Warning that Donald Trump’s campaign for the US presidency is “espousing some really noxious ideas” and unleashing an uptick in extremism, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, a US-based group that fights bigotry, urged the Republican front-runner to stop using xenophobic rhetoric against Muslims and Mexicans, and to decisively distance himself and his campaign from white supremacist and other radical supporters.
In an interview with The Times of Israel, the ADL’s CEO and national director Jonathan Greenblatt charged that Trump is “pushing buttons that have been pushed before” and that “the outcome is a mainstreaming of bias and this kind of wink and nod toward a xenophobic, Islamophobic kind of racism.”
It was “deeply troubling,” Greenblatt elaborated, “that a candidate would be introducing these things into the political conversation, to the national debate: Suggesting that all the people coming, let’s say from a particular country, are rapists or murderers. Or suggesting that we would check people at our gates simply on the basis of what they believe. Or that certain endorsements of certain people, or support from certain people or groups, would be the kind of things that would merit further exploration rather than outright objection. These are very worrying ideas. And they have a scent that rings familiar, a sound that rings familiar to many of us. We as Jews know what it means when they say that people coming from another country are all a problem. We know what it means (when they say) we have to check you at the door on the basis of what you believe.”
‘We as Jews know what it means when they say that people coming from another country are all a problem’
Speaking on a visit to Jerusalem a week after a large proportion of the 18,000 delegates to the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC’s annual policy conference warmly applauded a strongly pro-Israel speech by Trump, Greenblatt noted that “no one is defaming the Jewish people” in the Trump campaign. But the ADL, he pointed out, has been mandated for more a century to both “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and security for all. So we speak up for these things because they are very worrying… The idea that you judge people — where they’re from, what they believe — and don’t unequivocally, unambiguously, instantaneously, condemn people espousing some of those worst ideas, we’ve seen this before and it’s never been good,” he said.
Greenblatt, who took over from Abe Foxman as ADL chief last year, previously worked in the White House as special assistant to US President Barack Obama and director of the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation.
He said he had to go back to George Wallace, a four-time presidential candidate in the 1960s and 1970s, to find a would-be president taken so seriously in the campaign while “espousing some really noxious ideas” that are “misaligned” with democratic values.
“I don’t know what’s in his head or in his heart,” said Greenblatt of Trump. “But I do know that he’s certainly pushing buttons that have been pushed before — whether he’s doing it with deliberate intention, or kind of slouching toward those things. Either way, the outcome is the same.”
Among those outcomes, said Greenblatt, was the sight of “white supremacists coming out of the cracks in ways that are really quite frightening.” He said the ADL was monitoring the phenomenon and could “see an uptick in the (extremist) rhetoric, and again, a mainstreaming of really nasty, noxious ideas.” And some of these extremists, he said, are emphatically hostile to Jews.
He showed The Times of Israel his Twitter feed and a list of people he had blocked because of their extremist sentiments, with names including White Resister and National Socialist. “It just goes on and it goes on and it goes on. It’s scary. These people — it’s not that they weren’t there before, but I am certainly seeing, and the ADL is seeing, a surge in these kinds of posts that we hadn’t seen before. And it helps when Donald Trump is re-tweeting your stuff, which we saw happening.”
Greenblatt, who stressed that the ADL, by law, does not take positions on candidates or political parties, also protested Trump’s recent warning that there would be riots if he were denied the Republican nomination. “The suggestion or the threat that people would riot if he didn’t get what he wanted — it is hard to countenance that, until you see the level of encouragement when people are punched and insulted at his rallies. For protesting? This is historically not how our process has worked. And it’s historically not what you would expect in a democratic society.”
Greenblatt said he believes Trump is “tapping a nerve” in an America that is anxious about its economic prospects and long-term status and where many in so-called middle America “don’t know where they fit” amid an increasingly globalized, technology-driven economy. “Donald Trump is speaking to those impulses,” he said, “but not with serious policy prescriptions. Not with serious ideas. That’s the issue.”
Added Greenblatt: “His rise reflects the same kind of anxiety that you see in Europe right now — with migrants coming in, these refugees, people being unsure, ISIS’s violence and the kind of nihilism (of Islamist terrorism)… It’s in the Middle East, it’s in Europe, it’s here in Israel, and it’s in North America. There is a great deal of unease and I believe that is creating conditions in which someone like Trump can rise.”
The best answer to bias and to bad ideas, he went on, “is better ideas.” And that was why the ADL recently announced that a sum equivalent to the $56,000 Trump has contributed to the ADL over the past decade would be directed to educational programs. Specifically, as Greenblatt noted in recent Time magazine article, the funds will go to “anti-bias education programs that address exactly the kind of stereotyping and scapegoating he has injected into this political season.”
Greenblatt noted that Trump seems to have stopped his practice of encouraging supporters at his rallies to raise their right hand and pledge their support for him, after the Nazi echoes of the practice were presented to him. “He stopped doing it. Wisely. I’m sure that people around him shook him by the lapels and said this is not helping.”
But he urged Trump to do much more to counter the extremism unleashed around his campaign. Asked what he would say to Trump given the opportunity, Greenblatt said he would urge the candidate: “Speak out unambiguously against the kind of rhetoric that we’re seeing. Stop using this kind of rhetoric against Muslims or Mexicans. And when you have these people coming out from the cracks, don’t credential them (for your events), don’t credential their press outlets to your events, as happened. These people do not belong in the public square. They don’t belong in your campaign.”
Regrettably, said Greenblatt, Trump has “had a harder time being as forceful on that as he has been on Hillary Clinton or on Ted Cruz’s wife. So it’s a peculiar choice of where he deems it appropriate to lend his weight. That’s worrisome.”