After months of dodging the issue, President Donald Trump has finally acknowledged that there’s been a rise in anti-Semitism since his election, and that this is a bad thing. But his lukewarm statement on Tuesday, which sounded more like a scolded toddler being forced to apologize than like a leader condemning a country’s widespread problem with bias and hate crimes, fell a bit flat.
The heightening hostility reached a point that Trump could no longer brush aside when more than 60 Jewish Community Centers across the country received bomb threats and a historic Jewish cemetery in Missouri was vandalized, with damage to more than 100 gravestones, on Monday. This is only the latest escalation of the outpouring of anti-Semitism that began in the days after the presidential election, when reports of spray-painted swastikas came in from across the country. These were dismissed as “hoaxes” by many of Trump’s supporters, who claimed that liberals had faked the graffiti in order to make them look bad. Similarly, NBC’s Bradd Jaffey tweeted on Monday that the bomb threats to JCCs appeared to be hoaxes.
But as reports continued to roll in, one bomb threat or painted swastika at a time, Trump remained silent. That silence spoke louder than he ever could with words. Consider this: When Trump doesn’t like something, we hear about it. When Nordstrom dropped his daughter’s dresses, he unleashed a tweet storm. He basically live-tweets Saturday Night Live every weekend and he takes the time to lambast every news organization that is critical of him. But a marked increase in threats and hate speech across the country, coming from his supporters, didn’t provoke a peep for months. Such silence is reminiscent of his statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day that forewent mentioning Jews.
There’s only one conclusion to draw from this lack of response: the president doesn’t think this anti-Semitism is a problem. Perhaps it’s not on his radar because he’s busy rubbing elbows at Mar-a-Lago and repeating the names of his many nemeses to himself before he goes to sleep like some kind of bloated Arya Stark. Or, worst-case scenario, rising anti-Semitism is actually part of the grand plan, and President Bannon is gleefully chuckling behind the scenes, hoping that American Jews will all flee to Israel. Either way, we have to give up on the notion that Trump is ever going to take a hard line against hatred. It’s what he’s built his entire platform on, no matter how many people try to rebrand it as “economic security.”
Last week, when a Jewish reporter asked Trump point-blank in a press conference what the government was going to do to address rising anti-Semitism, Trump dismissed the question as “very insulting,” and insisted that he’s the “least anti-Semitic person you’ve ever seen in your entire life.” Trump then attempted to sell the reporter a hollow reassurance by rambling about how many Jewish friends he has.
Considering this track record, Tuesday’s statement was admittedly an improvement. “The anti-Semitic threats targeting our Jewish community and community centers are horrible and are painful and a very sad reminder of the work that still must be done to root out hate and prejudice and evil,“ Trump said, acknowledging for the first time that there have in fact been threats against the Jewish community.
But the fact that it took more than three months and more than 60 bomb threats and the desecration of a cemetery for Trump to make even this statement makes one thing clear: American Jews are on their own. Trump may be cozy with Israel, having advocated abandoning decades of work toward a two-state solution, but that does not by any means automatically translate to caring about Jews in America. Israel is a political interest; supporting it has nothing to do with standing against bias at home. And if Trump has made anything clear so far about his presidency, it’s that he has no interest in working to hold this country together.
Of course, Jews are not the only group at risk right now. Trump is drafting executive orders and proposing budgets to keep out Muslims and Latinos. Some reports say he’s planning to roll back protections for trans people. He obviously doesn’t care about women. All historically marginalized communities are under attack. But Jews have spent too long nestled in the comfort and privilege of assimilation, and are now being hurled back into the crosshairs after telling ourselves again and again, “never again.” The recent threats and the dial tone on the president’s end of the line show that those days of relative security are over. And if you think Trump’s convert daughter is going to be of any help, read this reminder that Ivanka Trump is not our savior, and she never will be.