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US Jewish leaders urge Israel to query Trump on anti-Semitism

In Jerusalem, JCC chair says dozens of bomb threats have made members fearful and US president ought to address it

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC.  (Mark Wilson/Getty Images, via JTA)
President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference in the East Room at the White House on February 16, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images, via JTA)

American Jewish leaders on Monday called on Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and the Israeli government to convey to the Trump administration the urgency of condemning and combating a rise in anti-Semitism in the United States.

Addressing the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations in Jerusalem, Shaked asked members of the audience whether they felt a rising tide of anti-Jewish sentiment, and how they thought Israel should respond, in one of the first acknowledgements from an Israeli minister of the trend.

JCC Association of North America chair Stephen Seiden told the minister that 56 Jewish community centers had received bomb threats over a three-week period, including some that had “received multiple threats.”

“Anything Israel can do to convince our new president to address the issue head-on, that anti-Semitism is a problem, to acknowledge it, I think would go a long way,” he said.

The bomb threats have “created fear in many of our members,” he said.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the opening of the seminar with the European Union discussing tools to deal with prostitution in Israel, at the Yehuda Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked at the opening of the seminar with the European Union discussing tools to deal with prostitution in Israel, at the Yehuda Hotel in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2017. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“We remain strong… but certainly the anxiety and the level of anti-Semitism has absolutely increased,” Seiden added.

Also citing the JCC bomb threat, Margo Gold, the international director of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, called on the Israeli government to send a “strong message to the president” and speak out against anti-Semitism among his supporters.

“The Israeli support of reaching the president with that message would be very important,” she said.

Police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennesee after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot/The Tennessean)
Police tape at the JCC in Nashville, Tennesee, after the community center received a bomb threat on January 9, 2017. (Screenshot/The Tennessean)

Speaking to the Conference group on Sunday evening, Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin expressed concern about rising anti-Semitism in the US and the challenge that brings. “It is also, a very sensitive time for the Jewish community, which you represent,” he said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu staunchly defended Trump “and his people” from allegations of anti-Semitism last week in Washington. Speaking alongside Trump in the White House, Netanyahu brushed off a question about surging anti-Jewish sentiment in the United States since the November 8 election.

Even though the question was addressed to Trump, Netanyahu stepped in to say that “there is no greater supporter of the Jewish people and the Jewish state” than Trump. “I think we should put that to rest,” he added.

A day later, Trump shouted down two reporters who asked him about rising anti-Semitism in America, and said he “hates” being called an anti-Semite, although neither reporter called him an anti-Semite.

Asked by Ami Magazine’s Jake Turx how his administration would tackle anti-Semitism, while stressing that neither he — nor anyone in his community — believes him to personally hold such views, Trump interrupted him and accused him of dishonesty.

“It’s not a simple question, not a fair question,” he said. “I am the least anti-Semitic person that you have ever seen in your entire life.”

Turx interrupted, saying he did not believe Trump was anti-Semitic, whereupon Trump shouted him down, “Quiet, quiet, quiet.”

The ultra-Orthodox reporter later defended the US president.

In November, Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the US-based Anti-Defamation League, said, “The American Jewish community has not seen this level of anti-Semitism in mainstream political and public discourse since the 1930s.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which works to combat domestic racism and extremism, said in a report issued Wednesday that the number of hate crimes committed in the US has risen for the second year in succession. The center made a direct connection between the “radical right” and Donald Trump, saying his election as president had “energized” such groups.

JTA contributed to this report.

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