As the nation navigates the unexpected twists and turns of the presidential primary contest, the third installment of the Jewish Political Voices Project (JPVP) explores a topic that concerns all Jewish voters regardless of their political leanings: the rise of anti-Semitism in this country, what’s causing it and how our political leaders should respond.
Reports of anti-Semitic incidents in the United States have reached historic levels. Rates of anti-Semitic hate crimes in the country’s three largest cities—New York, Los Angeles and Chicago—are the worst in 18 years, according to a new report by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino. New York City alone saw a 30 percent jump in anti-Semitic incidents in 2019. It’s no surprise that virtually all of our voters say they are concerned about the problem and its effect on their families and communities. Democratic Michigan voter Ariana Mentzel, 34, the mother of two young children, says she is so concerned that she sometimes feels guilty “for having children in this cruel world. It makes me worry about what kind of future they’re going to live in.”
But when asked who or what is to blame and how anti-Semitism should be addressed, our voters diverge in sometimes surprising ways and not always along party lines. Every Democrat says President Donald Trump’s rhetoric has fueled white nationalism and the increase in violent anti-Semitic incidents. “Trump’s white nationalist allies see him as one of them, which validates and legitimizes their ugly anti-Semitic, racist views,” says Lavea Brachman, 56, a voter from Ohio. Wisconsin voter Eliot Strickon says the rise in anti-Semitism parallels Trump’s rise. “This started happening as soon as Trump was nominated. Certainly, by the time he was sworn in, there was this dramatic rise in anti-Semitism.”
However, even many Democrats also place blame on elements of the far left, including supporters of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement against Israel. “I think the BDS movement is as anti-Semitic as the marchers in Charlottesville,” says Democrat Shelley Berkley, 68, a former member of Congress from Las Vegas, referring to the 2017 Unite the Right march in Virginia. “It needs to be condemned by Democrats, just like white nationalist organizations should be condemned and not tolerated by the Republicans.”
Concerns about anti-Semitism affect candidate choices, especially for Republicans, most of whom praise Trump’s support of Israel and say they see little connection between Trump’s statements and the rise in anti-Semitism. Mark Goldhaber, 67, of North Carolina says that while he doesn’t like many of the president’s tweets, he approves of his actions, including “targeting anti-Semitic speech on campuses” through his controversial executive order in late 2019 that extends civil rights protections to Jews by defining Judaism as a race or national origin. Bud Hockenberg, 92, of Iowa says the idea that Trump “suddenly created or influenced or accelerated” anti-Semitism is “just mythology.”
Check out the latest interviews with our voters on this website to read more about their views on anti-Semitism and the presidential election.