My son couldn’t sleep last week. He tossed and turned in his bed while I rubbed his back and hummed softly. All afternoon he’d had that look in his eyes, the far away, restless look that usually means something is agitating his soul.
After a few moments, he pushed my hand off his back and sat up straight.
“Why does the president hate Jews?”
His question took me aback. Although I do discuss current events with my kids, I’m careful not to dwell on things that might scare them. I’d only mentioned the bomb threats on Jewish institutions briefly, after he’d heard about it from a friend in Hebrew School.
I looked at his big scared eyes and stumbled through some sort of answer about how the president doesn’t hate Jews and how we will always make sure my son is safe.
My answer seemed to appease him enough that he fell asleep a few minutes later. But, I was wide awake. Does the president hate Jews? The idea seemed ludicrous. After all, he has continuously expressed his support for Israel and, of course, his own daughter and grandchildren are Observant Jews.
And yet… he chastised a Jewish reporter for asking him questions about antisemitism that are “unfair” and he’s remained largely silent about the bomb threats against JCC’s and the vandalization of Jewish gravesites and he’s insinuated that maybe it isn’t antisemitism, but “the reverse”… whatever that means.
I’d heard that the president was going to say something reassuring to the Jewish community in his congressional address. Perhaps his speech would give me something more concrete to reassure my son, to reassure myself.
He began with a statement that was clearly meant to make the Jewish community feel better:
“Recent threats targeting Jewish community centers and vandalism of Jewish cemeteries, as well as last week’s shooting in Kansas City, remind us that while we may be a nation divided on policies, we are a country that stands united in condemning hate and evil in all of its very ugly forms.”
For a moment, I actually felt some relief. Finally, he was calling this out for what it was…. Hate against Jews. His statement played in the back of my head as he continued on with other issues of crime and health care. The more I thought about what he’d said about the hate in America, the more questions I had. How are we a nation that stands united in condemning hate in all of its forms? What has this administration done to curb the hate against Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people, African Americans, Mexicans, Jews?
I got my answer near the end of his speech.
After a good deal of talk about crumbling infrastructure, rampant crime, raging drug problems and vague bravado about the triumphant America he will bring us, the president introduced three families. Each of these families had tragically lost a loved one to murder committed by an illegal immigrant.
He used their stories to talk about a new program he is introducing called VOICE. The purpose of this program is to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by “aliens,” which seems to include all immigrants, not just ones here illegally.
This initiative seems to be the president’s way of “uniting” Americans in condemning hate. The problem is.. it’s not hate that we are condemning. Because, if we were, there would be organizations being formed to deal with white supremacy, with mass incarceration based on race, with bomb threats against Jews and death threats towards Muslims. By targeting immigrants (who most research says are actually less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans) the president is perpetuating this threat of the “other,” which, as Jews and first generation Americans, my family is very much a part of.
So… does the president hate Jews? Does he hate immigrants? Or is he just saying whatever he needs to say to appease his advisors and followers? I’m not sure it matters.
What does matter is that he stop using hatred of any group as a political tool so that no kids have to go sleep at night wondering if they are safe in this country.