Editorial Opinion

Charlottesville: The Sound of President Trump’s Silence is Deafening

By the Ledger Editorial Advisory Board

If there’s any such thing as an American Jewish no-brainer, it’s that when a crowd of white supremacists march through the streets of a town waving swastikas and shouting “The Jews will not replace us,” you not only denounce them for the neo-Nazis they are, you hold public authorities responsible for doing the same.

And, indeed, statements from most leading Jewish organizations to the events in Charlottesville were swift and appropriate. The day the violence occurred, Conservative Judaism’s Rabbinical Assembly did not shy from addressing the Trump Administration:

We call upon United States officials including President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions to condemn neo-Nazi, white supremacist and alt-right movements by name. The repeated failure to do so by top U.S. officials has fueled their growth and poses an imminent threat to all Americans as Saturday’s violent rallies showed.

After President Trump delivered his inadequate response, Rick Jacobs, president of the Union of Reform Judaism, declared:

We commend the opening of President Trump’s statement condemning the “egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence” but are deeply troubled by the moral equivalence evident in President Trump’s statement today. White supremacists wielding Nazi flags and spewing racist vitriol need to be specifically condemned, not only violence and hate “on many sides.” If our leaders can’t call out this virulent strand of hate we will surely fail to stop it.

Likewise, the ADL called on America’s political leadership to “name the hate.” And the American Jewish Committee’s David Harris wrote an open letter to President Trump in which he said: “

Mr. President, precisely at such moments of national tragedy and, yes, definition, your voice becomes essential. Others cannot substitute for you. You are our leader, you set the tone, and you have an incomparable bully pulpit. Thus, when you chose to use those three words describing the hatred – “on many sides” – and to repeat them twice, alas, you turned what should have been a unifying moment into a divisive one.

Unfortunately, however, the voices in the Jewish community that the White House listens to could not bring themselves to do the same. The Orthodox Union and Rabbinical Council of America denounced the white supremacy and the neo-Nazism but had nothing to say about President Trump’s reluctance to do the same.

On Monday, after New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a bill providing stiffer penalties for those making bomb threats against community centers, Agudath Israel’s executive vice president David Zwiebel said, “The Charlottesville carnage is a painful reminder that racial hatred is, unfortunately, alive and well in our great country.”

Well, yes. But Charlottesville is above all a painful reminder that it is the President of the United States who is helping to keep the perpetrators of racial hatred – and antisemitism – alive and well.

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