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Rahm Emanuel says he’s concerned America is returning to ‘ugly’ past of attacks on Jews

‘I’m concerned as somebody that’s raised three children to be proud of their Judaism,’ Emanuel said about the rise in antisemitism

Rahm Emanuel, the U.S. ambassador to Japan, said the rise of violent antisemitism across the U.S. reminds him of his grandfather fleeing religious persecution more than a century ago.

“I’m concerned as a Jew,” Emanuel said in an interview with Freakonomics Radio, a popular podcast and radio program, posted on Wednesday. “I’m concerned as somebody that’s raised three children to be proud of their Judaism.”

He described the “troubling trend” of attacks targeting Jews and synagogues that have spread worldwide as “the worst of times” when antisemitism “becomes a justification for violence.”

Earlier this week, the Anti-Defamation League reported at least 26 recent incidents of false bomb threats in synagogues across 12 states in the past month. The ADL’s annual survey of 2022 found a total of 3,697 antisemitic incidents which represent the highest number since it started tracking antisemitism in 1979. Recently, a jury voted to sentence to death Robert Bowers, the gunman who killed 11 worshippers at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh in 2018, which was the deadliest act of antisemitism in American history.

Emanuel compared the situation to the time his maternal grandfather Herman Smulevitz — nicknamed “Big Bangah” by Emanuel and his two brothers due to his big presence and personality — immigrated to the U.S. from Russia in 1917 at the age of 13, fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe. Emanuel, the former mayor of Chicago who previously served as President Barack Obama’s chief of staff, said he’s concerned “that we’re harking back to the very place 120 years ago he fled values-wise.”

He pointed to similar “ugly periods in American history” — mentioning President Ulysses S. Grant’s infamous executive order in 1862 on Jewish cotton speculators in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt denying entry to Jewish immigrants aboard the MS St. Louis on the eve of World War II and his refusal to bomb Auschwitz. But Emanuel said that like in those “same periods of ugliness,” when there were leaders who acted to “pull us into a better place,” the onus is now on leaders to “inspire” the current generation about fighting hate.

Emanuel, who was appointed by President Biden as ambassador in 2021, said he wouldn’t seek the presidency in 2028. He also predicted that the United States will see the first female president before the country elects its first Jewish president.

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