Wednesday, January 11th, 2017...1:34 pm

Editorial: Make America Hate Again

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On Monday, 16 Jewish community centers in the South and Northeast of the United States received bomb threats. The threatening calls were both prerecorded and live, according to a JTA report. Many of the JCCs were evacuated, as police searched the buildings for explosives.

“In the Northeast it’s 20 degrees outside, and these individuals are doing everything they can to disrupt who we are and what we do,” said Paul Goldenberg, the director of Secure Community Network, the group affiliated with the Jewish Federations of North America that coordinates security for the Jewish community.

As our Page 1 JTA story notes, there have been a couple of actual violent attacks on JCCs over the past 18 years. Fortunately, this week’s bomb scares were all fake. In my 21 years at the Jewish World, I can’t recall a spate of threats to Jewish institutions as happened on Monday.

Of course, the bomb threats, an expression of hate against the Jewish community, did not occur in a vacuum. In a week, Donald Trump will be inaugurated as this nation’s 45th president, after waging a vicious and vulgar campaign that was characterized by the candidate’s slurs against racial and religious minorities, immigrants and women.

I wrote about Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric in an editorial that ran in the AJW’s Oct. 9, 2015, edition: “His xenophobic bloviating emboldens an ugly faction in our politics.”

That editorial mentioned reporting by Evan Osnos in The New Yorker, which focused on Trump’s support among “white nationalists” — racists and neo-Nazis — that rallied for the New York real estate developer and reality TV host.

Osnos noted that the Daily Stormer, a popular neo-Nazi website, endorsed Trump, who shared their desire to deport millions of undocumented immigrants. In an appeal to its white constituency, the racist website urged them to “vote for the first time in our lives for the one man who actually represents our interests.”

Since Trump’s Electoral College victory — he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes — right-wing extremists have ramped up their rhetoric and perpetrated crimes against Muslims and immigrants across the country. Against Jews, too.

The haters took their message just a few blocks from the White House, on Nov. 19, when the National Policy Institute (NPI), a blandly-named organization headed by the racist agitator Richard Spencer, convened at the Reagan Building. Many people were shocked by Spencer’s exhortation to a small coterie of followers: “Hail Trump! Hail victory!” — which was met by people extending their arms in the Nazi salute. (In German, “Hail victory” is Sieg Heil, a popular greeting in Nazi Germany.)

It looks like Trump had nothing to say about Monday’s threats against the JCCs on his favored medium of expression, Twitter.

Regarding the NPI conference last November, the New York Times asked Trump about his view of Spencer and his ilk, and the president-elect said, in a pro forma way: “Of course, I condemn. I disavow and condemn.”

Jonathan A. Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), said, in turn: “Trump’s disavowal of this group is a welcome first step, but more should be done to reassure those who are fearful of the upsurge in anti-Semitism and bigotry over the past months. ADL is prepared to engage constructively with the new Administration in the work of fighting hate and bringing the country together, and at the same time will continue to hold them relentlessly accountable toward these goals.”

The imminent takeover of federal executive authority by the Trump administration is causing widespread anxiety in the Jewish community, and in the dominant society. Trump’s mysterious obeisance to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin is just one of the worrisome elements in his upcoming tenure as president. Trump, who broke with tradition in not making his tax filings public, seems poised to preside over an administration riddled with corruption and conflicts of interest.

Distinguished journalist Bill Moyers recently presented an essay on his website by Steven Harper, an author and adjunct professor at Northwestern University, which formulates the “Trump Resistance Plan,” a tactical program for dealing with the imminent, abnormal state of affairs in Washington, D.C.

The essay is worth reading in its entirety. This is a taste of Harper’s position: “Putin’s stain on Trump’s election is permanent. Everything that he does as president comes with a taint. Everything. Likewise, his failure to eliminate his conflicts of interest means that every presidential act brings with it a presumption of corruption. Any member of Congress who supports legislation that he signs on any subject gets dragged deeper into his mud.”

Vis-à-vis the brave new Trump world, I also want to mention a thought-provoking article in The Nation by Ellen Schrecker, which compares the repressive era in U.S. politics known as McCarthyism with what could be a new form of repression under Trump’s rule.

While Sen. Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt ostensibly targeted political leftists, Schrecker notes that the “enemy has changed,” as Trump prepares to take office: “And political repression does require an enemy, otherwise the authorities will be unable to frighten the nation into accepting massive violations of people’s rights. During the McCarthy era, the supposed threat to the U.S.A. was the international communist conspiracy; now it’s Islamic extremists, racial and ethnic minorities, immigrants, and left-wing professors. And they may be dealt with using methods J. Edgar Hoover embraced.”

Schrecker mentions, for example, that Trump, apparently ignorant of what the Supreme Court has ruled in the area of permissible free speech, recently tweeted that anybody burning the U.S. flag should be imprisoned or lose their citizenship. This guy just makes it up as he goes along; however, he will have a fearsome array of police and spy agencies at his disposal soon.

Hopefully, our rabbis and leaders of the Jewish communal agencies will stand up to the coming extreme-right, repressive regime in Washington. As Rabbi Marc Schneier reminds us in his article in this issue, Jews have experienced fierce repression in many places over generations, and we have a proud legacy of struggle in defense of civil and human rights.

And regarding the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I recall that he once said, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

We must be alert in the days ahead. We cannot be silent.

— Mordecai Specktor

editor [at] ajwnews [dot] com

(American Jewish World, 1.13.17)

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