'Trump is not the cause of rising anti-Semitism'

OU Executive Director expresses concern over anti-Semitism but adds: In US, attitude more restrained.

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Shimon Cohen,

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US and Israeli media follow the proliferation of anti-Semitism in America; the telephone threats to Jewish institutions, graffiti vandalism including Nazi symbols, and Jewish cemetery desecration are becoming a part of the routine in recent months.

Arutz Sheva spoke about the phenomenon with Avi Berman, Executive Director of OU Israel, who stands in his capacity in constant contact with Jewish communities in North America and who describes the mood there, under the rule of Donald Trump.

Berman began by trying to put the reports on anti-Semitic threats and attacks in the US in perspective: "In Israel there is a desire to talk about each and every anti-Semitic attack. I do not make light of it and do not think we should ignore, but it's as if we're trying to say we in Israel may suffer under terrorism but life isn't so amazing there, either. It is not so clear to me what makes us, as Israelis, talk about anti-Semitism. When looking at websites in North America, it does not hold the same place as it does in Israel. It occupies space in the dialogue, but not of this magnitude."

As for claims that Trump's positions themselves cause such developments, he says: "Trump's opponents will charge him with anything just like they did in Obama's day. It's the nature of the world to blame the person who is at the head, claiming he should have known what was happening. It disturbs the tranquility of North American Jews, but not enough for them to start packing."

Berman reminds us that two years ago there were anti-Semitic incidents in the US that led a senior rabbi to recommend hiding outward Jewish symbols. The Rabbi did retract his words, but they remain as evidence that phenomena of this kind were routine in America two years ago and more. "You can not say that because Trump was elected it all began. When there is instability in the world and uncertainty about the future, people try to take it out on someone."

"I hope they don't want to cover it up," he said referring to claims that anti-Semitism was not the cause of the destruction in the Brooklyn cemetery, "but what is clear is that the sight of the Vice President taking of his time and going with the rabbi of the community to clean up the cemetery shows that this government, that is sympathetic to the State of Israel, does not want and is not looking for anti-Semitism. Trump was offended by the question about it."

Berman was then asked whether rising anti-Semitism might be the result of the attitude towards minorities led by Trump when he refers to blacks, Muslims, immigrants, and others. The result is supposed to be arrogance and contemptuousness by blue-blood white Americans and they sometimes express themselves with anti-Semitism. Berman does not accept this approach and notes that "when you look in terms of voter turnout, more blacks voted Trump than for any candidate in Republican history. Afro-American friends of mine told me they voted Trump but 'don't tell.' I ask, 'why not?' and they say they do not talk about it even in front of their wives. It's not popular.

"There is a feeling of loss of control among the liberal Hillary-voters and among them many Jews, most of whom voted for Hillary. They feel out of control in government, and when people lose control they want to show combativeness," says Berman who believes that this explains why millions demonstrated against Trump and before his coronation ceremony. "This loss of control creates a situation of 'we must do something'. Is that what causes anti-Semitism? There are lunatics who do it like there are lunatics who do a lot of things."

Berman mentions the anti-Semitic attacks that were part of the American routine decades ago, when Jews were beaten and humiliated until the perception among Jews changed, led by Rabbi Meir Kahane, and they fought back: Attackers and tombstone desecrators were ambushed and beaten. The technique led to relative quiet on the anti-Semitism front for decades.

"It horrifies me to think that my grandfather, who fought in the ranks of the US Army against the Nazis, is buried there and his tombstone could have a swastika painted on it. It's giving me insomnia, and it would be wrong to accept it easily. We have to demand security for cemeteries: Guards, cameras, and enforcement to the fullest extent of the law. There is an amiable feeling in North America that everyone can keep the religion he believes in. This is the atmosphere that led the United States to become what it is today," says Berman, who fears this confident feeling will be lost in light of current events if they escalate.

In two weeks the AIPAC Policy Conference will take place in which Berman himself will be participating, where he will speak with young Jews. Leading up to the conference he illustrates its importance, it being the most accurate reflection of American Jews attitude to Israel, an attitude that respects any decision of an elected government in Israel, in contrast to J Street who "say 'that the Israeli people have chosen a government does not mean we should not dispute them and show them the right way to peace etc.' AIPAC explicitly say they support Israel."

According to him the rationale that should lead Israel is that support for Israel is bipartisan and does not belong only to the Republicans, as it has traditionally been until now. He said senators with whom he speaks talk about the American appreciation of Israel and what it represents as a stable anchor in the Middle East and as a source of technological and other developments which constitute a blessing to the entire world.



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Translated by Mordechai Sones








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