Editorial: No free passes for anti-Semitism

The Island Now

There is no question that the political cartoon published in the opinion pages of The New York Times’ international print edition in April was anti-Semitic.

The cartoon portrayed Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel as a guide dog wearing a Star of David on a collar, leading President Trump, drawn as a blind man wearing a skullcap.

As columnist Brett Stephens said in a scathing piece published in the Times’ U.S. edition, “Here was an image that, in another age, might have been published in the pages of Der Sturmer. The Jew in the form of a dog. The small but wily Jew leading the dumb and trusting Ameican. The hated Trump being Judaized with a skullcap. The nominal servant acting as the true master. The cartoon checked so many anti-Semitic boxes that the only thing missing was a dollar sign.”

The cartoon drew hundreds of people, including a handful from Great Neck, to protest in front of The New York Times building in Manhattan.

Never mind that the cartoon was chosen from a syndication service by a production editor who did not recognize its anti-Semitism. And that the cartoon appeared in the print version of the international edition, which has limited overseas circulation, a much smaller staff and far less oversight than the regular edition.

There is never a time or place for the anti-Semitic tropes that have followed Jews over the ages – especially at a time when anti-Semitic assaults are on the rise in the nation and abroad. A report released last week by the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic assaults more than doubled from 2017 to 2018 in the United States.

So those who protested the publication of the cartoon had reason to stand outside the Times’ offices.

Just as many, presumably including those who attended the protest, criticized U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a freshman Democrat attributing pro-Israel sentiment to the financial clout of the pro-Israel lobby, saying “it’s all about the Benjamins.”

What is not clear is whether the many who participated in the protest have raised their voices against President Trump and other Republicans who have tolerated and tacitly encouraged anti-Semitic tropes if not actual violence in the past three years.

No connection has been drawn between the anti-Semitic cartoon that appeared in the New York Times and violent incidents. But there is clear evidence of Trump’s incendiary language and the violence of white supremacists.

Just days before, a gunman opened fire during Passover services at a synagogue in San Diego County, killing one person and injuring three. The alleged gunman, who is white, posted an online manifesto in which he expressed hatred of Jews, said he was willing to sacrifice his future “for the sake of my people” and claimed responsibility for an arson fire at an Islamic center.

A day before the shooting at the synagogue in San Diego, Trump defended comments he made after the deadly Charlotteville, Va., confrontation in 2017 when he said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a gathering that drew protesters to a rally of white supremacists, including neo-Nazis.

Trump said he was talking about people at the rally who he said were protesting the removal of a Robert E. Lee statue in Charlottesville – for whom he expressed admiration.

That is a lie.

Let’s leave aside for a moment that even if what Trump said is true, Lee led an army against the United States to defend slavery in a war that cost the lives of more than 600,000 Americans.

But the rally, titled “Unite the Right,” was advertised as a gathering of “pro-white” groups that had until that point spent much of their time online. It drew marchers carrying Nazi flags and signs bearing swastikas, chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

No, there weren’t very fine people on both sides. A group representing basic decency was opposing a group carrying the symbol of a Holocaust that claimed the lives of 6 million Jews and many millions of other people.

The protesters’ use of the chant “Jews will not replace us” was especially instructive. The chant referred to the lie that Jews were trying to replace the jobs of white people by promoting an influx of Latinos into this country.

Trump’s defense of these white supremacists was not an isolated incident. The truth is that stirring up racial and religious hatred has been central to his presidency. A feature, not a bug. And he has given legitimacy to the worst elements in this country.

We all recall that Trump began his 2016 political campaign by slandering undocumented Mexicans as “drug dealers, criminal, rapists” and called for a wall to be built along the Mexican border.

His campaign featured a call for a ban on Muslims coming into the country and an attack on Gold Star parents.

And he ended his campaign with a grainy video attacking globalists seeking to take American jobs away that showed the photos of three people – philanthropist George Soros, Goldman Sachs Chairman Lloyd Blankfein and then Federal Reserve Chairman Janet Yellin – all Jews.

While both left-wing and right-wing politicians have traded in incendiary tropes, the recent attacks on Jews in the country have been carried out by men who identify as white supremacists.

It was an ardent Trump supporter sending bombs to 12 Trump critics and the suspect in the attack on a Jewish synagogue in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood in Pittsburgh that killed 11 people and injured six others, including police officers.

The accused attacker in Squirrel Hill cited as his motivation the caravan of mostly women and children 800 miles from our border, which Trump called an “invasion” and suggested was funded by Soros.

The Times apologized for the publication of the anti-Semitic cartoon and for even being “largely silent as the anti-Semitism rose up and bathed the world in blood” in the 1930s and 1940s. The paper also announced changes in its international edition to prevent a repeat of the cartoon’s publication.

But Trump doubles down on his past remarks. And his supporters remain silent.

Prejudice against Jews or any other minority should not be tolerated no matter who says it. Limiting criticism to just one side of the political aisle makes that criticism a partisan argument easy to dismiss as politics as usual.

That is a very dangerous thing to do.

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