A story unlikely to have a happy ending
In an attack on a Jewish school in Toulouse in 2012, a rabbi and three children were murdered. In 2014 a synagogue was firebombed in Dusseldorf by a Muslim seeking vengeance for Israel’s action in Gaza. In 2015 four Jews were slaughtered at a deli in Paris.
In the same year a gunman attacked the synagogue in Copenhagen killing one person. Last year a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the synagogue in Gothenburg, Sweden. Earlier this year there was an attempt to burn down the synagogue in the English town of Exeter.
Brendan O’Neill, the editor of the online publication , listed these events in an article he wrote last October to make the point that the recent massacre of worshippers during a service in a synagogue in Pittsburgh was one of several horrendous incidents in the last years. Anti-Semitism, he wrote, “has been growing and becoming increasingly militarized for more than a decade now, among the left as the right and within Muslim communities, too.”
Reflecting on what has been written and said around the world after the Pittsburgh massacre, O’Neill wrote that “many observers are more interested in shaming and weakening Trump than they are in truly getting to grips with the new anti-Semitism.” He didn’t seek to defend Trump but made the point that the current wave of anti-Semitism around the world has much deeper roots and goes far beyond the antics of the president of the United States.
The negative reaction to Trump’s presence by many who came to mourn the victims in Pittsburgh suggests something very different. The mourners wouldn’t dispute, of course, that Jews in other synagogues and Jewish institutions around the world have also been attacked, but they may nevertheless feel that the present political climate in the United States breeds anti-Semitism.
Thus Peter Beinart, professor of journalism at the City University of New York, argues in an article published last month in The Atlantic that anti-Semitism is “an inevitable byproduct of the nativist conservatism being championed by President Trump.”
Prof. Simon Schama, the distinguished British-born historian and broadcaster, who has lived in the United States since the 1980s, speaking recently in Montreal is reported to have said that “anyone who thinks anti-Semitism is not part of U.S. politics today is in denial.” According to a report in The Canadian Jewish News Schama called Trump wicked because of his attacks on George Soros that are almost invariably tainted with anti-Semitism.
Soros, the marginal Jew, has become in the eyes of power hungry potentates the epitome of Jewish power. Writing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Scott A. Shay suggested that anti-Semitism is often a tool of those “who themselves harbour projects of domination and exploitation, but who fearing to be exposed, project their own malevolent intentions onto Jews.”
Trump may have a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren, but his desire to dominate and exploit may turn him, or has already turned him, into an anti-Semite. Those distressed by his visit to Pittsburgh probably sensed it.
Christopher Browning, renowned Holocaust historian, also sees the re-emergence of anti-Semitism in the West in its larger and very alarming context. Browning compares current authoritarian political leaders with whom Trump has established seemingly cordial relations with dictators of the 1930s and warns of “troubling similarities.”
He concludes: “Trump is not Hitler and Trumpism is not Nazism, but regardless of how the Trump presidency concludes, this is a story unlikely to have a happy ending.”
And before the story ends we’re likely to witness many more incidents of the kind described in the opening paragraph of this column. Start worrying: details to follow.
Dow Marmur is rabbi emeritus of Toronto's Holy Blossom Temple and a freelance contributor for the Star.