On Wednesday, during a joint press conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump was asked about the rise of antisemitic incidents since his election campaign. He began his answer by saying, “Well, I just want to say that we are, you know, very honored by the victory that we had: 306 Electoral College votes…” He didn’t directly answer the question and did nothing to assure Jews that he will seek to protect them from violence and hate crime.
Trump’s response very clearly missed the mark. In our investigation into hate crime in Germany, particularly hate crime associated with xenophobia, we found that the rhetoric of leaders matters a great deal. Insufficiently denunciatory language like Trump’s normalizes hatred and effectively gives license to hate groups.
It is important that our leaders very clearly and unequivocally denounce hate. His response is especially troubling because of his campaign’s association with antisemitic tropes, his administration’s embrace of individuals with deep ties to antisemitism, his decision not to include any reference to the Jewish people in his statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, and his propensity for policies like the refugee ban rooted in anti-Muslim bigotry and racism.
Trump also tried to invoke his family ties, citing his Jewish daughter, son-in-law, and grandchildren. This too misses the mark and reeks of tokenism. Antisemitism shouldn’t concern you only if you have personal ties to someone who is Jewish, just as Islamophobia shouldn’t concern only those who know Muslims, and women’s rights shouldn’t only concern those who have sisters, wives, or daughters. Antisemitism is a problem because it denies human beings their dignity, freedom, and equality.
While we will not have official FBI data for 2016 until the fall of this year, what we have seen points to a rise in hate crime. Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center have been tracking hate incidents since the election. The SPLC recorded 1,094 incidents between November 9 and December 12, 2016, and many of the perpetrators invoked Trump or his campaign slogans.
Rising antisemitism and hate crime, along with rising levels of other forms of intolerance, continue to be a problem. Trump’s win has emboldened hate groups and extremist groups in both the United States and Europe. The only adequate response by a leader asked about hatred is to clearly condemn it and explain how he or she plans to combat it.