The following article was published as a guest commentary in the Orlando Sentinel on January 8, 2023.
On December 19, 2022, President Joe Biden used the White House’s Chanukah celebration to call out the rising anti-Semitism in the United States. “Silence is complicity,” he stated. Biden joined Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff in lighting the first ever official White House menorah. “Today, we must all say clearly and forcefully that anti-Semitism and all forms of hate and violence in this country have no safe harbor in America. Period,” Biden said.
Biden reiterated his stand one day after Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West, announced “I like Hitler” during an anti-Semitic rant on right-wing conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ InfoWars show and five days after Donald Trump dined with Ye and white supremacist and Holocaust denier Nick Fuentes at Mar-a-Lago. “The Holocaust happened. Hitler was a demonic figure,” stated Biden. “And instead of giving it a platform, our political leaders should be calling out and rejecting anti-Semitism wherever it hides.”
Some Republican leaders were swift in joining Biden in his condemnation of Trumps’ actions. “Trump was wrong to give a white nationalist, an anti-Semite and Holocaust denier a seat at the table,” stated former vice president Mike Pence. “ And I think he should apologize for it, and he should denounce those individuals and their hateful rhetoric without qualification.” Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell echoed Pence.”[A]nyone meeting with people advocating that point of view, in my judgment, are highly unlikely to ever be elected president of the United States.” In Florida, Senator Rick Scott stated there was no room for anti-Semitism in his party, adding “Republicans should all condemn white supremacy.”
Then-House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy denounced the ideology but avoided invoking the former president’s name. The Republican from California stated that the white supremacist “has no place in this Republican Party,” but followed up with blatantly untrue statements supporting Trump. “I think President Trump came out four times and condemned him and didn’t know who he was.” According to CNN and other reputable news sources, Trump, who infamously stated that there was “good on both sides” when the white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in 2017, has yet condemn the views of his dinner guests or apologize for his action.
Senator Marco Rubio decried the actions while trying to protect Trump from criticism. “I hope [Trump] will [condemn Nick Fuentes]. Because I know [Trump] is not an anti-Semite.” When PBS reached out to 57 Republican lawmakers to condemn the meeting, two-thirds never responded. Those that did called the meeting a “bad idea” and stated antisemitism can’t be tolerated but stopped short of condemning Trump directly.
Governor Ron DeSantis stands almost alone among prominent Republicans in refusing to denounce white supremacists and anti-Semitism. In January 2022, a small band of pro-Nazis converged in Orlando, where they chanted “White power!” and roughed up a Jewish student. He remained silent while his press secretary suggested on Twitter that the individuals were actually Democrats pretending to be Nazis. He remained silent when a confederate flag was flown TIAA Bank Field, home of the Jacksonville Jaguars, in November and December 2022. He remains silent about the Trump/Ye/Fuentes debacle.
In comparison, Congressman Darren Soto was much more forceful in an 11/29/2022 tweet. “In Central Florida, diversity is our strength, and all are welcome to live, visit and pursue the American Dream.I strongly condemn Fmr Pres Trump for associating with these un-American bigots.”
Many more refuse to be silent, including the immediate and unequivocal response from the Anti-Defamation League. “Former President Trump’s dinner with anti-Semites Ye and Nick Fuentes underscores the ugly normalization of extremist beliefs — including anti-Semitism, racism and other forms of bigotry,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, its national director and CEO. He went on to warn that the dinner further emboldened extremists.
Another powerful but sadly diminishing group that continues to bring the reality of the anti-Semitism to the forefront: Holocaust survivors.Through the efforts of Steven Spielberg , the Shoah Visual History Foundation has recorded over 55,000 testimonies of Holocaust survivors. Events such as the International March for the Living and venues such as the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and other similar museums across the country and world also bear witness. And there are those that recount their stories despite the pain, including an 88-year-old Holocaust survivor from Colorado . Estelle Nadel has talked to groups hundreds of times and still cries every time. “I re-live the whole scenario,” Estelle said. “There’s so much denial, that every time I get a chance to tell my story, I feel like I’m doing something against it.”
Silence is complicity. President Biden, Mitch McConnell, and Stephen Spielberg know this, as should all who wish to push back agains hate.