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Have We Forgotten ‘Never Forget’?

This past weekend, my twins were accepted to their top choice for college. Like all the Jewish mothers before me, I kvelled with pride. We celebrated the good news all weekend, yet slowly but surely my naches soon turned to tsoris.

My worry wasn’t about making sure they eat well-balanced meals in the college cafeteria, or that they come home for the Jewish holidays. Rather, as the mother of twins heading off to college in the year 2017, I am deeply worried about the anti-Semitism they may encounter.

According to the Anti-Defamation League, “A disturbing trend of anti-Semitic and other bias attacks took place in communities across the country following the 2016 presidential race. From Philadelphia to Los Angeles, the use of the swastika, including racist and other anti-Semitic graffiti, vandalism and reports of assaults and harassment proliferated…. College campuses, religious facilities and homes were particular targets nationwide.”

In addition, the ADL reports, “Extremists… were emboldened by the notion that their anti-Semitic and racist views were becoming part of mainstream society. A number of white supremacists on the ‘alt-right’ publicly voiced support for major presidential candidates, with some endorsing Donald Trump.”

Sadly, I know this firsthand. Whether an anonymous anti-Semite tweets a slur at me or sends a photograph of me with a swastika drawn on my face to my office, or a Jewish community center in my congressional district receives a bomb threat, anti-Semitism in America is alive and well.

Compounding the problem is the insidious stench of Holocaust denial emanating from the White House while the administration pursues anti-Muslim policies such as the refugee ban. President Trump has evidently handed too much power to Stephen Bannon, an “alt-right” extremist whose radical views are divorced not just from reality, but from history as well. This grave concern was confirmed on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January, when the president released a statement that inexplicably excluded any mention of the systemic murder of 6 million Jews.

The failure of the president to mention the central fact of 6 million murdered Jews — as all past administrations have — is unbelievable, unacceptable and unconscionable.

What is bone-chilling in its callous indifference is that when questioned about the omission, a White House spokesman acknowledged it was intentional. Defending the omission of Jews from the statement, Trump’s spokeswoman, Hope Hicks, told CNN: “Despite what the media reports, we are an incredibly inclusive group and we took into account all those who suffered.”

Omitting any reference to Jews as the primary driver of Hitler’s and the Nazis’ intentions is nothing short of Holocaust denial. It explicitly blurs the specific hatred that was its driving force.

We saw a similar contempt for constitutionally protected human rights with Trump’s Muslim ban, followed by presidential disrespect for a judicial ruling that dared to enforce the rule of law.

We cannot sit silent while the administration ignores the constitution and erases the ugliest of horrors from history. We cannot excuse or dismiss those who would obliterate atrocities through the sin of omission or who would buck the principle of “Never Again.” Most important, we cannot stand on the sidelines and allow anyone to normalize anti-Semitism.

Although it may seem counterintuitive, it is particularly important that communities with sizable Jewish populations fight any normalization of anti-Semitism, since we know that states with the highest totals of anti-Semitic incidents were those with large Jewish populations. In 2015, my home state of Florida was near the top of the list, with 91 incidents of anti-Semitism, up from 70 the previous year. The New York Police Department found that hate crimes more than doubled in November 2016 in comparison with the same period the year before.

With these facts in mind, I am deeply disappointed by how few of my Republican colleagues have condemned the Trump administration’s indefensible actions, and by how many of them have called the omission of Jews from a statement about the Holocaust merely a “gaffe.” Even worse, Republican leadership continues to block a vote on a resolution I co-sponsored that would declare Jews the primary victims of the Holocaust. This is a slippery slope!

We live in a remarkable country, where Jews in recent times have felt free from worry and fear. But now we must pay close attention to the anti-Semites among us. Because to remain complacent, to carry on like everything is going to be just fine, to turn a blind eye to the Holocaust deniers and anti-Semitism normalizers, imperils us and our children — and our nation.

Debbie Wasserman Schultz represents Florida’s 23rd Congressional District. Follow her on Twitter, @DWStweets.

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