At a public school in Brooklyn this week, a kindergarten student walked up to a classmate during recess and, referring to an African-American teacher, said: “Donald Trump is going to kill him.”
That shocking comment is just one of hundreds of hate comments, slurs, death threats and graffiti aimed at minorities that have been heard nationwide in the week since Trump’s election as president, and many have been reported.
“I have headed the New York office of the Anti-Defamation League for the last three years and I don’t remember such an uptick in incidents over a four- or five-day period,” Evan Bernstein told The Jewish Week.
“What is not making the news or Facebook or Twitter is the number of students targeted because of race or religion,” he said. “We have received numerous calls about bullying and hate speech. I have met with community leaders who have shared that their phones are ringing off the hooks. It is happening at the student level and we are hearing it from constituents and our donors and community partners. The biggest challenge is that students don’t want to report it because speaking out is hard to do.”
Asked if the attacks were triggered by the election, Bernstein said: “We have had reports from Hispanic students who were told by other students that they were going to build a wall so they would not be able to get to their locker or to school. And there has been traditional hate speech. … People are feeling emboldened [by the election] to do this.”
One week after the election, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported receiving 435 incidents of hateful harassment or intimidation, none of which have been independently confirmed. In April, the group issued a report that found the divisive rhetoric in the primary campaign had a “profoundly negative effect on children and classrooms.”
Among the documented anti-Semitic incidents since the election were reports that a baseball dugout in upstate Wellsville was spray-painted with a swastika and the message “Make America white again”; a swastika replacing the “T” in Trump appeared on a storefront in Philadelphia along with “Sieg Heil 2016”; a swastika was spray-painted on a street in Crown Heights; a large swastika and the words “white power” were discovered spray-painted on a walkway and across a wall in White Plains; and students at The New School in Manhattan awoke Nov. 12 to find swastikas scrawled on their dorm room doors just one day after a swastika and the word “Trump” were discovered in the common area of a dorm on the SUNY Geneseo campus in upstate New York.
In addition, actress Emmy Rossum, star of the television show “Shameless” and whose mother is Jewish, tweeted on Sunday morning, “Trump supporters are sending me messages threatening to send me & my ‘ilk’ to the gas chambers & writing hashtags like ‘#sieg hiel’. NOT OK.”
She said someone also tweeted a photo that resembled the Auschwitz concentration camp and had Trump’s name on either side of the main guard post.
Rabbi Joseph Potasnik, president of the New York Board of Rabbis, said some of the hate attacks are coming from those who claim to be pro-Trump.
“It is incumbent upon a leader to make it known that this is contrary to his beliefs, that he condemns them and clearly separates himself from those who espouse those things,” he said. “Anytime there is a manifestation of anti-Muslim or anti-Jewish or anti-black … our elected officials, including the president, should stand together in their repudiation of this. Hatemongers on the left and right need to know they cannot find any support from elected officials.
“Given these developments,” the rabbi added, “it is incumbent that we should have a serious, candid sit-down with members of the Trump administration’s inner circle.”
Trump in a “60 Minutes” interview televised last Sunday said he was “very surprised to hear” about this spate of attacks and threats.
“I hate to hear that, I mean I hate to hear that,” he said.
Asked if he wanted to say anything to the perpetrators, Trump replied: “I would say don’t do it, that’s terrible, ’cause I’m gonna bring this country together … And I say: Stop it. If it, if it helps I will say this, and I will say right to the cameras: Stop it.”
But Rabbi Howard Buechler, spiritual leader of the Dix Hills (L.I.) Jewish Center, called on Trump to go one step further and “repudiate” the “language of insensitivity and intolerance and scorn — the bigotry — that he trafficked in during the campaign.”
“For trust to be built and to alleviate the real fears of those whom President-elect Trump derisively targeted, the President-elect ought to candidly address these issues,” he said. “Imagine if on Veterans Day he would have tweeted that I, President-elect Trump, apologize for questioning the heroism and patriotism of John McCain and gold star family [Khizr] Khan. His words could change our world with healing, respect and trust.”
Trump’s election campaign was repeatedly criticized for its connections — whether intentional or not — to anti-Semitism, including an ad the ADL and others attacked for using alleged anti-Semitic code words and images reminiscent of the Holocaust era. The Trump campaign rejected the charges.
Heidi Beirich, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project that tracks hate groups, described the incidents since the election as “Trump inspired.”
“After Brexit [the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union] there was a rash of hate directed at Muslims and people of color,” she said. “Here it is caused by Trump’s xenophobic [rhetoric]. This is basically street action and it’s scary. Muslims across the country are expressing great fear. The [neo-Nazi and white supremacist] website the Daily Stormer directed followers to scream at Muslims.”
Beirich in a phone interview last Friday noted that her organization has asked Trump to issue a statement to “heal the wounds that divide the nation. He is responsible for the divisiveness and we expect him to stop it and to disavow neo-Nazis. It’s the least he could do. We are going to do everything we can not to allow racism, xenophobia, anti-Semitism and all forms of hate to define our future.”
Rabbi James Rudin, senior inter-religious advisor for the AJC, said the spate of hate incidents since the election stem from “people feeling emboldened now — the lid of the garbage can has been removed and out has come lots of garbage that is toxic. The administration has to move to stop it — not just the national administration but state and local as well.”
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, puts part of the blame for the attacks on Twitter, the social media giant that he said has not heeded his center’s request to “go after hate.”
“It is the sophisticated bigot who came to understand that Twitter is wide open to him,” he said. “They can say anything they want and to anyone they want and not be held accountable.”
He suggested that hate attacks may be “inspired by online activity because more and more of what happens on social media does not stay there.”
Adding fuel to the controversy surrounding Trump was his appointment this week of Steve Bannon to serve as his chief counsel and strategist. Bannon previously headed a website that critics said promoted the alt-right movement favored by white supremacists and anti-Semites.
Rabbi Jill Jacobs, executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, decried the selection, saying Bannon has a “reputation for being anti-Semitic, racist, Islamophobic and sexist. Who you choose as your friends and advisors is extremely telling about who you are.”
Similar criticism was voiced by Susie Gelman, chair of the Israel Policy Forum, who said that if Bannon’s selection is “any indication, American Jews have much cause for concern beyond only trying to divine President-elect Trump’s approach to Israel. The ugly anti-Semitism that was unleashed during the campaign has been even more apparent since the election, and we share in the deep concern so many have about President-elect Trump’s decision to promote someone who has purveyed ugly and divisive rhetoric to one of the top positions in the White House.”
But Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America, said he spoke with observant Jews who have worked with Bannon and was told he is not anti-Semitic and is “extraordinarily pro-Israel.”
“Jared Kushner [Trump’s son-in-law who is an Orthodox Jew] would never permit an anti-Semite to get this position,” Klein said.
In the wake of the controversy, Bannon has accepted an invitation to attend the ZOA’s annual dinner here Sunday evening.