Now That President Trump Has Denounced Anti-Semitism, What Needs to Happen Next?


February 07, 2019

President Trump’s second State of the Union address included extensive remarks on anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and featured guests who were World War II veterans and Jews freed from concentration camps. One of those survivors also narrowly escaped the October 2018 mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and he was accompanied by a SWAT team officer who sustained seven bullet wounds chasing down the perpetrator of that deadly attack.

We have long said it’s crucial for leaders to condemn anti-Semitism and we appreciate the President’s firm denunciation of anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and the murderous Pittsburgh attack in his SOTU. The President has taken strong first steps in speaking out against anti-Semitism, and now we look to him to take action to combat this age-old hatred, which along with other hatreds is resurgent in the United States. So, what next? The President needs to back his words with actions – and there is much that Congress can do, as well.

Combating Anti-Semitism

For example, earlier this week, we welcomed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s appointment of a U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, a development ADL had long advocated for.

However, this legally mandated “priority” position had been vacant for over two years. Now, the Trump Administration must make up for lost time by ensuring that the new envoy has all of the authority necessary to be as effective as possible. That includes authorizing the new envoy to coordinate the U.S. government’s response to anti-Semitism abroad across all federal agencies, ensuring that he reports directly to Secretary Pompeo, and elevating the position to the rank of ambassador. And the Senate should do its part by passing the Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism Act to codify these changes. The House approved this legislation last month, with support from ADL and a coalition of over 70 Jewish groups, by a resounding margin of 411 to 1.

Fighting Bigotry and Discrimination

ADL’s mission is to “stop the defamation of the Jewish people and secure justice and fair treatment to all.” More than 100 years of anti-bias programming, advocacy, and coalition building has taught us that the best way to safeguard the Jewish community is to address hate and discrimination across the board. 

According to the FBI 2017 Hate Crime Statistics Act, hate crimes in the U.S. jumped 17 percent in 2017, including a 16 percent increase in hate crimes against African-Americans, a 24 percent increase in hate crimes against Latinos, and a 5 percent rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ people. Hate crimes against Jews increased by 37 percent, hate crimes against Arab Americans doubled, and crimes against Muslims were third highest since the FBI began collecting this data in 1990.

How can we change the equation so the numbers turn down instead of up?  Here’s a series of policy recommendations and actions leaders can take now to reverse the trendlines:

  • Public officials and civic leaders – from mayors to the president -- and law enforcement authorities should use their bully pulpit to speak out consistently and forcefully against anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and extremism.
  • Recognizing that far-right extremism is a major threat of this new era, the United States Congress should closely examine existing laws on domestic terrorism – and ensure that the executive branch is tracking and focused on domestic terrorism through legislation like the Domestic Terrorism Prevention Act. 
  • Congress should combat attempts to delegitimize the State of Israel as the Jewish State, including attempts to undermine it economically. This should include support of constitutionally sound anti-boycott legislation.
  • Congress should pass the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, legislation designed to help the Department of Education and Department of Justice effectively determine whether an investigation of an incident of anti-Semitism is warranted under their statutory anti-discrimination enforcement authority.
  • Congress should pass legislation designed to promote education about the universal lessons of the Holocaust, such as the bipartisan Never Again Education Act – because learning about the Holocaust and lessons of unchecked anti-Semitism and racism is one of the best ways to fight prejudice and discrimination, and help ensure that genocide and such atrocities never happen again.
  • Congress should help resist the efforts – by some in the administration and some outside groups – to redefine religious liberty from a shield against discrimination into a sword to thwart anti-discrimination protections for religious minorities, women and LGBTQ communities. 

Welcoming the Stranger

While the President elevated Holocaust survivors and liberators, it’s important to also acknowledge the tragic World War II American policy of closing its doors to refugees. The story of the St. Louis is the clearest symbol of this policy. The ship that carried more than 937 passengers, primarily Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis, was turned away from the United States and returned to Europe where 254 of its passengers were killed in the Holocaust.

Even as the world faces the greatest refugee crisis in history, the caps on the number of refugees the United States accepts continues to fall to historically low levels (only 30,000 in FY19). And many of those most in need of resettlement cannot even come to the United States because of the continued implementation of the Muslim Ban, which blocks entry to most people from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen, and North Korea.

Some next steps:

  • Comprehensive immigration reform that provides a pathway to citizenship for the more than 11 million undocumented individuals currently residing in the U.S.;
  • In the meantime, a path to citizenship for DREAMers and codification of protections for recipients of Temporary Protected Status;
  • The President’s Muslim Ban should be repealed – and the United States must remain a refuge for those seeking asylum, abiding by our domestic and international commitments to refugees and asylum seekers;

Voting Rights

Speaking in front of dozens of women Members of Congress dressed in white, in honor of the Suffragette movement, the President referenced the fact that, later this year, we will celebrate the 100th anniversary of congressional approval of the 19th Amendment, which granted women the right to vote

Stacey Abrams, in the Democratic response to the State of the Union, highlighted “the bedrock guarantee of our right to vote.”

"Let’s be clear: voter suppression is real. From making it harder to register and stay on the rolls to moving and closing polling places to rejecting lawful ballots, we can no longer ignore these threats to democracy," she said.

We agree. Another top priority for ADL in the 116th Congress will be working in coalition with other groups to advance legislation to restore the full force of the Voting Rights Act, which was so deeply damaged after the Supreme Court’s 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder.

ADL will be working to promote gender equality in the workplace. And we will be part of the broad coalition working to repeal the blatantly discriminatory ban on transgender service members in the military and in support of the Equality Act, necessary legislation that would to amend Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to comprehensively prohibit discrimination against LGBTQ communities.