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Since Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York), known as “AOC” arrived on the contemporary American political scene with her Democratic primary election victory in 2018, nobody has more forcefully and passionately than I denounced the vile anti-Semitism and the anti-Israel propaganda she propounds. The same holds true for her cohorts who desire the destruction of the State of Israel, Congresswomen Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan).
I have denounced all three of these women vehemently in both my columns and social media. In the case of AOC, I continue to advocate a House of Representatives vote of censure of her for her defamatory allegation of racism against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
These three women, together with Democratic Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts are known as “the Squad.” Yet it must be emphasized that Ayanna Pressley, while a Progressive Democratic woman with whom I disagree on many domestic issues, has not at all been supportive of the hate-Israel politics of AOC, Omar, and Tlaib.
In fact, Congresswoman Pressley is a profoundly good and decent person who enjoys an excellent relationship with the Boston Jewish community and opposes the pro-Arab Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS), the goal of which is to destroy the economy of the State of Israel. She should, however, publicly disassociate herself from “the Squad”, whose other members, Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib support BDS and peddle filthy lies against the State of Israel.
Yet the damage caused by the destructive anti-Israel efforts of AOC, Omar, and Tlaib is now being magnified by President Donald Trump. He is using the anti-Israel records of AOC, Omar, and Tlaib as a rationale for his racist attacks against these three women of color, featuring his racist trope of “go back to where you came from.”
The Trump attacks on Omar have been particularly reprehensible. He has gone so far as to repeat defamatory rumors that she married her brother. The xenophobic nature of his attacks was typified by his remarks last Friday, “She’s lucky to be where she is, let me tell you,”
At the rally in Greenville, North Carolina last Wednesday night, Trump added Omar’s anti-Israel record to his xenophobic “go back to where you came from” tweets. All these racist and xenophobic attacks on Omar, for which Trump uses her anti-Israel record as a rationale, resulted in the “send her back” white nationalist reaction of the crowd. This outpouring of hatred was reminiscent of Nuremberg. And Trump said and did nothing while the crowd was yelling its ugly xenophobic invective of “send her back.” In fact, he stood on the podium and revelled in the atmosphere of hate.
The American Jewish community, by and large, is appalled by Trump’s attempt to use its sacred support of Israel as a basis for his race war. Race hatred, as I wrote in two InsiderNJ columns last week, is the only way that Trump can be reelected. (https://www.insidernj.com/will-new-jersey-republicans-acquiesce-trump-racism/) (https://www.insidernj.com/trump-2020-reelection-campaign-will-race/) The attacks singling out three Congressional women of color is merely the first episode in Trump’s campaign race war.
Over the past century, the Anti-Defamation League has been the undisputed organizational leader in the fight against antisemitism, not only in America but throughout the world. Its CEO and national director, Jonathan Greenblatt spoke most eloquently for the entire American Jewish community when he condemned Trump’s attempt to use Israel as a component of his race war:
“As Jews, we’re all too familiar with this kind of divisive prejudice. While the ADL has publicly disagreed with these congresswomen on some issues, the president is echoing the racist talking points of white nationalists and cynically using the Jewish people and the state of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks.”
I must note that I am particularly sensitive to Trump’s “go back to where you came from” rhetoric. As a Jew, I was subjected to it as a child of traditional Jewish parents. They kept me out of public school on Jewish holidays, and I would hear from some of my non-Jewish classmates, “why don’t you come back to where you came from?”
Yet what is most troubling is the effect the Trump race war could have on Jewish-African-American relations. It is clear that an essential goal of the Trump race war is to polarize people of color and Jews against each other, in the hope that Jewish voters switch their 2016 support of Hillary to 2020 support of Trump. This cynical Trumpian attempt comes at a time when Jewish-African American relations, after decades of tension appear to be improving markedly.
To get a perspective on this, one should focus on the Borough of Brooklyn. Ironically, Brooklyn was the site of the beginning of Donald Trump’s career as a racist, when the United States Justice Department found in the early 1970s that Trump had attempted to deny African-Americans the opportunity to rent residential apartments from him.
For the Jewish and African-American communities, relations between them basically went through three stages. The first stage began in the early twentieth century and lasted until the end of 1957. That era was characterized by the presence of the late, lamented Brooklyn Dodgers as a unifying factor and by the absolutely passionate and overwhelming support the Jewish community of Brooklyn gave Jackie Robinson in his struggle to integrate Major League Baseball.
This first era of Jewish and African-American brotherhood and sisterhood ended when the Dodgers left Brooklyn for Los Angeles after the 1957 season. The Dodger owner, Walter O’Malley actually did not want to leave Brooklyn but instead wanted to build at his own expense a domed stadium for the Dodgers at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues. Robert Moses, however, who had virtual total control over development projects in New York, blocked O’Malley’s plan, because he had a friendly developer slated to develop public housing at the site. A developer by the name of Fred Trump, who ultimately failed to build anything at that location.
The second stage of Jewish/African-American relations began after the Dodgers left and only came to an end at the beginning of this decade. It was characterized by serious conflict between the two communities, including the Ocean Hill-Brownsville conflict over local control of schools, resulting in a citywide school strike, and the Crown Heights riots of 1991.
The negative state of Jewish/African-American relations in Brooklyn during this era was further inflamed by the antisemitism and virulently anti-Israel advocacy of Jesse Jackson and the repugnant racism of the late Meir Kahane and his Jewish Defense League. Now, however, there has emerged a new African-American leader in Brooklyn who has given more hope than ever to the revival of the once magnificent Jewish/African-American alliance.
He is Democratic Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. A highly successful corporate attorney, he was elected to his seat in the House of Representatives in 2012. He has climbed quickly through the Democratic ranks in the House, currently serving as the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus.
Jeffries has a solid center-left record and has been a strong supporter of Israel. His ascension to power signifies a new era of Jewish-Black cooperation. In my view, the 49-year-old Hakeem Jeffries some day could be an outstanding presidential candidate.
This is a very difficult time for the American Jewish community. The trio of Ocasio-Cortez, Omar, and Tlaib are outright enemies of both the American Jewish community and the State of Israel, and the Trumpian race war and his embrace of white nationalism portends nightmare for American Jewry. In such an atmosphere of despair, for American Jewry, Hakeem Jeffries is a beacon of hope.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.