Donald Trump is truly a uniter — unintentionally, that is. During his presidency, he brought Jews and Muslims together to stand up to bigotry directed against both communities and to vote against him by bigger margins than any other American faith groups. With Trump leaving office in January, these alliances must continue to strengthen, so they can serve as both a celebration of who we are as members of minority faith groups and work as a bulwark, to prevent another Trump-like figure from ever winning the White House again.
We saw another example this week of Jews and Muslims sharing an unwanted, common experience when the FBI released its annual report on hate crimes that found first Jews and then Muslims as the two religious groups most targeted for hate crimes in 2019. Overall, hate crimes in 2019 were the highest in more than decade, and hate-motivated murders were the highest since the FBI began gathering such data in the early 1990s.
Opinion | Trump united Muslims and Jews. We must build on that to prevent another Trump.
In response to the FBI’s report, the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council, of which I’m a member, called for passage of the Jabara-Heyer National Opposition to Hate, Assaults, and Threats to Equality (NO HATE) Act that would “incentivize state and local law enforcement authorities to improve hate crime reporting by making grants available.” The reality is while the 2019 hate crime numbers are chilling, the true number is likely much higher given that last year the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights identified “massive underreporting” of hate crimes.
But the real story is that groups like MJAC formed in response to the uptick in hate under Trump, along with other interfaith Muslim-Jewish organizations that have grown in numbers over the past four years, such as the “Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom.” There were of course interfaith groups pre-Trump, but the spike in bigotry directed against the Jewish and Muslim communities has brought an increasing number of Muslims and Jews together. As Sheryl Olitzky, the co-founder and current executive director of the “Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom” explained to me, “While the organization was formed prior to the Trump election, we grew and became more active in response to the increase in hate targeting our faith groups.”
I can’t tell you how many Jewish friends told me over the past four years that they had believed they were “white” pre-Trump, but learned firsthand they were actually a minority given the surge in hate directed at their community. It’s akin to what I went through after 9/11 when it became clear that I was no longer “white” but a minority due to my Arab heritage and the fact that I am a Muslim — despite being born in the United States and outwardly looking very much like a typical white guy.
During the Trump era, both Muslims and Jews saw a bone-chilling spike in hate crimes directed against our communities. For Muslims, we saw hate crimes perpetrated against our community during Trump’s 2016 campaign and after he won, shocking crimes in even higher numbers than in the months after 9/11. There was a straight line from Trump’s call for a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslims entering the country and his inflammatory comments that “Islam hates us” to the terrorist plots by self-professed Trump supporters to kill Muslims. I was even targeted with death threats in 2017 by Trump-supporting Neo-Nazis for my articles criticizing Trump.
For the Jewish community, the hate crimes were even more numerous. Incidents ranged from physical assaults to the horrific 2018 murder of 11 Jewish Americans at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh by a white supremacist terrorist who was motivated by his hatred of immigrants, who, like Trump, he dubbed as “invaders.”
There’s little doubt that the toxic climate Trump intentionally fostered and inflamed contributed to Jews and Muslims voting to defeat Trump in similarly large numbers. Exit polls found that 77% of Jewish Americans voted for Joe Biden, vs. just 21% supporting Trump. Similarly, according to some exit polls, while nearly 70% of Muslims cast a ballot for Biden, just 17% went for Trump (Who are these 17 percent?!). No other religious groups were close in terms of opposing Trump, with 60% of Protestants and 47% of Catholics going for Trump.
The question is, with Trump leaving the White House on January 20, what comes of these alliances? Will they wither away now that the threat has passed?
Hopefully, that’s resounding no, for two reasons. One is we need to remain united to prevent another Trump ever winning the White House. Alarmingly, over 73 million Americans saw Trump pit Americans against each other, lie daily, coddle white supremacists and spew bigotry, yet they voted for four more years of that. Another Trump — or even Trump himself — could be on the presidential ballot in four years.
Secondly, with Trump gone, Muslims and Jews can actually plan fun events (remember “fun”?!) to celebrate who we are. As fellow members of a minority faith, we have a great deal in common. And no, I’m not being naive; there are obviously people on the far right in both communities who would likely refuse to engage in interfaith activities and even criticize them.
But as I’ve found, the differences I’ve encountered with people in the Jewish community come from the same source that has caused the disagreements I’ve had with some right wing Christians and even fellow Muslims, namely, if you are politically very conservative, we are not likely to get along well. It’s about not sharing the same values.
The good news is, with 70% of Jews and Muslims opposing Trump, there’s much common ground to be found.
As Olitzky put it, with Trump leaving, this is the ideal time for our two communities “to join together in respect, trust and love.”
Amen and Inshallah!
Dean Obeidallah is the host of SiriusXM Progress’ The Dean Obeidallah Show. He co-created the stand up comedy show “Stand up for Peace” to foster understanding between Jews, Muslims and Christians. And he’s a frequent contributor to CNN and The Daily Beast.