On 27 October, we marked one year since the worst antisemitic attack in American history, when a white nationalist walked into the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh and murdered 11 people and injured six others. He acted on a twisted belief that Jews were part of a nefarious plot to undermine white America -- a plot to assist in the "invasion" of the United States by a caravan of migrants from Latin America. This vicious lie about an "invasion" had been repeated endlessly in right-wing media, on Fox News, across the internet and, most disgracefully, by the president of the United States.
Yes, Donald Trump's own words helped to inspire the worst act of antisemitic violence in American history.
The threat of antisemitism is not some abstract idea to me. It is very personal. It destroyed a large part of my family. I am not someone who spends a lot of time talking about my personal background because I believe political leaders should focus their attention on a vision and agenda for others, rather than themselves. But I also appreciate that it's important to talk about how our backgrounds have informed our ideas, our principles and our values. I am a proud Jewish American. My father emigrated from Poland to the United States in 1921 at the age of 17 to escape the poverty and widespread antisemitism of his home country. Those in his family who remained in Poland after Hitler came to power were murdered by the Nazis. I know very well where white supremacist politics leads, and what can happen when people do not speak up against it.
Antisemitism is rising in this country. According to the FBI, hate crimes against Jews rose by more than a third in 2017 and accounted for 58% of all religion-based hate crimes in America. A total of 938 hate crimes were committed against Jews in 2017, up from 684 in 2016. Just last week, on 4 November, we learned that federal authorities had arrested a man in Colorado they believe was involved in a plot to bomb one of the state's oldest synagogues.
This wave of violence is the result of a dangerous political ideology that targets Jews and anyone who does not fit a narrow vision of a whites-only America. We have to be clear that while antisemitism is a threat to Jews everywhere, it is also a threat to democratic governance itself. The antisemites who marched in Charlottesville don't just hate Jews. They hate the idea of multiracial democracy. They hate the idea of political equality. They hate immigrants, people of color, LGBTQ people, women, and anyone else who stands in the way of a whites-only America. They accuse Jews of coordinating a massive attack on white people worldwide, using people of color and other marginalized groups to do their dirty work.
This is the conspiracy theory that drove the Pittsburgh murderer that Jews are conspiring to bring immigrants into the country to "replace" Americans. And it is important to understand that that is what antisemitism is: a conspiracy theory that a secretly powerful minority exercises control over society.
Like other forms of bigotry racism, sexism, homophobia -- antisemitism is used by the right to divide people from one another and prevent us from fighting together for a shared future of equality, peace, prosperity and environmental justice.
Opposing antisemitism is a core value of progressivism. So it's very troubling to me that we are also seeing accusations of antisemitism used as a cynical political weapon against progressives. One of the most dangerous things Trump has done is divide Americans by using false allegations of antisemitism, mostly regarding the US-Israel relationship. We should be very clear that it is not antisemitic to criticize the policies of the Israeli government.
I have a connection to Israel going back many years. In 1963, I lived on a kibbutz near Haifa. It was there that I saw and experienced for myself many of the progressive values upon which Israel was founded. I think it is very important for everyone, but particularly for progressives, to acknowledge the enormous achievement of establishing a democratic homeland for the Jewish people after centuries of displacement and persecution.
Bernie Sanders is the independent U.S. Senator from Vermont. He is the longest serving independent member of Congress in American history. He is a member of the Senate's Budget, Veterans, Environment, Energy, and H.E.L.P. (Health, Education, (more...)