel the larger Trump movement. This is about the “othering” of Americans who don't support Trump. It is about dividing the country into “us” and “them.” It is about claiming that only those who back the former president are “patriotic.”
What the Trumpification of the Republican Party has achieved (though we recognize that some of this existed prior to Trump) is labeling two Americas, one “real” and one supposedly not. And that is the purpose of all this Soros and internationalist talk: scapegoating. It tells people that they can and should direct their anger, which can easily escalate to violence, at those who are “different.” And those people are often Jews, or Black people, or people of Asian or Hispanic heritage, or LGBTQ+ folks, or other groups considered not sufficiently “American.” The fact that it isn’t all Jews or all Black people (the GOP lionizes Clarence Thomas, after all) doesn’t excuse the larger message.
We should be on guard not to make imperfect analogies to the past. For numerous reasons, I do not believe we are on the brink of becoming Nazi Germany. But that doesn't mean we don't face great peril. As soon as we start playing to stereotypes, as soon as we interpret people’s race, religion, or other background demographics as a measure of their worth as citizens or humans, we risk destroying our society.
It is sickening. It is vile. It is menacing to America’s historic mission as a citadel of freedom and high ideals. So it is incumbent on citizens with decent intentions to speak up. “Never again” doesn’t mean only that we must do all we can to avoid another Holocaust. It means never again shall we be silent. Never again shall we look the other way. Never again shall we allow hate to take deep root.
Of course, hate has always been a part of the human experience. It has wreaked havoc across history, causing the pain, suffering, and death of countless people. It is fueled by seeing others as enemies rather than as fellow members of the human species.
Antisemitism is one virulent manifestation of this "us vs. them" mindset. To survive and thrive, America must reject it in all of its forms.
I’m often asked by people who love their country but are worried about its future, “But what can one person do to make any difference?” My answer usually begins with, “Make sure you vote, work to get others to vote…ask yourself how you can help another person and help your community.” Speaking out against antisemitism, teaching the young its dangers and the dangers of hate more generally, is a worthwhile addition to this list.