Lola in The New Statesman: The rise of anti-semitism in Trump’s America



Anti-Semitism is once again on the rise in America. Since January alone, there have been 67 bomb threats against Jewish Community Centres in around 27 states around the country. On Monday, a Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri was desecrated, with over 100 headstones overturned. There has been a large increase in online anti-Semitic threats and hate speechSwastikas have been spray painted on the streets of New York.

[Originally published in the New Statesman]

Trump’s poorly-executed “Muslim Ban” has closed the United States to people from seven majority-Muslim countries, including refugees from Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Somalia. But the divisive “them” and “us” rhetoric of the White House has had repercussions for other groups as well. 
Jewish people have not explicitly been the focus of any kind of executive order (after complaints about his lack of action, Trump called anti-Semitism “horrible”). Nevertheless, the new administrations appears to be implicitly pandering to anti-Jewish sentiment.
Take, for example, the official White House tribute issued on Holocaust Memorial Day in January. It failed to directly mention Jewish people at all. Jewish groups, including those representing Republicans, criticised the omission. Trump’s chief of staff Reince Priebus defended the statement, saying: “I mean, everyone’s suffering in the Holocaust, including, obviously, all of the Jewish people.”
Superficially, one could attribute this to ignorance. But how politicians phrase their words matters. It is a common tendency of anti-Semites to play down, ignore or reject the idea that the Holocaust was targeted at Jews. It is hard to believe that no one within the White House would have been aware of the kind of dog whistle this omission sent to the extreme right. 
That White House staff includes Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, who was the executive chairman of Breitbart, viewed widely as the online news outlet of the “alt right”.
Timing also matters. The decision to shut US doors to Syrian and and Iraqi refugees was announced on Holocaust Memorial Day. The irony of an order singling people out for their faith wasn’t lost on Jewish groups, who know all too well how many German Jews fleeing the Nazis were turned away from other shores. 

Trump’s response time sent a message too. When a Hasidic Jewish reporter asked Trump about the growing anti-Semitism at his press conference on 16 February, he responded as if it was a personal attack, calling the question “very insulting” and telling him to sit down. Despite tweeting vociferously about Saturday Night Live and his daughter’s clothing line being dropped by a department store, Trump only managed to issue a statement condemning anti-Semitism on Tuesday.
David Samuels is a prominent Jewish writer living in Brooklyn, New York. He told me: “American Jews are threatened by rising anti-Semitism on both the right and left, which FBI statistics show to be more serious and more deadly than any animus directed towards Muslims or any other religious group.
“I feel sad that this is now my country, not because I am Jewish but because anti-Semitism is a degenerative thought-virus that makes people crazy by promising to explain everything that happens in the world with reference to a single prime mover – the Jews.
“Because anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory, and not a form of social prejudice, it is fatal to rational thinking, in a way that simple racial or religious prejudice – including prejudice against Jews – is not.”
Whatever the intentions of the Trump administration, the reaction in the country at large shows it is playing with fire. Americans must hope that Trump, who has three Jewish grandchildren, will come to his senses and rid his support base of any who seek to use the presidency to infect the country with their diabolical ideology.

Stay Woke: Brands get political in the Trump era


It was with anticipation that I tuned in, along with 111.3 million other people, on Sunday night, to watch the Super Bowl. I don’t fully understand American football to be honest, but I’ve always enjoyed a good Super Bowl party.


This game, however, wasn’t just your average Super Bowl. Not just because of the Patriots’ comeback from being 25 points down in the third quarter to finally – and unexpectedly – beating the Atlanta Falcons by 34 – 28 in an historic overtime play, but due to the striking politicization of the game itself, from the commercials to the reactions of fans and players alike.


Brands took the current political climate in hand, placing politics at the heart of their commercials, with themes such as integration, inclusion, diversity and immigration – all, of course, major issues which have dominated and divided America since Donald Trump was inaugurated nearly three weeks ago – tackled openly (and often beautifully) from companies like Anheuser-Busch, Air BnB and Coca-Cola.


Instead of conforming to conventional advertising wisdom to stay out of politics – especially at an event that is as widely watched and beloved as the Super Bowl – brands went to some lengths to clarify their values and to ensure that viewers were left in little doubt as to which side of the political aisle they are on.


No doubt there is an economic reason for this commercialized political activism, but it is always risky for any brand to delve into sensitive social and political topics. With 24% of the Super Bowl broadcast itself being dedicated to commercials, however, it was clearly not lost on advertisers that they could use their spots to say a lot more than just “buy our beer”. Influencing through soft power and culture will become even more prevalent over the course of this political term.


Then there were the fans. It is one thing for fans to be divided because they support opposing teams, but, again, things are different right now. Now, even your average fan is unable to ignore what’s going on politically.


With the Patriot’s MVP Tom Brady and owner Robert Kraft being friends and supporters of Trump, supporting the Patriots took on a different meaning for some on Sunday; there were more than a few conflicted Patriots fans showing up in my social media timeline who felt that their support was betraying their political ideals, making them Trump supporters by association. One Boston based entrepreneur (a Patriot’s fan), for example, even offered to donate “$100 for every retweet up to $50,000 “as penance for Patriots politics” to the American Civil Liberties Union, the organization currently fighting Trump’s immigration ban in the courts.


Other people saw the Patriot’s unexpected and last minute win as a metaphor for Trump’s electoral victory over Hillary Clinton in the election. In other words, with all that’s going on – and uncertainty about what’s to come – people of all stripes are increasingly seeing what might usually be considered mundane through energized, political eyes.


Although Trump campaigned along the lines of being less political than the average politician, he has actually injected politics into the American everyday in a way that I certainly have not witnessed over the previous 8 years. Those who before may have said: “let sports be sports” are now asking “what are that football player’s/musicians/advertisers/magazine’s beliefs, and do they align with mine?” before making decisions.


On one hand, this is demonstrative of the overreach of the kind of politics that’s currently coming out of the White House. On the plus side, however, it is great to see so many more people participating in and engaging in politics and thinking about the impact of politics on everyday lives and actions. Right now, more than ever, America needs it.