Like tens of millions of Americans, the American Jewish community has watched with trepidation what has unfolded in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential election. Those of us who hoped that the hateful and divisive rhetoric of Trump’s campaign would give way to moderation have instead seen some of our worst fears confirmed.
While watch groups have reported an increase in hate crimes around the country since the election, the president-elect has appointed one of the most prominent purveyors of racism and hatred, former Breitbart News executive chairman Stephen Bannon, to the second-most senior position in the White House. Bannon is known for his publication’s championing of white nationalists and for its outpouring of hatred against women, people of color, LGBT people, Muslims, Catholics and Jews.
The appointment is unacceptable. We cannot allow it to be seen as normal. It’s not.
American Jews know well what it means to be singled out, lied about and targeted. We have fought for civil rights, for women’s rights, for gay rights and in other struggles. We must stand with those under attack and defend their rights and dignity. Our community should remember that our safety and success in this country are not rooted in access to any administration. Rather, they are based on the principles of tolerance, freedom and respect enshrined in our Constitution.
Disturbingly, some voices on the far-right fringe of the American Jewish community have demonstrated that they care little for our traditions and our commitments to justice and equality. They have attempted to defend Bannon, citing his “strong support for Israel” and praising him as a Zionist.
This is shameful — but no surprise. For decades, several groups with right-wing views on Israel have claimed to speak on behalf of American Jews, while in fact they represent the views of only a small minority and a handful of prominent donors. While most in our community believe in the importance of Israeli democracy, support the two-state solution and oppose settlement expansion, these groups insist that support for Israel actually means adherence to Israel’s right-wing political parties and settlement movement.
They are hostile toward those who believe in Palestinian rights and the need for compromise to achieve peace — including Muslims and many Jews. That hostility has led them to embrace those, like Donald Trump, who oppose a two-state solution and champion the settlements. It has led them into a dangerous alliance with extremists, including people like Bannon who have shown contempt for Jews.
“Support for Israel” as far-right groups define it does not preclude belief in anti-Semitic canards. Even if it did, it would still be incumbent on American Jewish leaders to stand up to the likes of Bannon because of the hatred they direct toward so many vulnerable groups. We cannot and will not abandon our fellow Americans to support some warped and false idea of “Israel’s best interest.”
Many American Jewish organizations know this, and they have spoken out about the dangers posed by Bannon and the rhetoric of the Trump campaign. Others have remained noticeably silent.
Organizations will vary in how they choose to comment and act. But in this environment, reticence to speak out will be seen by many as giving consent to the dangerous and the unacceptable. We can never allow statements and acts of bigotry against any Americans to become normal. We cannot allow those who would accept them to speak for us.
Our ancestors came to this country and found refuge from irrational hatreds and discrimination. In uncertain times, we must commit to maintaining that place of refuge for ourselves and for others.
Logan Bayroff is associate director of communications for J Street, a Washington-based American-Jewish advocacy organization.