Sympathetically Misrepresenting anti-Semitism to Protect Trump

by Bob Schwartz

In the wake of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre, there is universal recognition and condemnation of anti-Semitism. But there is a subtle split on the approach to this commendable sympathy and call for improvement. Some want to look at the big picture, some want to focus on the individual elements that brought us to this moment.

Among the big picture painters is the Wall Street Journal:

Americans would do well to ignore this toxic habit of political blame for murderous acts by the racist, anti-Semitic or mentally disturbed. We are all responsible for our rhetoric, and that includes Mr. Trump, as well as Hillary Clinton and Eric Holder.

But the blame artists are distracting attention from the real sickness, which in this case is anti-Semitism, a hatred that goes back millennia. That is the toxin to banish as much as possible from American life, even if it can’t be purged entirely from human souls.

There is something missing, something not quite right, something intended to misdirect the focus. As long as anti-Semitism is broadly presented as one of history’s most durable social diseases, as long as the “blame game” is dismissed as missing the point, we are not even half-way to self-awareness, let alone a solution.

Antisemitism is people. People as victims and targets, and people as perpetrators, enablers and ignorers. The Holocaust demanded that we break such a huge phenomenon down into its most significant pieces: the individuals who suffered and the individuals who, directly or indirectly—but culpably—made the horror possible.

There is nothing wrong in using this incident to bring generalized attention to anti-Semitism in America, which has persisted under the surface even as progress has been made. But treating it mostly as a pernicious social phenomenon avoids dealing with the individual responsibility for those who either actively promote or at least turn a blind eye to it.

When Trump references the “goodness” of the anti-Semitic marchers in Charlottesville (“Jews will not replace us”), when he calls himself a “nationalist” (though not that kind of a nationalist, we are assured), when he says and does a hundred things that promote hate and intolerance as the way to a Great America, of course anti-Semites, stable or crazy, are going to take it as an endorsement and seal of approval.

Anti-Semitism is people—perpetrators, fellow-travelers and enablers. All the rhetoric in the world won’t change that. And Trump is one of those people.

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