Medium: Trump’s Dangerous Empowerment of White Supremacy

March 22, 2019

By Halie Soifer & Wa’el Alzayat

We are former colleagues and friends leading organizations in the Jewish and Muslim American communities. While we may not agree on every issue, we are in full agreement about the danger of white supremacy and the Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and racism it promotes. In light of the devastating massacre in Christchurch, New Zealand, where 50 Muslim worshipers were gunned down during Friday prayer, it is high time that Jews and Muslims came together to speak with one voice against the divisive and hateful rhetoric in our political discourse.

Our two communities have been targeted by a common enemy seeking to proliferate xenophobia and hatred around the world. Those perpetrating violence against synagogues and mosques are not Muslims or Jews. They are white supremacists emboldened by the Trump presidency, and we condemn their acts — as well as the president’s refusal to denounce white nationalism — in the strongest possible terms.

In case there was any doubt about the connection between the horrific massacre of 50 Muslims in New Zealand and 11 Jews in Pittsburgh, just look at the online writing of the perpetrators themselves. The New Zealand attacker described Donald Trump as “a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” Similarly, the Pittsburgh attacker blamed Jews for facilitating the influx of immigrant “invaders,” repeating the xenophobic rhetoric spewed by the president in advance of the 2018 midterm election. The hateful ideology of both perpetrators has been given credibility by the policies of the Trump administration and emboldened by the president’s bigoted views.

Make no mistake — President Trump has become a symbol of rising Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other forms of racial and religious intolerance. In the United States, this has contributed to a surge in hate crimes, which according to the FBI, has seen the greatest increase since the post-9/11 period. During 2015 and 2016, anti-Muslim hate crimes doubled. In 2017 alone, anti-Arab hate crimes increased 100 percent, anti-Semitic hate crimes rose by over 37 percent, and anti-Muslim hate crimes remained well above historical averages. Jews face the most recorded incidents of religious hate crimes in the U.S. in 2017, according to the FBI, and there has been an unprecedented increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes since Trump took office.

The FBI’s hate crime statistics from 2017 do not include the unconscionable murder of Heather Heyer, who was peacefully protesting white supremacists when she was deliberately run over. In response, the president equated the two sides protesting in Charlottesville, labeling Heather’s murderers and others shouting “Jews will not replace us” as “very fine people.” There are not “fine people” on both sides of this issue. There are innocent victims — including those targeted in houses of worship — on one side, and a hateful fire fueled by the president’s words on the other. Meanwhile, the president has pointedly refused to condemn the white supremacy movement and has repeatedly downplayed its size, scope and danger. Despite what the president’s Twitter feed, words and even silence may convey, there is no denying the truth — white supremacy is an increasingly dangerous threat to Jews, Muslims and other religious, racial and ethnic groups.

In addition to rising hate crimes, there has been a record-breaking proliferation of domestic hate groups during Trump’s campaign and presidency, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center. These groups include neo-Nazi, white nationalist and anti-immigrant groups that adhere to the same ideology that the Christchurch and Pittsburgh terrorists followed. Despite this reality, policymakers have focused disproportionally on Islamist extremism while failing to dedicate the needed resources to combating far-right extremism. Especially in light of the horrific attacks in New Zealand and Pittsburgh, we call on Congress and the White House to take immediate and decisive action to combat the threat posed by white supremacy groups.

Congress has neglected to take meaningful action in response to these developments in recent years. At best, Republicans have responded with silence in the face of the president’s discriminatory policies, such as the Muslim travel ban. At worst, they have enabled his agenda and repeated some of the president’s hateful stereotypes launched at both of our communities. Our message for them is simple — silence in the face of hatred and bigotry is not an option, and we will continue to lift our voices and stand together to ensure our communities and all Americans are secure.

Halie Soifer is Executive Director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, an advocacy organization for Jewish Democrats. Wa’el Alzayat is CEO of Emgage Action, an advocacy organization for Muslim Americans. Both served as senior policy advisors for former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power.