sounding the alarm

Steve Israel ‘worried’ that antisemitism will continue to rise ahead of election

The former New York congressman called on the White House to speak out against antisemitism



Former Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY)

Former Rep. Steve Israel on Wednesday called the displaying of swastikas and Nazi slogans at recent anti-lockdown rallies a “sobering moment” for American Jews and expressed concern that the country will see a further increase in antisemitic incidents ahead of November’s general election. 

“Incidents are at an all-time high. There are many reasons to explain it. But the one that kills me the most is a political environment where antisemitism is displayed openly,” Israel said in an interview with Jewish Insider. “We’ve always had antisemitism in America, but it lurked in very dark corners. Now the antisemites parade in the streets… When people believe that they have license to display a swastika flag on the street without being punished, they go on to believe that they can engage in assaults.” 

State of affairs: In an op-ed published Wednesday in The Hill, Israel wrote that he’s “worried” about the well-being of Jews in the U.S., pointing to an annual report published earlier this week by the Anti-Defamation League that showed a 12% surge in antisemitic incidents and a 56% increase in violent attacks — and more total incidents than in any prior year since the organization began tracking decades ago. 

2020 watch: The former congressman suggested that antisemitism will be an “important issue” in the November election “because of the president’s continued unwillingness to condemn” fringe right-wing elements of his party, pointing specifically to President Donald Trump’s response to the neo-Nazi protests in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017. Israel noted that former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, has spoken at length about the protests, even referencing them when he announced his candidacy last spring. “We have been in a hot and polarized political environment throughout the Trump administration. Going into the presidential election, it is only going to make that environment even hotter and more polarized,” Israel told JI. “And I worry whether overt antisemitism is going to be tied into that climate. I think, first and foremost, the president of the United States has an obligation to categorically and explicitly state that antisemitic tropes have no place in America, and that antisemites are not fine people.” 

Equivocation: Israel argued that Trump supporters are “equivocating” the president’s stance on antisemitism by pointing to his pro-Israel record. “But what solace is having a commander-in-chief who believes he is protecting the State of Israel while in charge during the increasingly dangerous state of the Jews in America today?” he asked in the op-ed. 

Rebuttal: Former Sen. Norm Coleman (R-MN), national chair of the Republican Jewish Coalition, noted in an email that Trump has taken “bold steps” to fight the global plague of antisemitism. “He has recognized that hatred and violence against Israel is antisemitism in disguise, and he has stood up for Jewish college students facing discrimination by [executive order]. By his deeds, President Trump has stood tall against antisemitism,” Coleman told JI. “And yes, it’s not equivocal — but merely a statement of fact — that President Trump has been the strongest supporter of Israel to ever occupy the Oval Office. Ask almost any Israeli and they will confirm that.”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.