The Trump administration says it’s anti-Semitic to criticize Israel. That’s the gist of a recent executive order that would treat campus calls to boycott Israel over its treatment of Palestinians as anti-Semitic discrimination on the basis of “national origin.”
Days after the order, the synagogue I most often attend here in Washington, D.C. became another of the hundreds in the U.S. to be vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti. Swastikas and the word “Jew” were found gouged into its historic doors.
This graffiti isn’t the symbol of the nonviolent boycott movement. It’s the symbol of the neo-Nazis Trump called “very fine people.”
Every mainstream headline I saw about Trump’s recent order seemed to accept that it was designed to combat anti-Semitism. You could almost forget that Trump himself is one of the single biggest dangers facing the Jewish community in this country today.
Trump has backed white supremacist conspiracies that migrant caravans are secretly funded by Jews, said Jews who vote for Democrats show “great disloyalty,” and — at his Hanukkah party, no less — gave the floor to a pastor who says that Jews are going to hell. Subtle.
And never mind that categorizing Jewishness as a “national origin” hearkens back to anti-Semitic trope that, wherever we go, we’re an “alien people.”
Under Trump, anti-Semitic hate crimes have skyrocketed to historic levels, and it’s affecting us all.
Every time I’m in a large Jewish gathering, I can’t help but think of the massacres in Pittsburgh and Poway and Jersey City. I find myself looking around the room, wondering: Will it happen here at high holiday services, or at this showing of Fiddler on the Roof with my friends?
The man whose presidency forces me to ask these questions is clearly not trying to protect me. So why did he pass this executive action?
The meat of this action is aimed at Israeli boycott movements on college campuses across the U.S. It threatens to withhold federal funding from schools where students organize events linked to the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights.
It’s been pushed for years by Trump education official Kenneth L. Marcus, who equates boycotting Israel with Holocaust denial. It’s the support of far-right figures like Marcus the president is after. As Trump recently told the Israeli American Council, “You have to vote for me. You have no choice.”
As a Jewish activist, let me assure you: Boycotting Israel is not anti-Semitic.
Aside from the fact that many of those fighting for their colleges to divest from Israel are Jewish themselves, the BDS movement is one of the only available ways to protest the U.S.-backed brutalization of Palestinians that’s continued ceaselessly for decades. This is a human rights issue, no matter your religion.
Shutting down BDS allows Trump to support Israel’s far-right government in systematically abusing Palestinians, secure the support of some politically powerful pro-Israel voters, and convince the public it’s being done in the name of protecting Jews.
It’s not. When Jews and non-Jews alike speak up for human rights and are crushed into silence, no one is safer. When congresspeople who speak up against this are slandered as anti-Semitic, while our clearly anti-Semitic president is not, no one is safer.
As a Jew, I know Trump is not supporting the people who congregate in synagogues to sing, eat, pray, and live. He’s emboldening the ones gouging swastikas into the doors.