Obama Tries To Blame Trump For Rise In Anti-Semitism: ‘He Fanned The Flames’

 

Barack Obama gave an interview to The Jewish Insider where he seemed to blame former President Donald Trump for a rise in anti-semitism saying Trump fanned the flames.

Obama mentioned a speech he gave at the Israeli Embassy in Washington, D.C., at the end of his presidency. “I said that the seeds that gave rise to the Holocaust have always been with us. They have found root across cultures, faiths, and generations. And they have reemerged again and again, especially in times of change and uncertainty,” Obama told JI. “When I gave that speech, it was clear that anti-Semitism was on the rise around the world. People’s anger over everything from immigration to inequality was boiling over — and many of them were looking for someone else to blame. And for four years, we had a President in the White House who fanned those flames.”

Obama added: “Until we can agree on a common set of facts and distinguish between what’s true and what’s false, then the marketplace of ideas won’t work. Our democracy won’t work. So, as citizens, we need to push our institutions to address these challenges. At the same time, we can’t just wait for someone else to solve the problem.”

“We need to stay engaged, and ask what we can do — especially at the local level where arguments are often less heated and everyone who gets involved can make a bigger difference. Our system of government has been tested before, and every time people who believe in this country and our founding ideals have refused to let the American experiment fail. The same thing can happen this time if we put in the work.”

“Black and Jewish Americans understand the dark side of human nature better than just about anyone,” Obama said. “We’ve seen people at their worst. But we also know that progress is possible, and that ordinary people can make a difference — not just for those who look like them or worship the same God, but for everyone. That’s the legacy of Blacks and Jews coming together through the civil rights movement to insist upon equal rights — that understanding that injustice should spur people to action and to a sense of solidarity, and that collective activism can succeed in making change.”

“Right now, it’s easy to focus on what divides us, and there are plenty of people out there who benefit from driving us further apart. But our future depends on our ability to actively resist those forces; to look past our differences and understand that we want the same things for ourselves, our families, and our communities. The new movements for justice in this country are informed by the Black and Jewish experience, as well as many other communities who have come together,” Obama said.

Here is a partial transcript of the interview:

Jewish Insider: In his commentary on the most recent Torah portion, the late Rabbi Jonathan Sacks remarks how “the United States is the only country today whose political discourse is framed by the idea of covenant,” and he cites your second inaugural address in 2013 as one of two textbook examples. “Obama five times begins paragraphs with a key phrase of covenant politics — words never used by British politicians — namely, ‘We the people.’” Rabbi Sacks continues, “That is the essence of covenant: we are all in this together. There is no division of the nation into rulers and ruled. We are conjointly responsible, under the sovereignty of God, for one another.”

Since that 2013 address, how do you assess the state of our country’s “covenant”? Is our political system and discourse set up in a way that incentivizes and rewards division (“us vs. them”) that makes “we the people” nearly impossible to achieve? Going forward, what can be done to better strengthen that “covenant”?

Barack Obama: There’s no doubt that the country is deeply divided right now — more divided than when I first ran for president in 2008. America has been fractured by a combination of political, cultural, ideological, and geographical divisions that seem to be growing deeper by the day. 

I think a lot of that has to do with changes in how people get information. I’ve spoken about this before, but if you watch Fox News, you’re presented with a different reality than if you read The New York Times. And everything is amplified by social media, which allows people to live in bubbles with other people who think like them.

Until we can agree on a common set of facts and distinguish between what’s true and what’s false, then the marketplace of ideas won’t work. Our democracy won’t work. So, as citizens, we need to push our institutions to address these challenges.

At the same time, we can’t just wait for someone else to solve the problem. We need to stay engaged, and ask what we can do — especially at the local level where arguments are often less heated and everyone who gets involved can make a bigger difference.

I know it can be exhausting. But our system of government has been tested before, and every time people who believe in this country and our founding ideals have refused to let the American experiment fail. The same thing can happen this time if we put in the work.

JI: In 2009, you visited the Buchenwald concentration camp with Angela Merkel and Elie Wiesel, an experience you recount in your memoir. Wiesel, you write, “beseeched us, beseeched me, to leave Buchenwald with resolve, to try to bring about peace, to use the memory of what happened on the ground where we stood to see past anger and divisions and find strength in solidarity.” Since that visit, Americans only seem to have become more divided as antisemitic conspiracy theories and attacks appear to be on the rise. A man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” shirt stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 and QAnon has gained traction. Did you anticipate these developments when you left office in 2016? And do you believe the country can overcome such forms of hate?

Obama: In my last year as President, I gave a speech at the Embassy of Israel where I said that the seeds that gave rise to the Holocaust have always been with us. They have found root across cultures, faiths, and generations. And they have reemerged again and again, especially in times of change and uncertainty.

When I gave that speech, it was clear that anti-Semitism was on the rise around the world. People’s anger over everything from immigration to inequality was boiling over — and many of them were looking for someone else to blame. And for four years, we had a President in the White House who fanned those flames.

So while I never anticipated what happened at the Capitol on January 6th, some of the negative and divisive trends that we’ve seen at home and around the world have contributed to a rise in anti-Semitism and other forms of hate. In many cases, I’ve been pleased to see these acts of hate countered by far larger expressions of solidarity. People are recognizing that we all have a responsibility to stand together against bigotry and violence, to not be silent but there will always be a need for vigilance against anti-Semitism. 

We’ll never be able to wipe out hatred from every single mind, but we must do everything we can to fight it. And more people are realizing that. That dynamic, more than anything, is what gives me hope.

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