Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Can "It" Happen Here?

Can “it” happen here?

The “it” is what haunts Jews across America. Could anti-Semitism, always present in the dark corners of our society, grow a public profile acceptable in deed and legal standing? Remembering how integrated and assimilated Jews were in Germany—in commerce and education, in science and medicine, in publishing and the arts, in government and the military—before Hitler’s rise to power, American Jews cannot help but keep in the recesses of their minds the abhorrent thought that this too could, under the direst of circumstances, happen again. Here. To them. 

Where does the slippery slope begin? Remember Pastor Martin Niemöller’s words about the rise of Nazism and the silence of the German populace:

“First they came for the Socialists and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Socialist.
“Then they came for the Trade Unionists and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
“Then they came for the Jews and I did not speak out—
“Because I was not a Jew.
“Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.”

We are witnesses today to the marginalization of broad segments of the American population and those who would seek to become part of our country. Hispanics. Blacks. LGBTQ. Muslims. Jews. 

Far fetched? Donald Trump spews racist venom against four Democratic congresswomen and barely a peep of protest is heard from Republican lawmakers. Silence has engulfed the GOP. No longer is it the party of Ronald Reagan who, in his last address to the nation as president stated, “We draw our people, our strength, from every country and every corner of the world.” 

Earlier in his presidency Reagan said, “Illegal immigrants in considerable numbers have become productive members of our society and are a basic part of our work force. Those who have established equities in the United States should be recognized and accorded legal status. At the same time, in so doing, we must not encourage illegal immigration.” 

How far Republicans have drifted from following a leader they all used to admire to following a leader they are afraid will admonish them if they waver. Their silence is overwhelming. How sad they do not harken to the words of Edmund Burke, the late 18th century British conservative: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing. ... All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent. ... Nobody made a greater mistake than he who did nothing because he could do only a little.”

When a party of great history and tradition becomes one of sycophancy, when it ignores reason and science, danger lurks in the shadows. Remember, National Socialism was a fringe movement in 1920s Germany. Hitler became chancellor after receiving just 37% of the popular vote in 1932. The rest, as they say, is history (look it up if you don’t know how and what happened next). 

I’m not suggesting Trump is a reincarnate of the Little Corporal (Hitler, after all, did not shirk his military obligation). But slippery slopes begin somewhere. After Trump, what excesses will be considered normative behavior?

Consider this: A survey reported in a late June by Haaretz, an Israeli news organization, found “one in five Americans say businesses should be able to refuse service to Jews.”

According to poll results, “24 percent of Republicans, 17 percent of Democrats think small business owners should be allowed to refuse service to Jews based on religious grounds” ( 

Overall, the survey found 19% of Americans thought that way, an increase from the 12% who agreed back in 2014. That’s more than a 50% increase in five years.

The survey of 1,100 adults found increased support for business owners to refuse service to gays and lesbians, transgender people, atheists, Muslims and African Americans.

Trump is part of a march toward an imperial presidency that began in earnest with Franklin Delano Roosevelt. (As an aside, it was displayed most comically when Richard Nixon outfitted White House guards in uniforms more associated with European operettas than security professionals ( After the laughter died down Nixon abandoned the wardrobing fiasco.)

The rise in physical and verbal attacks on Jews is part of an overall increase in hate/bias crimes. Paradoxically, it was our first Afro-American president, Barack Obama, who truly ignited it. White supremacists resented his ascendancy to the presidency. Their anger was fueled by Trump’s birther movement. But they didn’t just focus on blacks. Jews have always been part of the white supremacist hate/bias pedigree.

The white supremacist movement crosses international borders.

Speaking recently after a showing of a film on the last surviving prosecutor of Nazis at the post World War II Nuremberg trials, David Harris, CEO of AJC (American Jewish Committee), said anti-Semitism is on the rise because ethno-nationalists feel emboldened for several reasons: The internet is a factor; Witnesses to the Holocaust are dying, so the Holocaust is receding in collective memory; “Who replaced Elie Wiesel?”
Also, students on campus are not afraid of the Far Right but the Far Left is problematic because of its anti-Israel stance, he continued. 
And, said Harris, there is an Islamist problem. Not a problem with Islam. Jewish deaths in Europe are from Jihadists. 

It doesn’t really matter who killed Jews. Or who killed blacks or Hispanics. Or women of any color. When a population genre is singled out for persecution and murder, all of its members, all of society, are vulnerable.

Sen. Kamala Harris said Trump’s comments about the four congresswomen were racist and unAmerican. Racist, for sure. But, unfortunately, our history contains many similar instances of racial bigotry and discrimination, some even ensconced in our founding Constitution and Supreme Court decisions, which makes Trump’s actions prototypically American. 

Demonization has been an integral political strategy in our development as a country. The good news is that we have been able to overcome momentary power grabs by the forces of darkness. November 3, 2020, will define the next phase of our democracy. Will it be progressive or regressive?