view from central park

Trump, anti-Semitism and mainstream press


I am usually not one to dip into politics. Certainly this past election, more contentious than any other in my life, I would want to stay away from even more strongly. But since the heated topic that has recently risen in the news affects me — I refer to anti-Semitism — I can’t ignore it.

I should also add that I did not vote for Trump. I didn’t vote for Clinton, either. Even though it wouldn’t have made a difference, my plan was to vote for Johnson. But as fate would have it, I ended up not voting at all, the mail-in ballot I arranged for having been lost in the mail. (And that, I might add, was a first. Even when I lived in Israel, with the help of my family I jumped through hoops to ensure that I voted).

Stories correlating President Trump’s election with a rise in anti-Semitism are worrisome, dangerous and, quite honestly, a cheap shot. There is a lot to be vigilant about with Trump. Why make this one up?

In recent years, to my great shock, anti-Semitism has been on the rise in both the right and the left camps. In my naivete of growing up in the ’70s and ’80s, I was fooled into thinking anti-Semitism was a thing of the past. To me, stories of horror from my broken-English and Hungarian-accented immigrant grandmother’s world were testaments of “never again.”

This was America, after all. This was a time in which Jews had Israel.

Thankfully, we are still blessed to live in an age and a benevolent land of mostly no anti-Semitism. But due to our recent traumatic past, our antennae are heightened at even a little display of anti-Semitism here or there.

Over the years, most incidents — and there were incidents — went unreported aside from some local coverage. The recent rise in anti-Semitism did not start on Nov. 8, 2016. Artificially correlating the story to Trump’s election is simply not reality.

To me it comes across as what JD Salinger’s Holden Caulfield called “phony.” While journalists are normally meant to be neutral reporters who find and investigate facts, instead it seems they are approaching this with a negative thesis about Trump and then finding stories to support their thesis.

Anti-Semitism. These two words are serious words. They should not be bandied about lightly. I feel like the mainstream press’ recent, transparent obsession with it since Nov. 8 and the press’ correlating it with Trump is what is giving a wink to anti-Semites to feel free to act because, to their satisfaction, they know they have the hysterical, undivided attention and, on some twisted level, the desire of the press.

A tide of hate is rising in this country. It is both on the extreme right and the extreme left. That is what ought to be addressed. That is real, not imagined.

The desecration in the St. Louis and Philadelphia cemeteries is horrible. The threats to JCCs are terrible (I remember one afternoon in my college years randomly being evacuated from our local Denver JCC when a JCC in another country had been attacked). My question is, when parallel incidents like that happened over the years, why was it a non-news story, yet now it is the crux of the news?

I don’t like Trump’s anti-press comments about the press being the people’s enemy. Such comments are dangerous to our democracy. A critical press with some healthy tensions between a free press and the government is the bedrock of a free democracy. A free press is the acid test of a free society.

At the same time, after the mainstream press failed to capture the essence of this past election story because of how it was so blinded by its own agenda, and seemed to be abusing its power somewhat, I can understand the cynicism toward the mainstream press. This anti-Semitism spin only adds to it. It is upsetting to me on many levels, as I think of newspaper reporting as a noble, honorable, truth-seeking and analytical profession, which I like to think it still mostly is.

Especially ironic, though, as the story of Trump refusing to condemn anti-Semitism keeps being pushed, out comes the incredibly encouraging video press conference of newly appointed US Ambassador Nikki Haley at the UN. She could not have been more direct in her criticism of dictatorships of hate as well as her unwavering support of Israel as a democratic ally of the U.S.

We must ensure the vulnerable of our society are protected, respected and taken care of. We must ensure the discourse of negativity, of hate, of “the Other” (as Levinas summed up, echoing the Talmudic appellation of “Acher,” one who deviated from tradition), is stopped. We must ensure that the cherished values of human dignity are the values of all Americans, regardless of party or political viewpoint. they are not an ethos one party has a monopoly on.

So yes, the discourse of hate and negativity must be stemmed. But hysteria and dishonesty in reporting are things to be vigilant about as well.

Thankfully, we have the press to watch the government. But the point is not to relinquish all power to the press. We must be critical of it, too.

Copyright Intermountain Jewish News