At a time anti-Semitism is spiking in the U.S., Donald Trump has become the first American president since the fall of Communism in 1989 not to visit the Monument to the Heroes of the Warsaw Ghetto while in Poland – the first U.S. president to fail to do so.
“We deeply regret that President Donald Trump though speaking in public barely a mile away from the monument, chose to break with the laudable tradition,” the leaders of the Jewish Community of Warsaw said today.
Trump failure to pay a visit to the memorial comes at a time anti-Semitic incidents are rapidly rising in the U.S. and his administration has repeatedly clashed with Jewish groups in the United States, including the Anne Frank Center for Mutual Respect.
At the same time, the Trump administration employs people widely believed to be anti-Semites, including his chief strategist Steve Bannon, a controversial alt-right figure who has been connected to white supremacists, and Sebastian Gorka, who has been linked to neo-Nazi organizations in his native Hungary.
Even some of those around him who are not known to be anti-Semitic, like his press secretary Sean Spicer, have been caught up in controversies. Spicer at one point referred to concentration camps as “Holocaust centers,” and suggested that Hitler didn’t use chemical weapons to exterminate people.
In January, when Trump put out a statement on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, it failed to acknowledge Jews were the main people who were slaughtered there by the Nazis.
Trump did become the first sitting president to visit Israel earlier this year but was criticized on that visit for spending a brief 15 minutes at a Holocaust Memorial, compared to Bush and Obama who spent an hour touring and then spoke movingly about the tragedy.
Trump’s daughter Ivanka, who converted to Judaism when she married Jared Kushner and now practices Orthodox Judaism, did visit the memorial in Warsaw today, but even that was seen as a slight since the president didn’t personally appear.
Under Trump, white nationalists and other groups with a long history of anti-Semitism have become empowered by an administration that has systematically backed off the enforcement of civil rights, including closing offices dedicated to protecting Jewish Americans in the Justice and State Departments.
Since Trump has been campaigning, and particularly since he became president, there has been a huge spike in anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. according to the Anti-Defamation League.
Anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. were up by more than one-third in 2016 – when they were up 34 percent over 2015 – and have soared by 86 percent year over year in the first quarter of 2017, according to the ADL.
“There has been a massive increase in the amount of harassment of American Jews,” reports the ADL, “particularly since November, and a doubling of the amount of anti-Semitic bullying and vandalism at non-denominational K-12 grade schools.”
The surge was fueled by Trump and the 2016 election. “For example, reports the ADL, “in Denver, graffiti posted May 2016 said, “Kill The Jews, Vote Trump.” In November, a St. Petersburg, Florida man was accosted by someone who told him, ‘Trump is going to finish what Hitler started.’”
Trump has been personally involved with the use of anti-Semitic tropes. At a Republican Jewish Coalition event last year, he said Jews would not support him because “I don’t want your money.”
Just a year ago during his campaign, Trump tweeted out an anti-Hillary Clinton meme that incorporated a Jewish star, which was widely seen as anti-Semitic, although Trump’s campaign denied it.
This past week, Trump re-tweeted a video as part of his anti-media campaign showing him wrestling someone whose head was replaced by a CNN logo. The original author of the video was found to be a man with a long history of anti-Semitism in the things he says and puts online.
The memorial to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943 has special meaning because it involved the largest Jewish community in Eastern Europe at the time and eventually involved the death of about three million Jews.
In the Warsaw Ghetto, 750 Jewish residents refused to give up when the Nazis came to take them to concentration camps. Up against a superior military force, lacking arms and food, these brave souls held out for a month before being murdered.
The handful of remaining Jews in Poland have tried to rebuild their community but it has been difficult, especially with the emergence of the current authoritarian government which many believe is run by people who had tied to the Nazis during World War II and did much of their dirty work against the Jews.
Trump has shown an affection for dictators and the government in Poland has evolved to be very much like a dictatorship, taking over all power, severely controlling the once free press and curbing the rights of women and minorities, among others.
Trump did mention the Warsaw Ghetto uprising and the plight of Poland’s Jews during the war in his speech today but still managed to slight Jews.
“Trump mentioned…Polish victims of the nation’s bloody history but elegantly avoided the unpleasant stories of the Jewish victims of those same Polish victims,” wrote the Israeli newspaper Haaretz today in coverage of Trump’s visit, suggesting such statements “wouldn’t have been in line with his signature flattering and obsequious speeches, like the one he gave in Warsaw, in order to please his hosts.”
Blacks, Latinos, Muslims and other minorities have all been slighted by Trump and seen their civil rights eroded, and the Jews have been very much a part of this terrible turn by America’s elected leader.
Trump seems to only respect other authoritarians, other very rich people and those who are loyal to him, even when truth and the facts get in the way of his tenuous hold on reality, as millions of American Jews have learned.