Conference examines rise of extremist groups
There’s hope the Trump administration is becoming sensitive to Jewish concerns, Simon Wiesenthal official says.
NEW HAVEN » While there have been concerns that some of President Donald Trump’s actions could be perceived as anti-Semitic, there is hope that the administration is becoming more sensitive to Jewish concerns, according to an official from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
Mark Weitzman, director of government affairs for the center, which researches and educates about the Holocaust, was a speaker this week at a panel during the two-day conference of the International Consortium for Research on Antisemitism and Racism, held at Yale University’s Whitney Humanities Center.
Steve Bannon, former chief strategist for Trump, left his position on Aug. 18, while Sebastian Gorka departed as deputy assistant to the president a week later. Both are far-right conservatives, with Bannon seen as responsible for actions taken by Trump that many found offensive to Jews, Weitzman said.
“When Trump went to Warsaw, he became the first president not to visit any … Holocaust sites,” Weitzman said in an interview after his presentation. “He gave a speech in the square that is considered a symbol of nationalist ideology.” Trump also failed to mention the Jews in his statement on Jan. 27, International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
Trump also had not filled the position of special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism in the State Department, but Secretary of State Rex Tillerson “recently committed in writing” to fill that post, Weitzman said. While the envoy can only speak about issues outside the United States, promising to fill it may symbolize a stronger stance against anti-Semitism, he said.
“Not having someone there is not a good sign and having the commitment to having that filled is a positive sign,” Weitzman said.
Concerning anti-Semitism in general, Weitzman said, “I think what’s happened is things that were once sort of underground are above ground and we’re seeing new forms coming out in public, the alt-right and so on.
“I think we have to realize … that anti-Semitism cannot be viewed only through the lens of people wearing white hoods or shouting Nazi slogans on the street,” he said. “There are things that political leadership can do that can either enable or legitimize anti-Semitism or to condemn it and help reduce it.”
Also at the conference, David Hirsh of Goldsmiths, University of London, spoke about his book, “What Can a Study of the Mainstreaming of Antisemitism on the Left Teach Us about the New Right Wing Populisms?”
“Anti-Semitic, xenophobic, racist and populist discourses have over the last few years … moved into the mainstream” in a way that “would have seemed impossible” a few years ago, he said.
The hate is not always explicit, Hirsh said, noting that there were strains of xenophobia in Brexit, Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union. “President Trump brought Steve Bannon into the White House and his anti-Semitism too is not explicit,” Hirsh said.
“The charge against President Trump and Steve Bannon is that they engage in conspiracy theory” that is a message to those who engage in racial and ethnic hatred, sending out “dog whistles” to neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups.
Accusations of anti-Semitism are not limited to the right, either, Hirsh said. He referred to a member of Parliament, Jeremy Corbyn of the liberal Labour Party, who has been accused of making anti-Semitic statements. “People on the populist right are seeing themselves able to identify with some sophisticated antiSemitism on the populist left,” Hirsh said.
Criticism of Israel may be based on anti-Semitism but also may be based in the country’s political policies. “Some kinds of hostility to Israel are anti-Semitic while criticisms of certain Israeli policies are of course legitimate,” he said.
Stephen Pitti, professor of history and American studies at Yale and director of the Yale Center for the Study of Race, Indigeneity, and Transnational Migration, summed up the conference’s themes:
“These are pressing topics that are critical throughout the world. There is rising concern about antiSemitism and about racism. There are questions to be asked and answered about how the rise of anti-Semitism and racism is connected to the increasing influence of the radical right in the world.”