Yesterday, President Trump met with Prime Minister Netanyahu of Israel, and with a simple question related to antisemitism, it again brought the issue of Trump and Religion again to the fore. Here are a few topics related to the subject that have caught my eye over the last few days:
- Trump and Antisemitism. Yesterday, Donald Trump was asked, by an Israeli reporter, a straightforward question about “a sharp rise in anti-Semitic incidents across the United States” since his election. His response? A rambling response about the extent of his electoral victory, that included the following: “As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends; a daughter who happens to be here right now; a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren. I think that you’re going to see a lot different United States of America over the next three, four or eight years. I think a lot of good things are happening.” Reading this, two things struck me. First, just like right after the election when there were a number of antisemitic incidents by his followers, he did not take the opportunity to strongly condemn antisemitism — and indeed, religion-based hate crimes. It was similar to his tone-deaf response on the International Holocaust Remembrance Day where he failed to acknowledge the major target of the Holocaust. Second, the “As far as people, Jewish people, so many friends…” struck me as a “Some of my best friends are…” line. Many remember when “Some of my best friends are black” was an excuse for racism — if I had a black friend, how could I be racist. Having a Jewish son-in-law does not make Trump not antisemitic: he can still hate the group while still liking a few individuals. After all, how many Conservatives have a few liberal friends but hate “libtards” (and vice-versa)? [ETA: It should also be noted that Trump tends to shout down reporters who ask him about antisemitism]
- Trump and a Christian Resurgence. The Jewish Journal has an interesting article on Trump that strikes a few chords similar to my article last week on Trump and Apocalyptic Visions. The article notes that the anti-Muslim sentiments of the new administration are one head of a two-headed beast. The other head is a political agenda forged by a coalition of conservative Christians that is closer than ever to achieving its vision of a “Christian nation.” This linkage between anti-Muslim and “pro-Christian” policies is revealed in the executive order, which couples a thinly veiled ban on Muslims with a thinly veiled preference for Christians from predominantly Muslim countries seeking refuge in the United States. It is a sentiment I’ve seen from a few Conservative friends, who are spreading the word that the most prosecuted minority in Muslim countries are… Christians. That notion is lifted directly from the Christian right, which has long promoted the idea that Christians are a — indeed, the most — persecuted minority. It dovetails with the belief that Christians are being subjected to religious persecution in America by intolerant secularists, which has joined the claim that liberals turn a blind eye to the persecution of Christians by Muslims. Both are staples of the worldview that drives Stephen Bannon, the president’s chief strategist and architect of his immigration policies. This is all part of a plan forged between Trump, Bannon, and the Christian Right to bring the US “back to” being a Christian Nation (something the White Nationalists love).
- Muslims and Jews – A Surprise Alliance. With all this hatred for Muslims, and the fights between Arabs and Jews over Israel, you think Jews and Muslims would hate it other. You would be wrong. There are alliances between Muslims and Jews in a number of areas. One I particularly support is the alliance of HIAS, which just supported the National Day of Jewish Action for Refugees. This was last Sunday; I participated in the meeting we had at Temple Ahavat Shalom. There was a large rally held in parallel in New York; Jews have also been fighting for Muslim refugees right after the executive order. The underlying notion here is that Jews have often been refugees because of their religion, and that is the case with many of the Muslims coming to the US. Whereas the Christian Right portrays Muslims as a unified group, and thus how could these be refugees when they are all Muslims, they forget why the Puritans came to America — because they were hated by other Christians. That’s the same reason Quakers and Catholics and many Christian groups came to the US: because other Christians kicked them out. It is why there is religious freedom in America. In this case, there are two main divisions within the Islamic world: Shia and Sunni, and the more militant and violent group is kicking out and conducting genocide against the other group. Jews recognize this, and that is why they are saving lifes, going back to the commandment from the Torah to “Welcome the stranger”. There are additional coalitions forming, going back to 2015 when the American Jewish Committee began work with the Islamic Society of North America, when presented with FBI data showing a stunning 67 percent rise in hate crimes against Muslims. This spurred the formation of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, or MJAC, a group of 38 high-profile business leaders, government officials and others. The nonpartisan council aims to combat discrimination with engagement at the highest levels of government. The desire to bridge Muslim and Jewish communities has intensified since the election, as both religious minorities express concerns over a White House in which presidential advisers like Stephen Bannon and Stephen Miller have been accused of having white supremacist ties. Another group, called MuJew Antifa, protested Wednesday in response to Trump’s meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. This group is opposed to what they view as facist occupation and actions by Israel against Palestinians (one report connects them to the Antifa group who incited violence at the recent protest against a Breitbart editor at UC Berkeley, although other accounts attribute that to a different Antifa group). MuJew Antifa says its goals are “to strengthen ties between our communities, to support each other in a time of hate and to forge a united front against fascism, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”