Above: the Evelyn Rubenstein Jewish Community Center of Houston, not far from where we live.
“[Bomb] threats, which turned out to be unfounded, were reported all over the Eastern United States on Monday [January 9, 2017], at as many as 16 Jewish community facilities” (New York Times).
“There were as many as 27 bomb threats on Wednesday [January 18, 2017] at Jewish centers in 17 states, according to the J.C.C. Association of North America” (New York Times).
“Ivanka Trump took to Twitter to call for religious tolerance following the latest wave of bomb threats that were made against 11 Jewish community centers Monday [February 20, 2017]” (FoxNews).
Tracie P and I learned about this third, most recent wave of coordinated bomb threats not from Fox or the New York Times. It came to our attention because Tracie was on the way to the super market where we regularly shop in our southwest Houston neighborhood, which happens to be in one of the city’s heavily Jewish areas, Westbury. The Rubenstein Jewish Community Center is on her route to the store and its members were among the victims of these orchestrated acts of terror.
It was only after his daughter posted her tweet on February 20 that President Trump acknowledged that there has been a rise of anti-Semitic episodes and terror in recent months.
As late as February 15, 2017, when asked to comment on the rise of open anti-Semitism in the U.S. at a joint news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, Trump answered as follows:
“Well, I just want to say that we are very honored by the victory that we had — 306 Electoral College votes. We were not supposed to crack 220. You know that, right? There was no way to 221, but then they said there’s no way to 270. And there’s tremendous enthusiasm out there.”
Don’t believe me? Read a transcript of the conference on WhiteHouse.gov.
As late as February 16, 2017, when asked by a reporter about the rise of open anti-Semitism in the U.S., President Trump told the journalist that it was “an insulting question” and never answered the question. Don’t believe me? Watch the clip from C-Span. (Trump’s insensitivity and evasion of the question were made even more mind-boggling by the fact that the reporter asking the question was an orthodox Jew.)
Then, on Tuesday, February 21, 2017, President Trump addressed the issue directly for the first time when he told NBC News, “I will tell you that anti-Semitism is horrible, and it’s going to stop and it has to stop.”
“This felt like something of a reset,” noted a FoxNews reporter, “for a president who has been battered by negative headlines and management missteps during his first month in office.”
Until the February 21 statement, Trump had repeatedly avoided answering questions about the rise of open anti-Semitism by invoking his Jewish family members and Jewish friends.
In the February 15 news conference, he noted that “as far as people — Jewish people — so many friends, a daughter who happens to be here right now, a son-in-law, and three beautiful grandchildren.”
I don’t think that the president is anti-Semitic in his heart. After all, he’s a New Yorker: he was famously mentored by a gay Jewish man and has many famous Jewish friends, not to mention the fact that his daughter married into one of New York’s leading Jewish families and that she had converted to Judaism before their marriage.
And I am not going to speculate as to why he hasn’t robustly and wholeheartedly condemned anti-Semitism until now.
But I believe that as a role model for all Americans, his insistence on avoiding the question of anti-Semitism in our nation is abominable and dangerous.
I fear that his avoidance of the question might be interpreted by some Americans as acquiescence. And I’m not the only member of the Jewish community in America who is deeply troubled by his seeming reluctance to face the issue and speak out.
Having Jewish business associates, Jewish friends, and Jewish family members doesn’t absolve any honest American — let alone the president! — from standing up and speaking out against hatred.
Some of my best friends are Jews, too. I know they’ll be glad, like me, to see that President Trump is finally doing the right thing. What took you so long, Mr. President? What took you so long, friend?