Jewish groups slam ‘xenophobia’ in US election
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Jewish groups slam ‘xenophobia’ in US election

Without mentioning Trump, open letter signed by 28 groups blasts anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-Semitic rhetoric

Rebecca Shimoni Stoil is the Times of Israel's Washington correspondent.

Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters as he arrives to speak at a rally Saturday, June 18, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump waves to supporters as he arrives to speak at a rally Saturday, June 18, 2016, in Phoenix, Arizona. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

WASHINGTON — Over two dozen Jewish organizations issued an open letter Thursday afternoon in which they resoundingly criticized “xenophobia and racism” expressed by candidates and their supporters during the current US elections cycle. Without naming Republican presumptive nominee Donald Trump, a long list of 28 social justice groups, including the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), HIAS and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism voiced objection to what they described as “targeted attacks on ethnic and religious minorities by political candidates.”

Many of the organizations that signed the letter have a 501(c)3 tax status, which precludes them from taking sides for or against a candidate for political office. Still, the letter’s message seemed clearly directed toward the GOP candidate, who has been criticized for his often brash rhetoric, including repeated calls for a blanket ban on Muslim immigration to the US and a campaign promise to build a wall on the US-Mexico border to curb illegal immigration.

Trump has also won the support of white supremacist groups, including former Ku Klux Klan grand wizard David Duke. He has repudiated this support, but critics charged that he did so late in the primary race and only after rampant criticism.

“We call on all Americans — in their communities and on the national stage — to refrain from and denounce all forms of hatred and extremism,” the open letter stated. “We call on all Americans who support or endorse candidates for public office to loudly and clearly condemn any and all racist and xenophobic language and actions. Instead, we must demonstrate commitment to our proud American and Jewish values of religious freedom, civil rights, refugee protection, and equality for all.”

Jonathan Greenblatt (Courtesy)
Jonathan Greenblatt (Courtesy)

ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt warned that “now, more than ever, it is essential for the Jewish community to stand together to denounce hatred and bigotry. We know all too well the dangers of unchecked racism and anti-Semitism and must never let it go unchallenged.”

Greenblatt, who has been increasingly outspoken regarding Trump’s rhetoric – most recently in the wake of the “Stargate” controversy over the use of a six-pointed star in an anti-Clinton meme – emphasized that he did not see the concerns voiced in the letter as partisan politics.

“To be clear, this is not about left or right or liberal or conservative,” he explained. “It is about common sense and core American values of pluralism and tolerance. We have the highest expectations of both presumptive nominees and their political parties.”

An image tweeted and then deleted by Donald Trump on July 2, 2016 that uses an apparent Star of David to call Hillary Clinton 'the most corrupt candidate ever!' (screen capture: YouTube)
An image tweeted and then deleted by Donald Trump on July 2, 2016 that uses an apparent Star of David to call Hillary Clinton ‘the most corrupt candidate ever!’ (screen capture: YouTube)

The open letter did not address the Stargate scandal directly, although it did express the signers’ concerns regarding “anti-Semitic epithets hurled at Jewish Americans on social media.” Much of the letter focused instead on anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric which it complained had been deployed by unnamed candidates.

“We are deeply concerned by suggestions that Muslim Americans should be targeted by law enforcement, simply because of their faith. We object to hurtful characterizations of entire ethnic groups as criminals,” the letter read.

In the announcement of his candidacy last July, Trump described Mexican immigrants as murderers and rapists.

“We are also disheartened that refugees, particularly Syrians and Muslims, have become targeted in recent months and years as subjects of xenophobia. These concerns are heightened by statements made in the wake of the tragedy in Orlando tying that act of horror to an entire faith tradition, rather than the vile actions of an evil individual,” the letter continued.

“This inflammatory rhetoric does not make our communities safer — in fact, it exposes us to more violence and division. Policies targeted at restricting refugees are often steeped in suspicion, ignoring the many benefits refugees bring to our communities as well as overlooking the fact that refugees are the most thoroughly vetted individuals who enter the US.”

In the wake of last month’s deadly attack on a nightclub in Orlando by Muslim-American Omer Mateen, Trump complained that the US was allowing “a tremendous flow” of Syrian refugees to enter the US without being screened. In the same speech, Trump warned that America “cannot continue to allow thousands upon thousands of people to pour into our country many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer.”

Trump has proposed banning all Muslims from entering the United States in what he described as an attempt to protect Americans’ safety.

“We share a belief that public figures, including those who aspire to hold elected office in service to people of all races and religions, have a responsibility to forcefully and unequivocally condemn these dangerous phenomena,” the letter stated.

The letter drew parallels between the current political rhetoric and historical episodes of anti-Semitism, warning that “the Jewish community knows all too well what can happen when particular religious or ethnic groups become the focus of invective. We have witnessed the dangerous acts that can follow verbal expressions of hate.”

Stosh Cotler, CEO of Bend the Arc, linked Trump’s inflammatory rhetoric to the anti-Semitic political climate of Weimar Germany.

“In the mainstream rhetoric and public dialogue of 2016, American Jews hear echoes of some of the worst moments of the 20th Century. We are obligated — morally, spiritually, and historically — to boldly condemn the racism and bigotry directed at Muslims, immigrants, women, and other minorities, including Jews, that has become politically acceptable,” Cotler stressed. “We have seen this before, and we know what it would mean for Americans of good conscience to remain silent now.”

Stosh Cotler, right, is taking over as CEO of Bend the Arc from Alan van Capelle, left. They are pictured here outside the White House. (photo credit: Courtesy of Bend the Arc/JTA)
Stosh Cotler, right, who took over in 2014 as CEO of Bend the Arc from Alan van Capelle, left. They are pictured here outside the White House. (photo credit: Courtesy of Bend the Arc/JTA)

Abby Levine, director of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable, echoed Cotler’s concerns.

“In the days since Elie Wiesel’s passing, his words about the dangers of staying silent in the face of hatred and tyranny could not be more relevant,” Levine said.

“If the ‘opposite of love is indifference,’ then we are all obligated to speak out. If ‘neutrality helps the oppressor,’ we must openly reject voices who bring bigotry into their campaigns. Candidates for the highest office must be held to our country’s highest ideals.”

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