By Joshua Runyan
“Proud Boys, stand back, and stand by.”
As president of the United States, Donald J. Trump had one job to do: Call out racism and anti-Semitism for what it is and to tell the modern incarnation of the Nazi Party in America that the hatred that they spew has no place in what passes for proper discourse in the greatest nation that the world has ever known.
President Trump failed at that task, the latest in a long string of failures that have plagued 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the rest of this nation since Jan. 20, 2017.
Make no mistake: For all the talk that Republicans give the scourge of racism and anti-Jewish hatred over the past four years, the Grand Old Party, in actuality, cares not about hatred, about ethnic identities, about common decency. The president who gave you “decent people on both sides” when faced with the image of torch-bearing neo-Nazis in Charlottesville is the same president who cannot, when teed up for the easiest putt the Northern hemisphere has ever known, call out hatred for what it is.
“There is blame on both sides!” he fumed, when challenged years ago. And again, when Fox News journalist Chris Wallace invited Trump on Sept. 29 to denounce hatred from the podium of the first presidential debate of the 2020 campaign, the president prevaricated. This is nothing new.
Last month, when the House of Representatives voted on H.R. 2574, the social media world was treated to the headline, “162 Democrats Vote Against Amendment to Protect Jewish Students from Antisemitism at School.” The smear was spread against Democratic politicians. In truth, the vast majority of Democratic congressmen and congresswomen voted against a Republican-backed amendment that would have included “anti-Semitism” as among the types of discrimination prohibited under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
The problem is, the actual story is much more complex, and much more inapposite to the partisan hatchet job that voters, including in the Jewish community, were treated to. With H.R. 2574, the Democratic-led House attempted to create a new private cause of action for discrimination faced in education. Republicans, who by and large opposed the measure, sought to stick it to Democrats, trying to send up an anti-Semitism amendment via a “motion-to-recommit.”
As legislation, the amendment was poorly drafted, neglecting to contain a definition of “anti-Semitism.” But as a necessity, it was suspect, considering that since at least the Obama and second Bush administrations, the Justice Department — who is tasked with enforcing the Civil Rights Act — has always considered anti-Jewish discrimination to be prohibited under Title VI.
Nevertheless, Republicans saw fit to introduce what they later claimed was groundbreaking legislation under a legislative provision that when fronted by a minority party in the House is always defeated by the majority party in power. And that’s what happened: Democrats, including Dean and Wild, voted against the amendment.
But the amendment passed. And the now-amended legislation passed by overwhelming numbers, with Democrats supporting it. Republicans? Joined by the sponsor of the anti-Semitism amendment, 187 other GOP representatives voted against the legislation that they later claimed was a strong statement against
“anti-Semitism in education.”
An equally truthful headline would have been, “188 Republicans Vote Against Legislation to Protect Jewish Students from Antisemitism at School.”
The fact is, if the Republican Party really cared about anti-Semitism, they wouldn’t have empowered their social media minions to smear Democrats.
The fact is, if the White House really cared about racism and hatred, and about uniting this country instead of dividing it, the president wouldn’t have been so timid when invited to denounce the Proud Boys.
As a Jewish American, and, more importantly, as an Orthodox rabbi who has experienced his fair share of anti-Semitism, I care more about the party and the candidate who will actually do something about the hatred that has been the hallmark of the last few years of American life. Time and again, President Trump and the Republican Party have ignored the opportunity to denounce anti-Semitism for what it is, and to commit this country upon a path of understanding and peace.
President Trump has failed at his task, and the Republican leadership in Congress has enabled him. It’s time to transfer the reins of power.
Joshua Runyan is an Orthodox rabbi and former editorial director of Mid-Atlantic Media, which publishes Washington Jewish Week. He is an attorney in Philadelphia.