Alan Zimmerman (61), a Democrat from Charlottesville, VA, was president of Congregation Beth Israel in Charlottesville during the Unite the Right march in August 2017. Zimmerman remembers standing on the steps, watching armed neo-Nazis shouting “Heil Hitler.” He was “not surprised that there is anti-Semitism in America—I’m not naïve—but that it could be displayed so brazenly and even proudly in the streets of an American city was frankly shocking.”
We are providing the unfiltered opinions of voters interviewed for this project. Those views are based on their understanding and perception of facts and information from a range of sources. In some cases, that information may be misleading or incorrect.
Are you concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism in this country?
I think in some ways, Charlottesville was the ‘anti-Semitic canary in a coal mine,’ which first alerted the American Jewish community that there was something happening out there beyond the typical kind of anti-Semitism. We grew up occasionally being called a Kike or witnessed the use of anti-Semitic tropes and learned to not pay attention to it. But, beginning with Charlottesville, in many ways, it became something a little bit different.
Is Donald Trump to blame for the rise in anti-Semitism?
I don’t know if Donald Trump is an anti-Semite or not. But I think that his election, and the manner in which he campaigns and conducts himself, has unleashed a lot of anti-Semitism in the country. When you demonize George Soros and use dog whistles, or in his case a bullhorn, it activates these feelings among people in our society. While I’m not blaming him for the shooting in Pittsburgh or for the neo-Nazis that came to Charlottesville to march or other anti-Semitic attacks, to me it’s very clear that he has created an environment in which these people are able to take the next step. I also believe that an attack on any minority, such as Central American refugees at the border or Muslims, or African Americans, is an attack on all our communities.
Do you think the far left and members of the so-called squad contribute to the current rise in anti-Semitism?
I think Democrats need to do a better job of not getting on the Republican bandwagon that characterizes Representatives Omar and Pressley as anti-Semites, which they are not. It’s dangerous when this rhetoric refers to them as anti-Semitic simply because they critique Israel.
Do you think the presidential candidates are adequately addressing anti-Semitism?
Some of the candidates are more attuned to it than others, though I don’t think it means they do not care about it. It’s just not on their radar screen. The candidates should not be afraid of calling out Trump, recognizing that what he’s doing is aiding and abetting those elements in society, not just anti-Jewish elements, but anti-African American and anti-immigrant. This is the moral issue of our time.