This special exemption poses a moral quandary for communally concerned Jews quite unlike anything in our collective experience.
Jewish collective life in America has been built on the assumption that people who espouse any form of bigotry—whether against African Americans, or gays, or the disabled—will, sooner or later (and probably sooner!), also turn upon Jews. The famous Martin Niemöller poem begins, “First, they came for the socialists”; only in the third line do they “come for the Jews.”
But what if a new generation of bigotry arose, attended by a strong, take-it-to-the-bank guarantee: This time, they are not coming for the Jews—not sooner, not later. That ancient obsession is laughably out of date. Today we have other concerns. Here’s a photograph of me posing alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. He likes George Soros even less than we do!
David Frum: Trump is baiting Democrats
What if American Jews found themselves facing people who practiced a politics of incitement, but not against Jews—indeed, who found it more useful to cast themselves as allies of Jews?
Trump usually has, at most, a perfunctory word for mass shootings and hate crimes. But Trump traveled in person to pay respects to the victims of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooter. Vice President Mike Pence had led the way, personally helping to restore a desecrated Jewish cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri, early in 2017.
When Trump attacked Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, he specifically cited her record of tweets and statements about Jewish money supposedly swaying Congress in favor of Israel. Among other pieces of classic anti-Semitic language, Omar had said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is okay for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
Statements like that goaded President Barack Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel to write here in The Atlantic: “No one is questioning the right of members of Congress and others to criticize Israeli policies. But Omar is crossing a line that should not be crossed in political discourse. Her remarks are not anti-Israel; they are anti-Semitic.” Her words set in motion a resolution in the House of Representatives to condemn anti-Semitic and other bigoted speech.
By contrast, the Trump administration has more than fulfilled the wishes of many American Jews on issues from moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem to condemning Palestinian incitement to countering the Iranian nuclear program. At the Department of Justice’s conference last week, Barr said:
Far too often, Jews and Jewish communities in America suffer outside the spotlight. New York City, this past year, has seen a sharp uptick in attacks on Orthodox Jews, particularly in the Crown Heights neighborhood. People are attacking Jews in the streets and vandalizing synagogues. In Massachusetts in March, vandals desecrated 59 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery, knocking over headstones and scrawling swastikas and hateful graffiti.
While the tragic attacks in Pittsburgh and Poway appropriately drew national attention, these attacks and others like them in communities across the country are, sadly, less well known outside the Jewish community. But they form the daily background of concerns about security and safety that many in the Jewish community feel.
As attorney general and a fellow citizen, I want to assure the Jewish community that the Department of Justice and the entire federal government stands with you and will not tolerate these attacks.
As measured by polls, the large majority of American Jews recoil from Trump and his administration. Yet if you spend time in the organized Jewish world, you have probably noticed an early but unmistakable warming to the president. The warming is most pronounced among the older, more communally committed, and more Israel-focused part of the Jewish world.