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Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder of Los Angeles’ Simon Wiesenthal Center and its Museum of Tolerance and Moriah Films. He is the only rabbi who has ever been a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he has won two Oscars as a producer of documentaries about the Holocaust.
It isn’t every day that an Orthodox rabbi is invited to deliver a prayer at the inauguration of an American president, but there I was on January 20, 2017 doing just that. To be clear, as the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I have never endorsed any candidate from either party. But I was honored, as an American Jew born of poor immigrant parents, to stand before the nation and the world and, flanked by presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and incoming president Donald Trump, say these words:
“The freedoms we enjoy are not granted in perpetuity, but must be reclaimed by each generation!”
In 2022 it is no secret that America’s political and civil discourses are broken. American Jews, who represent 2.4 percent of the U.S. population, are targets of 63 percent of all religious hate crimes. Those aren’t my statistics; they’re from the FBI. FBI director Christopher Wray said earlier this month that Jews were “getting hit from all sides.” And those numbers don’t even reflect the latest tsunami of anti-Jewish hate dominating social media in the wake of Kanye “Ye” West’s [Louis] Farrakhan-esque pernicious anti-Jewish outbursts that followed.
Against this backdrop, I was shocked to the core to learn that former President Trump hosted two anti-Semites, Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, at his Mar-a-Lago resort last week. And I couldn’t help but wonder, what would other former presidents like Washington and Lincoln and Truman and Reagan, or civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin, say about such a meeting? It would have been like them hosting for dinner leaders of the KKK.
I cannot believe that a man with Jewish grandchildren, who was the first president to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people by moving the U.S. Embassy to the holy city, and who invited this native of New York’s Lower East Side to lead our nation in prayer at his inauguration, could make such an ill-conceived decision.
Our Center’s namesake, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, loved the United States of America. He never forgot that it was American GIs who saved him in May 1945. He was mesmerized by the stars on the American flag, with each signifying not only a state but also America’s values of freedom and justice. When I asked him why he didn’t move to the U.S., Simon responded that if you wanted fight the scourge of Nazism and Jew-hatred, you had to carry the fight from the swamp. If Simon were alive today, he would have relocated here.
Simon would be shocked to learn of the former president’s meeting with someone like Fuentes, whose brand of “America First” includes white supremacy and hatred of Judaism, and who, in 2019, “jokingly” denied the Holocaust, comparing Jews burnt in Nazi death camps to cookies baking in an oven.
Even if President Trump hadn’t heard of Fuentes before, surely he knew all about West, who has railed against and threatened Jews on social media again and again. Among his recent remarks: “I’m going death con 3 on the Jews,” “I don’t think that [the Jews] have the ability to make anything on their own. I think they were born into money” and “Jewish people own [the] Black voice… we’re not going to be owned by the Jewish media anymore.” He also declared “we need a government of Christians,” adding, “Jewish people can be here, but they can’t make our laws.”
Democrats and Republicans may continue to disagree on political and social issues but not on the core principles of democracy that have always made America great. I am buoyed by the voices of some prominent Republicans who have joined Democrats in denouncing Trump’s meeting with West and Fuentes. But far more need to speak out.
President Trump, our Jewish faith does not believe that anyone is perfect. Instead of deflecting, I urge you to clearly and unequivocally denounce the two bigots you hosted and everything they stand for.
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