THIS ARTICLE BY LIEL LEIBOVITZ APPEARED FIRST IN TABLETMAG.COM
The past 24 hours provided a clear and painful picture of the momentous challenges American Jews face these days.
The day began with news that President Trump had issued an executive order designed, the White House said, to fight anti-Semitism. Reporting on the order, The New York Times stressed that it will “effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion,” and that it “could be used to stifle free speech and legitimate opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the name of fighting anti-Semitism.”
Leftist NGOs echoed the same talking point, and a phalanx of pundits took to Twitter to decry the order as anti-Semitic because, allegedly, it somehow paved the road to defining Jews as something less than fully American. From the Hollywood actress who thundered,“You, stupid crook president do not get to decide this so your white nationalist pals get to stick me in a concentration camp,” to the law professor who blastedthe order for deeming Jews to be “some nationality other than Americans,” our bien-pensants were whipping everyone into a wild frenzy, portraying the president as an unhinged anti-Semite and a clear and present danger to the Jews.
And then something else happened.
As Twitter was aflame with vitriol directed at the president, gunmen shot up a kosher market in Jersey City, New Jersey, killing three—including two Jews. Those of us rushing to report on the attack were initially reassured by a host of sources, official and unofficial alike, that there was no larger story here: The shooting, we were told, was random—not a hate crime specifically targeting Jews. The early reports in the press echoed these sentiments, with most not even mentioning the fact that the crime scene was a kosher establishment.
It didn’t take long for the truth to come out. The shooting, we now know, was a premeditated attack, and one of the suspects was a black nationalist who had a long and proven track record of posting anti-Semitic screeds online.
And then we learned something else. We learned that, unbelievably, it turned out that at the exact moment that Jews were being murdered for being Jewish, a bunch of blue checkmark assholes were inaccurately and outrageously railing against the president for doing nothing else but … protecting Jews.
When Trump’s executive order was finally made public, it turned out that far from somehow defining Jews as this, that, or the other, as our self-appointed moral and intellectual superiors falsely and hysterically claimed, it did little but extend the same protections afforded to minorities under our existing civil rights laws to Jews as well. “Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VI), 42 U.S.C. 2000d et seq., prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving Federal financial assistance,” it reads. “While Title VI does not cover discrimination based on religion, individuals who face discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin do not lose protection under Title VI for also being a member of a group that shares common religious practices. Discrimination against Jews may give rise to a Title VI violation when the discrimination is based on an individual’s race, color, or national origin.”
This is in no way, as the Times implied and many on the left have tweeted, an attack on free speech on campus or anyplace else. It is, in fact, nothing more than an extension of the Obama White House’s own legal guidance about the treatment of Jews and Sikhs under existing U.S. civil rights law. You may challenge the wisdom of designating groups of people as a protected class—as some on the right do, arguing that protections ought to be granted to individuals, not collectives—but as long as our laws exist the way they do, and as long as Jews remain America’s most targeted minority, affording them the same legal protection enjoyed by other minorities isn’t just right, it’s a moral and physical imperative.
But none of this matters to the social media addicts in charge of public discourse. To our intelligentsia, no explanation is feasible unless it underscores the evil intentions of Trump, their sworn enemy.
Even in a political climate rich with petulant outbursts and virtue-signaling, the reaction to Trump’s executive order sets a dangerous precedent. Portraying measures clearly designed to combat anti-Semitism and protect Jews from harm as being in of themselves somehow anti-Semitic is not only an affront to logic and morality, but also a reckless move when violence against Jews is on the rise.
If you want to see this muddled logic carried to its extreme and ugly end, just look at what New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, said in a press conference after the Jersey City shooting. The attack, he said, “tragically confirms that a growing pattern of violent anti-Semitism has now turned into a crisis for our nation. And now this threat has reached the doorstep of New York City.”
The doorstep? The threat has been far inside the mayor’s own house for years. But acknowledging that would mean fessing up to his own calculated inaction—and finally explaining exactly why he’s allowed targets to be put on Jewish backs.
The mayor’s laughable campaign for president is one likely reason for his inaction in the face of all this violence, and for his belief that threat has only now reached his city’s limits. Another may be the fact that the majority of the hundreds of hate crimes against Jews in New York were perpetrated by African Americans and Hispanics, not by enraged white nationalists, who are frequent targets of the mayor’s rhetoric but have been found responsible for exactly zero hate crimes in the city of New York.
Jews make up about 2% of the American population, yet were the victims of a whopping 57.8% of all religious bias crimes last year, according to the FBI. Rather than vocally and unequivocally demanding that their Jewish constituents be protected, the politicians representing those targeted—from de Blasio to New York Sen. Chuck Schumer—have been largely silent on this issue, while at the same time loudly and vigorously accusing the right of racism. Videos like this one, shot at the scene shortly after the Jersey City attack and featuring local neighbors blaming the Jews for Jews being murdered, are not likely to make any politician on the left take action, especially not someone like de Blasio, who has for years been kissing the ring of Al Sharpton, an anti-Semite best remembered for inciting an actual pogrom against the Jews of Brooklyn.
What American Jews need right now is clear and concrete action that protects them from anyone who wishes them harm. Whether you like it or not, the fact is that yesterday New York’s senator and mayor took no such steps. The president did.
Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.