Rabbi Marvin Hier is the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles and the associated Museum of Tolerance and Moriah Films. He is the only rabbi ever to be a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, and he has won two Oscars as a producer of documentaries about the Holocaust.
It’s not every day that an Orthodox rabbi is invited to pray at the inauguration of an American president, but on January 20, 2017, I was doing just that. To be clear, as the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, I have never supported any candidate from both parties. But I was honored, as an American Jew born of impoverished immigrant parents, to stand before the nation and the world and, flanked by Presidents Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, and President-elect Donald Trump, deliver these words. to speak:
“The freedoms we enjoy are not granted forever, but must be reclaimed by each generation!”
In 2022, it’s no secret that America’s political and civic discourse is broken. American Jews, who represent 2.4 percent of the US population, are the target of 63 percent of all religious hate crimes. Those are not my stats; they are from the FBI. FBI Director Christopher Wray said earlier this month that there were Jews “be hit from all sides.” And those numbers don’t even reflect the latest tsunami of anti-Jewish hate dominating social media in the wake of Kanye “Ye” West’s [Louis] Farrakhan-esque pernicious anti-Jewish outbursts that followed.
Against this backdrop, I was shocked to the bone when I learned that former President Trump hosted two anti-Semites, Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, at his resort in Mar-a-Lago last week. And I couldn’t help but wonder what other former presidents like Washington and Lincoln and Truman and Reagan, or civil rights leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Bayard Rustin, would say about such a meeting? It would have been like playing host to KKK dinner leaders.
I can’t believe that a man with Jewish grandchildren, who was the first president to recognize Jerusalem as the eternal capital of the Jewish people by moving the American Embassy to the holy city, and who invited this native of New York’s Lower East Side to our nation in prayer at his inauguration, could make such an ill-considered decision.
Our Center’s namesake, Holocaust survivor and Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal loved the United States of America. He never forgot that it was American GIs who rescued him in May 1945. He was mesmerized by the stars on the American flag, which signified not only a state, but American values of freedom and justice. When I asked him why he hadn’t moved to the US, Simon replied that if you wanted to fight the scourge of Nazism and Jew-hatred, you had to fight from the swamp. If Simon were alive today, he would have moved here.
Simon would be shocked to learn of the former president’s meeting with someone like Fuentes, whose brand of “America First” includes white supremacy and hatred of Judaism, and who in 2019 “jokingly” denied the Holocaust, comparing Jews that had been burned by the death of the Nazis camped to baking cookies in an oven.
Even if President Trump had never heard of Fuentes, he still knew all about West, who went on to rail against and threaten Jews on social media. Among his recent comments: “I’m going death con 3 on the Jews,” “I don’t think so [the Jews] have the ability to make everything yourself. I think they were born with money’ and own ‘Jewish people [the] Black voice… we will no longer be the property of the Jewish media.” He also stated “we need a government of Christians,” adding, “Jewish people can be here, but they can’t make our laws.”
Democrats and Republicans may continue to disagree on political and social issues, but not on the core principles of democracy that have always made America great. I am supported by the voices of some prominent Republicans who have joined the Democrats in denouncing Trump’s meeting with West and Fuentes. But many more must speak out.
President Trump, our Jewish faith does not believe anyone is perfect. Rather than deviate, I urge you to clearly and unequivocally denounce the two bigots you have organized and all they stand for.