Trump fi­nally con­demns Jew-hate — but don’t ex­pect him to tackle the haters

The Jewish Chronicle - - WORLD NEWS - BY DANIEL TREIMAN

HE SAID it. The Pres­i­dent of the United States of Amer­ica ac­knowl­edged that an­tisemitism is “hor­ri­ble”. And “painful”.

All it took to pry those words from Don­ald Trump’s mouth was a few days of neg­a­tive press, mount­ing Jewish anger, yet an­other wave of bomb threats to Jewish in­sti­tu­tions — as well as the head­quar­ters of the An­tiDefama­tion League in New York — and nearly 200 top­pled head­stones at a Jewish ceme­tery near St Louis.

That it was so dif­fi­cult to elicit so un­con­tro­ver­sial a state­ment is shock­ing but not sur­pris­ing. In the Trump era, the nor­mal rules of Amer­i­can state­craft no longer ap­ply. In place of pro­to­cols and pre­dictabil­ity, we have the pres­i­dent’s im­pulses and mood swings, only oc­ca­sion­ally re­strained by more sober con­sid­er­a­tions.

The man­ner in which Mr Trump de­liv­ered his re­marks con­demn­ing an­tisemitism was telling. The fa­mously un­scripted Mr Trump read from a script.

“The an­tisemitic threats tar­get­ing our Jewish com­mu­nity and com­mu­nity cen­tres 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,” Mr Trump said, re­peat­edly glanc­ing down at the pre­pared text on his podium af­ter tour­ing Wash­ing­ton’s Na­tional Mu­seum of African Amer­i­can His­tory and Cul­ture, where he also con­demned big­otry more broadly.

Mr Trump’s brief state­ment was a cal­cu­lated one. The New York Times de­scribed it as “a rare con­ces­sion to the de­mands of out­side forces”.

The pre­vi­ous week, Mr Trump had been un­able to muster even a mod­icum of en­gage­ment with the is­sue.

In the course of a wild White House press con­fer­ence, Mr Trump was asked by a re­porter for a small Charedi mag­a­zine about how his ad­min­is­tra­tion planned to ad­dress re­cent an­tisemitic in­ci­dents. The Cha­sidic jour­nal­ist pref­aced his ques­tion by not­ing that mem­bers of his com­mu­nity do not re­gard the pres­i­dent or his staff as an­tisemitic, adding that Mr Trump is a “za­yde” to his Jewish grand­chil­dren. But Mr Trump, for what­ever rea­son, took of­fence, pro­claim­ing him­self “the least an­tisemitic per­son that you have ever seen” and be­rat­ing the re­porter for his “very in­sult­ing ques­tion”.

Mr Trump mis­took a pol­icy ques­tion for a per­sonal at­tack. Such thin­skinned be­hav­iour has be­come a hall­mark of his ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Re­call the furore over Mr Trump’s state­ment last month mark­ing In­ter­na­tional Holo­caust Re­mem­brance Day that ne­glected to men­tion Jews. White House of­fi­cials re­sponded to Jewish anger over the omis­sion by dou­bling down and lash­ing out, call­ing crit­i­cisms “pa­thetic”.

Some saw dark mo­tives be­hind the omis­sion, re­flect­ing Jewish anx­i­eties over Mr Trump’s chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non, who has cul­ti­vated ties with the Amer­i­can alt-right and the Euro­pean far-right.

But it’s worth re­mem­ber­ing that Canada’s lib­eral prime min­is­ter, Justin Trudeau, drew sim­i­lar out­rage last year with a Holo­caust re­mem­brance state­ment that failed to men­tion Jews. Mr Trudeau’s of­fice quickly de­fused the con­tro­versy by claim­ing that the omis­sion was an er­ror.

The dif­fer­ence is that the Trump White House does not ad­mit fault. And that poses larger prob­lems.

Mr Trump has en­er­gised and ex­cited Amer­ica’s an­tisemites. That a man with a daugh­ter who con­verted to Ju­daism and has many close Jewish ad­vis­ers has gained the af­fec­tions of Jew-haters is no small feat. They were won over by his rhetoric at­tack­ing Mus­lims, Mex­i­cans and oth­ers. Peo­ple who hate Jews, it turns out, usu­ally hate other groups, too. In­deed, many hard-core an­tisemites see Mus­lim and Mex­i­can im­mi­gra­tion as a Jewish plot to de­stroy the white race.

This fringe is now busy phon­ing in bomb threats to JCCs, spray-paint­ing swastikas, and pho­to­shop­ping Jewish jour­nal­ists into pic­tures of gas cham­bers. One prays that vi­o­lence does not fol­low.

Yet Mr Trump will never truly ad­dress the surge of big­otry that has ac­com­pa­nied his rise to power, be­cause it is a prob­lem of his own mak­ing, and he is con­gen­i­tally in­ca­pable of con­fronting his own fail­ings. In­stead, he lashes out at those who ques­tion him.

No per­func­tory pres­i­den­tial state­ment con­demn­ing an­tisemitism is go­ing to change that re­al­ity.

Mus­lims raised over $50,000 to re­pair the van­dalised St Louis ceme­tery this week. “Mus­lim-Amer­i­cans stand in sol­i­dar­ity with the JewishAmer­i­can com­mu­nity to con­demn this hor­rific act of des­e­cra­tion,” said a mes­sage on the cam­paign web­site, set up by the con­tro­ver­sial Linda Sar­sour of MPower Change and Tarek El-Mes­sidi of Cel­e­brateMercy.

Daniel Treiman is a for­mer man­ag­ing edi­tor of the Jewish Tele­graphic Agency

How to do it: Vice Pres­i­dent Mike Pence vist­ing Dachau on Sun­day

PHOTO: AP

Ex­cites the big­ots: Trump

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