Con­fer­ence ex­am­ines rise of ex­trem­ist groups

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ed Stan­nard es­tannard@nhreg­is­ @EdS­tan­nardNHR on Twit­ter Call Ed Stan­nard at 203680-9382. Edi­tor’s note: This story has been up­dated since it was first posted to bet­ter re­flect com­ments made by Mark Weitz­man.

There is hope the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion is be­com­ing more sen­si­tive to Jewish con­cerns, 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 Mon­day 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.”

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