Editor’s Note: Stephen Pollard is editor of The Jewish Chronicle, a London-based Jewish weekly newspaper. The opinions in this article belong to the author.
Stephen Pollard: If you are an anti-Semite, you're pretty clear that now it is springtime
Israeli leader hasn't addressed US Jews the same way he did European Jews, he says
Perhaps the most shocking aspect to the wave of grave desecrations and bomb scares now rampant in the United States is the very fact that they are taking place in the United States.
Whenever I speak about the rise in anti-Semitic incidents in the UK, where I live (2016 saw both the largest rise and the largest number of incidents since records began), I am always careful to say that context is key, and that it has never been safer to be a Jew in Britain than right now.
That obviously goes for the United States, too. Indeed, most of my fellow British Jews look to the US as a beacon of safety – traditionally, the one place on Earth where we know we will always be safe. That includes, Israel, of course, because of the existential threats that the Jewish state has always faced.
So it is profoundly shocking to see wave upon wave of Jew hatred across the United States. Since the start of the year there have been 100 bomb threats against Jewish centers and schools. These threats have led to the immediate evacuation of these schools and community centers.
Note when these threats started: January.
Do you need me to tell you what else happened in January?
None of the threats has, of course, been accompanied by words such as “I’m doing this because I support President Trump.” Indeed, some law enforcement officials believe some of the threatening calls may have originated overseas.
But let’s put it no stronger than this: It is difficult to think what else might have led to this sudden and unprecedented outbreak of Jew hate.
The point is not that President Donald Trump is an anti-Semite. He has, after all, told us clearly that he is “the least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen,” and we should take him at his word. It would indeed be odd if he were an anti-Semite, given his daughter’s conversion to Judaism.
But here’s the thing: I don’t care if Trump is an anti-Semite, and more importantly it really doesn’t matter whether or not he is.
What matters is not what goes on in the President’s soul; what matters is the impact of his words and his actions.
And right from the start of his campaign, when he spoke of global elites and conspiracies, he both traded in anti-Semitic themes and, more importantly, emboldened those who are avowedly anti-Semitic to feel they were on the winning side.
Trump may not be an anti-Semite, but some anti-Semites certainly believe he is on their side in the culture wars.
Take his speech Tuesday night to Congress as an example. He said the right thing: “Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”
And yet the very same day, when asked about the threats at a meeting of state attorneys general, he is reported by Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro to have offered the cryptic response: “Sometimes, it’s the reverse.”
As Shapiro commented: “He just said, ‘Sometimes it’s the reverse to make people – or to make others – look bad,’ and he used the word ‘reverse’ two or three times in his comments.”
Let’s be charitable. At best, the picture is murky. It took ages for Trump to condemn the threats – pointedly refusing to do so when asked by an Orthodox Jew at his infamous news conference and instead turning the question to attack the questioner.
Yes, he has now condemned these attacks. But his words have clearly had no impact on whoever feels that the best response to his election as President is to attack Jews.
But here’s an added twist.
Cast your mind back two years, to February 2015 and the aftermath of the Paris kosher supermarket attack.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in response that there should be a “mass immigration” of Jews from Europe. “Jews have been murdered again on European soil only because they were Jews,” he said. “Of course, Jews deserve protection in every country, but we say to Jews, to our brothers and sisters: Israel is your home.”
In response to such an outrage, it is understandable that Netanyahu should have spoken so boldly.
But the real point is that however pointed and direct his remarks may have seemed in the context of the Paris killings, they were actually unexceptional. Every Israeli prime minister has always and will always encourage Jews to come and live in Israel; that’s what the country is there for.
And yet we wait for Netanyahu to address US Jews in the same way as he did – does – address European Jews: Leave now, come to Israel, the United States is not for you.
Quite the opposite.
At a period when, for the first time in living memory, US Jews are indeed feeling under threat – although so far the only physical attack has been to gravestones – Netanyahu has confined himself to praising Trump’s “strong stand against anti-Semitism.”
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And at their joint news conference in Washington last month, the Israeli leader went out of his way to laud the US President: “I’ve known the President and I’ve known his family and his team for a long time, and there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state than President Donald Trump. I think we should put that to rest.”
To call this a double standard insults double standards.
Trump may be no anti-Semite. Some of his best friends – and family – may be Jews.
But if you are an anti-Semite, you’re pretty clear that now it is springtime.