The former head of the Anti-Defamation League has bluntly addressed the conflicting emotions within the U.S. Jewish community over President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel policies on the one hand and his administration’s harsh treatment of undocumented migrants attempting to enter America on the other.
Gratitude to Trump for his administration’s stalwart support of Israel “shouldn’t vitiate or excuse behavior contrary to our traditions, our values and our history,” Abraham Foxman, now the ADL’s national director emeritus and the head of an antisemitism study program at the Museum of Jewish Heritage — A Living Memorial to the Holocaust in New York, told The Algemeiner on Wednesday.
Foxman spoke amid an increasingly rancorous public row over the more than 2,000 migrant children separated from their parents by U.S. authorities since the introduction of a “zero tolerance” policy along the southern border in April. He emphasized that the widespread discomfort within the Jewish community over the Trump’s administration’s domestic policies well predated the present controversy.
“Charlottesville is still a very serious issue within our community, and I still hope the president will wake up one morning and say, ‘There are no good Nazis, period,’” Foxman said, referring to the August 2017 show of force by white supremacists in aVirginia college town. On that occasion, Trump visibly avoided condemnation of the Ku Klux Klan and the neo-Nazi groups who stoked the violence, blaming “all sides” for the clashes that resulted in the death of a counter-protester.
The policy of separating children — who stay for an average of two months in government detention centers, NBC reported on Wednesday — profoundly disturbed the Jewish community’s own sense of well-being, Foxman observed.
“It goes deeper: The security of the Jewish people depends on a strong and respected and credible United States of America,” he said. “When America’s image is being hurt as a leader of democracy, of values, of loyalty and support for our friends and allies, it will impact the Jewish sense of security and well-being, because we are so tied to the success of American democracy.”
Trump’s demonstrative support for Israel — on display again on Tuesday when the US announced that it was leaving the UN Human Rights Council, citing the body’s “obsessive” focus on condemning the Jewish state — “make this dichotomy that much more difficult,” Foxman said.
“In so many ways, he has acted with what some would call an embrace of Israel,” Foxman said of Trump. “And that runs counter to the Obama years, when Israel was not treated properly. So there is this comfort level.”
Nonetheless, he urged American Jews not to hold back on their criticisms. “When we are dismayed by certain policies that are contrary to our values, we should stand up and say so, while expressing gratitude at the same time for the support of Israel,” Foxman said.
Foxman also warned against the appropriation of Holocaust imagery as a tool to bash the administration’s child separation policy.
“I was a child separated from my parents, I understand,” Foxman — who survived the Nazi Holocaust in the care of his Polish Catholic nanny — remarked. “This policy is terrible, evil and immoral, but you don’t resolve it by calling the president a Nazi, or saying ‘This is Auschwitz,’” — a reference to a tweet by former CIA Director Michael Hayden, now a CNN pundit, that displayed a photo of the notorious Nazi slave labor and extermination camp.
He recalled that the late Elie Wiesel had spoken of being more concerned “by the trivialization of the Holocaust than its denial.” The recent comment by Attorney General Jeff Sessions that the US detention centers were not comparable to Nazi concentration camps because the Nazis “were keeping the Jews from leaving” demeaned the Holocaust “to such an extent that it’s scary,” Foxman said.
“We have to be careful not to compare and trivialize the Holocaust,” Foxman said. While the images at the US border “trigger difficult memories and emotions,” the Nazi extermination of six million Jews, including 1.5 million children, was an event of far greater magnitude, he emphasized.
Foxman counseled against adopting overly partisan positions on the issue of the separated children. “With all of this emotional zig zag, we have to avoid being dragged into a political fight,” he stated. “Both sides are continually using this disagreement for political purposes. We have to steer clear of that and not be sucked in.”
Several Jewish organizations known for their praise of Trump’s stances on Israel also joined the criticism of the “zero tolerance” policy on Wednesday. In a statement, the Simon Wiesenthal Center — whose dean, Rabbi Marvin Hier, delivered a benediction at Trump’s inauguration in January 2017 — declared that “no matter what the divisions are over immigration policies, it is unacceptable to separate little children from their parents.”
“That isn’t what America stands for,” Hier and associate dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper stated. “Those are not our values. We urge immediate steps to ameliorate this situation and for the administration and congress to finally take the necessary steps to end this problem long-range.”
The American Jewish Committee issued a similar call, underlining that “AJC supports border security, but believes America is better than this.”
“A society that upholds family values, and recognizes the contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to American life, must find a better way to secure the border,” an AJC statement said on Wednesday.
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