The Oberlin Review

President Trump Doesn’t Cause Hate, Apathy Does

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Editor’s note: This article contains mention of gun violence and anti-Semitism.

It’s Hanukkah time (not to be equated to “Jewish Christmas,” by the way). For many Jews, this is a time full of celebration, sufganiyot, latkes, gifts, gelt, and joy. When I was growing up, Hanukkah was always about family, remembrance, and perseverance. All Jewish people may have different memories about how they celebrated Hanukkah. But, for many, this Hanukkah is different.

On Oct. 27, 2018, a gunman entered the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh on Shabbat and shot and killed 11 Jews during their time of worship. When I woke up that morning and saw the news, I began to cry. I cried for my ancestors who survived persecution. I cried for my great, great-grandparents who were shot and killed simply for being Jewish. I cried for my Jewish brothers and sisters in Pittsburgh. I cried for our country.

As I sat there, sobbing, I came to a realization. I was devastated, broken-hearted, angry, and scared, but I was not surprised. That night, I talked on the phone with a good friend of mine who is also Jewish. As I tried to put words together to express my feelings, he told me, “The fear that we have in the back of our minds each time we go to synagogue just came true.” With the rise of gun violence and hatred in our country, I was not surprised that this atrocious attack occurred. This was the most painful realization.

In the wake of the shooting, I felt heard by the many friends who sent me messages of healing and the millions of people who came together to support the victims. I cried tears of gratitude after seeing that the Muslim community in both Pittsburgh and around the country had raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the Pittsburgh Jewish community. I felt hope that, even with all of the hatred and violence in the national discourse, there is even more love and acceptance.

Even so, I am still fearful, because acts of anti-Semitism, racism, bigotry, and xenophobia are rising at a dramatic rate in our country. In 2017, the Anti-Defamation League reported that acts of anti-Semitism are on the rise nationwide and that there has been an 89 percent increase in acts of anti-Semitism on college campuses.

Since the Pittsburgh massacre, a swastika was painted over a memorial honoring the victims of the Pittsburgh shooting at Duke University. Cornell University discovered three swastikas on their campus. A menorah belonging to a Pennsylvania State University Jewish fraternity was stolen and vandalized. Numerous anti-Semitic messages were found at a University of Minnesota residence hall. A student at Goucher College was arrested for vandalizing the campus with anti-Semitic and racist graffiti. Hundreds of fliers were discovered on the campuses of University of California, Berkeley; University of California, Davis; Vassar College; and Marist College that blamed Jews for the sexual assault allegations against U.S. Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh.

In October of 2017, anti-Semitic fliers were posted around Oberlin’s campus. In an email to students and faculty following the removal of the fliers, President Ambar and the administration stated that they would not report subsequent similar acts of hatred to the community, to not give perpetrators a microphone. Anti-Semitism is on the rise, and we cannot continue to ignore it. These acts must be reported, so that we do not stay complicit.

For many Jews and non-Jews alike, the Pittsburgh shooting and the subsequent events acted as a wake-up call that anti-Semitism did not die with the Holocaust. It has existed for centuries, and it still exists. So, the question is: Why is anti-Semitism rising now?

As a political columnist, my first instinct is to talk about President Trump’s rhetoric and how his refusal to denounce white supremacy and the alt-right has directly caused the rise in hatred that we are seeing today in the United States. But President Trump did not create hatred and anti-Semitism — it has always been there. He has simply emboldened and empowered those with hateful rhetoric to be louder. However, anti-Semitic beliefs, like all hateful beliefs, do not exist solely among the alt-right community. They exist within all different communities, demographics, and political ideologies. In order to address the rise in anti-Semitism, we must first address the rise in hatred all around our country.

The Anti-Defamation League created a “Pyramid of Hate” to provide an explanation for how hatred manifests. On the bottom of the pyramid, there are biased attitudes. This includes stereotyping, insensitive remarks, and microaggressions. As you move up the pyramid, there are acts of bias such as bullying, slurs, and name-calling. Then, there is discrimination. Higher up, there is bias-motivated violence, like the shooting that occurred at Pittsburgh. At the very top of the pyramid, there is genocide.

The “Pyramid of Hate” demonstrates how genocide is built upon the acceptance of the behaviors within each prior level of the pyramid. As we become more and more numb to acts of hatred that occur within our country, we are moving closer and closer to a day when these behaviors will be accepted. The problem isn’t just acts of hatred — hatred will always be there. The problem is our response to it. Anti-Semitism is rising because hate is rising. And hate is rising because apathy is rising. We cannot stay quiet, we cannot stay complicit, and we must speak out against all hateful rhetoric.

This Hanukkah is different. We are mourning. We mourn the 11 lives lost on Oct. 27, 2018. We mourn the millions of lives lost due to hatred of all forms. But we will still celebrate this Hanukkah. We will celebrate the perseverance and resilience of the Jewish people. We will celebrate the millions of non-Jews who have been allies throughout the recent tragedy. We will celebrate the beautiful diversity of this country. And we will celebrate the hope that one day anti-Semitism, hatred, and bigotry of all kinds will no longer exist.

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2 Responses to “President Trump Doesn’t Cause Hate, Apathy Does”

  1. Ummmmm on December 10th, 2018 1:53 PM

    Interesting point of view.

    With respect, I differ.

    Antisemitism is a cultural phenomenon rooted not only in the idea of the “other” but in the differences between Jewish cultural/social priorities and those of other groups. The Western ideas of race are important as you note, but so things like political differences: the deep hatred of ethnoreligious nationalism (and especially Zionism) by many progressives, the religiously based antiSemitism prevalent in some Muslim and Christian communities, these things are also at the root of hatred. Intergroup conflict does not happen because of apathy, it happens because people care too much about such issues, and this concern is exploited for political reasons. Of course Trump exploits these differences, but of course he is not responsible for them. Progressives have been exploiting identity politics for years. Muslim and Black antiSemitism (also quite active) are also exploited by ‘antiZionists” and the likes of the odious Farrakhan, as examples.

    Caring about the actions that permit expression of prejudice is only one solution. However, on the priority list of things people care about (like: “How will my kids prosper? Will I be able to keep what I have earned? Are the things I hold sacred going to be profaned? Will my culture live after me?” and so forth) microaggressions will quite reasonably rank far down the list. These are basic human concerns. If you are interested in antiSemitism, then preoccupying yourself with mere behaviors won’t help much. Better to address, one by one, the ideas that individual people have. Why does person X think Jews are avaricious? Why does person Y think Zionism is racism? Why does person Z try to blame Jews for antiSemitism? Many of these ideas are adopted in good faith, as a response to perceived reality. If we engage in open discourse and keep an open mind, we arrive at the truth. It isn’t so much apathy about antiSemitism that gets in the way, but anxiety about other things.

  2. Karen Bekker on December 10th, 2018 7:55 PM

    Thank you for this excellent and very moving column.

    Karen Bekker, OC ’94

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