Candidate Donald Trump and his adviser Stephen Bannon of Breitbart News—now top aide to the president and a member of the National Security Council—took few pains during the campaign to disguise their racist rhetoric and imagery, some of it obviously borrowed from white nationalist and openly Nazi websites and other media. Aside from the constant barrage of demonization of Muslims both abroad and at home, there was also the infamous incident where Hillary Clinton was pictured in Trump campaign literature with a prominent red Jewish star pasted against a background of stacks of money.
The incidence of race crimes and anti-Semitic baiting rose precipitously with seeming approval from the highest quarters of American politics. Now, as president, Trump’s prominence has given seeming “permission” for bigots of all stripes to display their prejudices with little fear of recrimination.
In recent weeks there has been a wave of phoned-in bomb threats at Jewish community centers (JCC) all around the country, and a few in Canada as well. The voices are computer-altered and with some exceptions most have not been traced to individuals; but it is evident there is a concerted campaign to terrorize Jews and any others who may use those facilities. (A now retired member of the People’s World staff reported such an incident at her JCC in New Haven, Conn.)
Recently, also, there have been incidents of vandalism at Jewish cemeteries, one in Philadelphia, and another in University City, a suburb of St. Louis, where up to a hundred gravestones have been toppled, and some broken. The message is clear: Not even the dead are safe!
One positive development, though, is the unprecedented unity among the many communities Trump has attacked. The Resistance—yes, I believe it is appropriate to capitalize that word now—is stunning in its breadth and passion, as demonstrated on January 21st. The Women’s March in Washington, with contributory demonstrations all over the U.S. and in many places abroad, brought out an estimated four million protesters—more than one percent of the entire American population!
It does not come as a great surprise, then, to see American Muslims and Jews, each group representing about two percent of the population, finding common cause with each other. They do so irrespective of what may be happening far across the globe in the Middle East, where opinions greatly diverge.
After the cemetery vandalism and the bomb threats happened, Muslim Americans, including a number of military veterans, rose up to declare their willingness to help with repairs, and also to stand guard at JCCs, cemeteries and synagogues. Some tweeted their preparedness to serve, saying, “Islam requires it.” Over $150,000 was raised to repair the University City cemetery in a campaign initiated by members of the Muslim community.
Trump’s attacks on the Muslim community, a hallmark of both his campaign and his presidency, have led to numerous acts of extremist vigilantism against minorities. In the early hours of Feb. 24, a mosque in Tampa, Fla., the Islamic Society of New Tampa, was set on fire by an arsonist, leaving worshipers with no place to hold services.
An online fundraising campaign aimed to raise $40,000 for repairs on the mosque, but the total coming in soon surpassed $60,000. Strangely, the organizers noticed, many of the contributions were $18 or multiples of 18—$36, $72—until it became apparent from the names of the donors that they were Jewish. In Jewish lore the number 18 signifies “khay” (sometimes seen as “chai”), meaning “life.” The Jewish community, remembering its own recent history, responded in solidarity. If the lesson of the Holocaust is “Never again,” that has to mean never again to anyone.
The mosque’s fundraising website says, “Let us not forget that we are all members of the same human fraternity.”
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem
Donald Trump has nominated his bankruptcy lawyer, David Friedman, who has no diplomatic experience, to be the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. The appointment has raised unprecedented protest within the Jewish and Muslim American communities. Friedman shares the radical pro-settler and anti-Palestinian views of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is a prominent donor to a West Bank settlement that international law declares illegal, and is known for his hate-filled rhetoric. He has once again proposed the plan to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a city with indeterminate borders, some of which would eventually fall within a proposed Palestinian state. Such a move, which no other country in the world has taken and which the U.S. has repeatedly rejected under past administrations, would inflame the whole Muslim world against the United States.
Friedman has said that the two-state solution is a “scam,” and has suggested that Palestinian citizens of Israel should be subject to loyalty tests before receiving “the benefits of citizenship.” He once called liberal American Jews “Kapos” (equating them with collaborators with the Nazis inside the ghettoes and concentration camps) and has accused President Obama and other Democrats of anti-Semitism. Friedman’s views are very far from mainstream Jewish public opinion.
During his confirmation hearing, Friedman tried to walk back his opposition to the two-state solution and to apologize for some of his vitriol. A Haaretz fact check found some significant holes in his testimony. You can check out their analysis here.
Starting in December, New Israel Fund, a nonprofit group working for full civil rights for all residents of Israel and an advocate for two states for the Israeli and Palestinian peoples, has partnered with such allied organizations as J Street, Americans for Peace Now, Ameinu, and Partners for Progressive Israel to mobilize letters of opposition to Friedman’s appointment. Earlier this week, boxes and boxes containing 40,000 letters were delivered.
The Jewish holiday of Purim is coming up, beginning the night of Sat., March 11. The festivity commemorates the Jews’ ability to repulse an intended annihilation of the Jewish people in ancient pre-Islamic Persia. It is celebrated in synagogues around the world with a reading of the biblical Book of Esther, the heroine of the story who has become a feminist symbol and role model. No doubt many of the synagogue doors will be guarded that night by American Muslims.