There have been deeply disturbing bomb scares at Jewish community centers and schools in the last few months. Thankfully, they have all turned out to be hoaxes. But still, the need to evacuate so many places, especially where there are children, is alarming.
Along with the bomb scares, there have been attacks on Jewish cemeteries. Jewish graves have been desecrated. Not even the dead are safe from whomever is committing these anti-Semitic attacks.
Yet do these incidents mean that anti-Semitism is on the rise since the Trump election? It seems that a great deal of media reporting accepts that it is. Many of these reports make a claim that the rise in anti-Semitism not only started with the victory of Donald Trump, but that the Presidential election is responsible.
Where did this sudden theory that anti-semitism has risen come from? Perhaps it could be traced to a question at a press conference with the new President.
When Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with President Trump, the two gave a news conference. An Israeli reporter asked Trump the following question:
Since your election campaign and even after your victory we’ve seen a sharp rise in anti-semitic incidents across the United States, and I wonder what you say to those among the Jewish community in the United States, in Israel and around the world, who believe and feel that your administration is playing with xenophobia and maybe racist tones.
But it was not a fair question. The reporter started by making a claim about a “sharp” increase in anti-Semitism. The he asks the President to take responsibility for this increase.
There were tons of media reports about the question and Trump’s non-answer. But very few in the media stopped to ask if the premise of the question was correct.
Writing in the Washington Post’s “Acts of Faith” column, Mark Oppenheimer pointed out that there is no evidence of a sharp increase in anti-semitism.
Some assume that since Nov. 9, the Trump administration has ushered in a new, shocking rise in anti-Semitism. It’s an assumption that shows up not just at presidential news conferences but in numerous articles in the mainstream media.
But it is not clear that we can accuse the president of ushering in a new era of heightened anti-Semitism. While there is real anti-Semitism, we have no reliable statistics available to show there’s been a rise in anti-Semitism since Trump’s election. And while it’s easy for some to blame Trump for all acts of bigotry, we should discern what’s new from what we’re simply noticing for the first time.
It’s also important to put things in perspective. Seth Frantzman, an editor at the Jerusalem Post, posted an article on his blog in which he pointed out that there were more than 7,000 anti-semitic incidents under Obama, and they were largely ignored.
Overall, there were an average of 84 (antisemitic) incidents a month under the Obama administration. Let’s step back for a moment and compare that to the 95 incidents between January and February 2017. That’s a 10% increase. It could be more once all the data comes in. But media hasn’t been telling us there is a slight increase, the narrative has been that there is an anti-semitic wave sweeping the US….
Looking back almost a decade puts things in perspective. Where was the media in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015 to highlight thousands of incidents of anti-semitism? 210 physical assaults on Jews. 3,900 threats against Jews and Jewish institutions. 2,900 incidents of vandalism. 180 incidents of anti-semitism on campus. Every 6 days a Jewish person in America was being attacked in 2015 and it went largely ignored. On average there were threats every day against Jews and Jewish institutions over the last eight years and most of them did not receive headlines. There were also incidents of vandalism on everyday on average. Why did 7,034 incidents of anti-semitism not get major headlines for so long?
Yet the result of the Israeli reporter’s question is that now it seems to be accepted that indeed there has been a sharp rise in anti-Semitism after Trump’s victory. Almost every day, you can find a media report linking an increase in anti-Semitism to Trump’s becoming President.
While the President certainly did not do himself any favors with his bizarre answer to the question (and his take down of another reporter the next day whom he thought had accused him of anti-Semitism,) its hardly fair to expect him to take responsibility for a trend going on for years.
One of the worst techniques a reporter can use is to trap a subject with a trick question to which there is no right answer. It is allowing the reporter’s personal opinions to influence how a subject will be reported.
The chance for an Israeli reporter to ask a direct question to the President of the United States was an amazing opportunity. It’s too bad that he squandered it by trying to wave the flag of anti-Semitism.
Featured image by Quinn Dombrowski, Creative Commons License.