Lou Weiss (63), a Republican from Pittsburgh, PA, grew up a Reform Jew in a “McGovern liberal family” in Pittsburgh. His conservative political views took hold in a college freshman political science class. Today, he belongs to four synagogues. He was president of Congregation Or L’Simcha, the synagogue that merged in 2010 with the Tree of Life congregation. He occasionally writes op-eds for The Wall Street Journal.
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.
How concerned are you about rising anti-Semitism in this country?
I am concerned but I try to look at it in context. There were fatal attacks on Jews under Obama—at the JCC in Overland Park, Kansas and at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC. Conspiracy theories are coming to the fore and that has increased anti-Semitism. But overall, America loves Jews. This is the most philosemitic country ever, without question. But are there people out there who really don’t like Jews? Yes.
What do you see as the main causes for the rise in anti-Semitism?
I blame the right and the left. The Tree of Life shooter was clearly a right-wing anti-Semite. I drive by the synagogue almost every day and daven with the people who were there. I knew the people that were killed. It’s hard to step back and be objective, but I happen to think the bigger threat comes from the left and not the crazy far-right white supremacists. There are plenty of tenured leftist professors at American universities that despise Israel, which makes them anti-Semitic in my view. If your focus is totally on Israel and you don’t want to discuss what’s going on in places like Iran, North Korea and China, you have to ask, “why are you obsessed with the one Jewish country and why do you tolerate things in other countries that you won’t allow there?” The threat to Jewish bodies comes from the right; the threat to Jewish souls—their spirit, their intellect—comes from the left. Long term, I think it’s left-wing anti-Semitism that is the greater threat to Israel. It’s just more insidious.
Do you think President Trump’s rhetoric has contributed to the problem?
I would attribute it more to the internet and less to Trump. I don’t want to lay it all at his feet. On the other hand, some of the things he says inspire conspiracy theorists to do some crazy things.
Is anti-Semitism being addressed adequately by Trump and the Democratic presidential candidates?
Well, they all think it’s bad for sure. But from the standpoint of protecting institutions that are in danger, we need to do more. I think we need to really root out philosophically where it’s coming from on the left and right. Some people say they love Jews, but they don’t like Israel. But if a person is anti-Israel in the sense of being against the Jewish state and they support BDS they are anti-Semitic 100 percent. BDS is absolutely like what the Nazis did in Germany in terms of discriminating against Jewish businesses. Frankly, every candidate has expressed opposition to it, although some better than others. Trump coming out strongly against BDS and making the executive order that categorizes Jews as a nationality was fabulous. Moving the embassy to Jerusalem was also hugely popular. I thought it was great. Trump’s a despicable person who does really good things for Israel and Jews.