Trump's Refusal to Denounce Anti-Semitism is Dangerous

LC Wilson
February 19, 2017

Donald Trump has openly expressed disdain for Mexicans, Muslims and the mainstream media, yet he shies away from even discussing the hatred directed towards Jews. In his first solo press conference, the US president refused to condemn, or even acknowledge, the striking rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric and action since his election. Trump may be unwilling to address the issue, but others haven't been so coy.

Many on the far right stand by their belief that the wheels of the world are turned by a sinister Jewish cabal. The theory is lifted straight from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which outlines a Jewish conspiracy to achieve global domination. The text underpinned Adolf Hitler's belief that Jews represented an existential threat to Germany. Its proponents remain wary of this particular threat but ignore many others. Their hand-wringing regarding donations from Jewish financier George Soros to left-wing groups, for example, is not matched by concern that the largesse of Betsy DeVos' family to Republican causes may have helped her clinch the position of education secretary. 

The far right's conspiracy theories and resentment have translated into action: Jews were the targets of more than half of around 1,400 hate crimes motivated by religion bias in 2015, according to FBI data. The Community Security Trust (CST), which represents Jews in the UK and advises them on their security, recorded over 1,300 anti-Semitic incidents in 2016, a year-on-year increase of 36% and an all-time high. And there were 28 recorded hate crimes against Jews in New York City between the start of this year and 12 February - more than double the figure for the same period in 2016.

Trump's presidential victory seems to have encouraged the attackers. The day after the election, swastikas and Nazi slogans escaped online message boards and comment sections; they were spray-painted over shop windows, walls, and even a memorial park. Sinister graffiti has also reached UK universities, and only a bureaucratic quibble stymied an explicitly anti-Jewish armed march in Montana. The song Springtime For Hitler - from Mel Brooks' fictional musical - could be the soundtrack to this revival, which has also seen co-ordinated bomb threats at Jewish pre-schools in 17 US states.


Even PewDiePie has joined in. Key business partners Google and Disney distanced themselves from the YouTube star after the Wall Street Journal chronicled nine instances of anti-Semitic language and Nazi imagery in his videos. For example, he used a service called Fiverr to pay two men to dance and hold up a sign proclaiming 'Death to All Jews', to show how far people will go to earn five dollars. The Swedish comedian argued that several of his comments were taken out of context, and that his offensiveness served as a palate cleanser against the cloying taste of political correctness. He also made a Trumpesque claim of conspiracy: that 'old media' is threatened by him and purposefully sabotaged him.

Other artists and rebels have rejected the status quo by flouting its greatest moral taboos. Punks have recycled Nazi icons, while 19th-century 'decadent' artists and poets flirted with Satanic imagery. Among those who consider taste to be a marker of belonging, a soft spot for swastikas indicates refinement and non-conformity. 

Nazi slogans and symbols may serve as tools of rebellion and edgy fashion statements for some, but they're a terrifying reminder of fear and loss for Jewish victims and their progeny. Rather than protecting Jewish communities from the hatred and violence he has helped to incite, Trump appears much more interested in convincing the world that he isn't an anti-Semite. The best way to prove his point would be to denounce and punish those committing crimes in his name.