President Joe Biden made an impassioned and important point a few days ago in a speech to Howard University’s graduating class.
Warning that malevolent elements in the United States are attempting to roll back generations of racial progress, he correctly classified this kind of bigotry as a phenomenon passed on from one generation to the next and deeply rooted in the fabric of American society.
As he put it, “Fearless progress toward justice often meets ferocious pushback from the … most sinister of forces. That’s because hate never goes away.”
Biden was specifically referring to “the dangerous terrorist threat” that white supremacy poses “to our homeland.”
This indeed is a serious problem.
After the election and reelection of Barack Obama as the first African American president, Americans had reason to believe that the United States had turned a corner and adopted a completely new and progressive attitude to its black minority.
For several hundred years, slavery and segregation were the lot of people of color in America. White supremacist groups, like the Ku Klux Klan, were the noxious weeds in America’s garden. With the passage of time, racial stereotypes, tropes and animosities gradually subsided, but never disappeared.
Even after Obama’s remarkable ascent to the presidency, pockets of America remained ineradicably hostile to minorities, including Jews.
In the summer of 2017, white supremacists, neo-Nazis and white nationalists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia, for a “Unite the Right” rally, during which they chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
This blatant manifestation of antisemitism, as well as President Donald Trump’s lame reaction to it, appears to have affected Biden, who was Obama’s vice-president for eight years. “That’s when I knew I had to stay engaged and get back into public life,” he said at Howard University, a historically African American college.
The racially charged climate in the United States is such that Trump felt perfectly comfortable in inviting Kanye West, a rap entertainer and an outspoken antisemite, for dinner at his estate in Florida last winter. West was accompanied by another scoundrel of the first degree, Nick Fuentes, an antisemitic propagandist who attended the Charlottesville rally. To this day, Trump has yet to apologize for his appalling lack of judgment.
Biden issued his warning about the dangers of white supremacy at a fraught moment.
Conspiracy theories abound in the United States. Robert Bowers, a neo-Nazi, is shortly due to go on trial for the fatal shooting of eleven Jewish congregants at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018. The Anti-Defamation League has released a report indicating that antisemitism in the United States has reached new heights. According to the ADL, there were 3,697 antisemitic incidents in 2022, the highest since 1979, the year it began recording such events.
“We’ve seen antisemitism normalized in ways that would have been unimaginable a few years ago,” noted Jonathan Greenblatt, the ADL’s chief executive officer. “If people see conspiracy theories behind every misfortune, it doesn’t take long for them to look at Jews and say they’re the problem.”
“We’re in a new era in antisemitism,” noted Brian Levin, the director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. “We’re now seeing Jews become a default target.”
Recognizing this alarming situation, the Biden administration recently announced the establishment of a special task force to push back against antisemitism, citing “the threat it poses to the Jewish community and all Americans.” Its report will be issued shortly.
America has been a blessed haven for Jews, but there have been times when antisemites have set off alarm bells in the Jewish community. Unfortunately, we live in an unstable period when these bells are ringing far too often.
Which is precisely why Americans should take heed of Biden’s warning about the malignancy of white supremacy, which is an affront to common decency and morality and a clear and present threat to American democracy.
Biden’s abhorrence of racism is crystal clear.
On May 16, he celebrated Jewish American Heritage Month at a White House reception, telling guests that the struggle against “antisemitic bile” in the United States and elsewhere concerns him. “Jewish Americans are shattered by a long and painful history of the oldest, the most sinister forces of hate and antisemitism,” he said, striking exactly the right note.
The battle against racial bigotry is a never-ending generational task. The Biden administration understands this and is doing what it can to combat it.