(JTA) — AIPAC hardly ever pronounces on any issue that does not relate to Israel. It’s also loath to criticize a sitting president.
But the preeminent pro-Israel lobby did both on Wednesday after rioters supporting President Donald Trump stormed the U.S. Capitol to stop the count of electoral votes that would formalize Joe Biden’s win.
“We share the anger of our fellow Americans over the attack at the Capitol and condemn the assault on our democratic values and process,” AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, said in a statement posted to Twitter Wednesday evening. “This violence, and President Trump’s incitement of it, is outrageous and must end.”
AIPAC was not the only mainstream Jewish organization to speak out on an extraordinary day that resulted in what once was unthinkable: police spiriting into safe havens hundreds of lawmakers while marauders roamed and looted the Capitol. Its statement, crafted during an emergency meeting of the lobby’s executive committee, also was far from the only one to criticize Trump explicitly.
Trump invited protesters to Washington, D.C., and earlier Wednesday urged them to march on the Capitol. As the situation grew tense, he simultaneously urged his supporters to disband and told them that he “loved them.”
The Anti-Defamation League also named Trump. “The violence at the US Capitol is the result of disinformation from our highest office,” it said in a tweet. “Extremists are among the rioters in DC supporting President Trump’s reckless rhetoric on America’s democratic institutions.” ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called on social media to suspend Trump’s accounts; a number of platforms eventually heeded those calls.
The Jewish Council for Public Affairs, the umbrella body for Jewish public policy bodies, also named Trump. “This was a direct assault on our democratic process, and nothing less than an attempt to disrupt the peaceful transition of power in a presidential election and an act of sedition,” it said in a statement. “We urge in the strongest possible terms that President Trump and others immediately cease incendiary rhetoric and restore order.”
Two legacy groups were cautious and condemned the violence while not directly blaming Trump. The American Jewish Committee called on Trump “to call for an immediate end to the riots and respect the certification process currently underway,” without noting that Trump started the fire, as many others had — including some leading Republicans.
The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the umbrella foreign policy group for the Jewish community, did not name Trump at all, although its statement was forceful. “We are disgusted by the violence at the US Capitol and urge the rioters to disperse immediately,” it said in a statement. ”Law and order must be restored, and the peaceful transition of administrations must continue.”
The Orthodox Union weighed in by endorsing the Presidents’ Conference statement, and Agudath Israel of America posted on Twitter a statement by its longtime Washington director, Rabbi Abba Cohen.
“The U.S. Capitol is more than a majestic building,” Cohen said. “It is the true house of the people and the home of democracy. It is the hope of the nation. You feel it when entering its doors and walking its halls. Today, it was a place of shameful violence and tyranny. Stop or we are lost.”
The Conservative movement’s Rabbinical Assembly called on Trump “to defend and uphold the constitution of the United States,” but did not blame him for what it called an “attack on democracy and its institutions.”
The Reform movement’s Religious Action Center was less shy, saying, “The fact that today’s events were encouraged by the President of the United States who has refused to accept his electoral loss is equally terrifying and heartbreaking.”
Liberal groups like the RAC have throughout Trump’s presidency had an adversarial relationship with him, criticizing both his policies, including his anti-immigration policies, and his expressions of bigotry.
It was no different on Wednesday. “Earlier today, an armed seditious mob stormed the Capitol at President Trump’s behest, with the aim of preventing elected Members of Congress from certifying the presidential vote in the Electoral College,” said the Israel Policy Forum, a two-state advocacy group. (A staffer describes his experience during the tumult here.) “We unreservedly and wholly condemn this.”
J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, said, “The president repeatedly incited far-right thugs to subvert our democracy, and now they’re trying to do just that.”
“I’m heartbroken for our country,” National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz said on Twitter. Hadassah, the women’s Zionist organization, alluded to Trump, saying that “The criminal behavior and events of this afternoon are abhorrent, as are attempts to disrupt democracy with incitement to violence. As Jews, we know the power of words and demand our elected leaders raise the level of discourse and lead with civility.”
Morton Klein, the president of the Zionist Organization of America, a group known for its support for Trump’s Israel policies, said on Twitter that the marauding in the Capitol was “thoroughly unacceptable & intolerable” but went on to say, baselessly, that the FBI was investigating a claim that the marauders belonged to Antifa, a catchall term for leftist protesters.
That allegation was circulating widely among Orthodox supporters of the president on Wednesday night, many of whom decried the violence in D.C. but not the pro-Trump movement that led the mob to convene.
‘Our worst fears realized’: Extremism watchdogs, after months of warnings, watch the violence in DC
They warned us. And warned us. And warned us.
Extremism watchdogs said there could be violence in the streets. They said minority communities — Jews among them — could be put at risk. They said that the incessant, false claims of a rigged election, of a fraudulent vote, of a conspiracy to bring down the president, could all lead to violence on or after Election Day.
All year, and especially after President Donald Trump said he would not accept the election results in November, people who monitor the far right in America warned about where America could be headed. Officials and analysts worried openly about attacks on police or threats to synagogues or polling places in Black neighborhoods.
One dire document, produced by the New Jersey Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness, predicted, among its more extreme scenarios, that conspiracy theorists may “threaten and target federally elected representatives [and] government institutions.”
That language came to life on Wednesday when a mob of Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol. Congress, in the middle of a hearing about the election results, escaped into hiding. Extremists, carrying the symbols of their hate, sat at the dais in the Senate chamber and peered into government computers, abandoned by staffers who fled in haste. The vice president was rushed to a secure location while the president said “we love you” to the people who forced him to flee.
And someone — so far unnamed — was shot and killed in the middle of a crowd that was forcibly occupied the halls of government.
“Yeah, this is it,” said Heidi Beirich, who’s been monitoring extremists for 20 years, when asked if Wednesday’s chaos is what she worried about before the election. “This is our worst fears realized.”
“Everyone in my world has been warning of this exact thing,” she added.
Watching their predictions come true on TV, people in the anti-extremism world on Wednesday all said they got no pleasure from saying “I told you so.”
“This seems to be a logical conclusion to so much of what we have seen throughout the year, whether it’s reopen protests and efforts to delegitimize state governments, whether it’s conspiracy theories,” said Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism. “These things have consequences. People pay attention, and they animate those who could care less about their democracy.”
Like everyone else, extremism watchdogs used the word “unprecedented” a lot. That word also kept coming up three years ago, when white supremacists marched in Charlottesville, Virginia, in an event that Joe Biden said inspired him to run for president, because he didn’t want to live in an America that tolerated “the same anti-Semitic bile heard across Europe in the ‘30s.”
The chaos at the Capitol resembled what happened in Charlottesville in certain ways. Both were rallies with a lot of extremist groups that included violence. Someone was killed then, too. Back then, Trump called the extremists “very fine people.” Today, in a video also urging the mob to disperse and “go home,” he told them, “We love you.”
But the analysts said they should not be equated. After all, said Michael Masters, the CEO of the Secure Community Network, a Jewish security agency, “why the protest is occurring is different.” Brad Orsini, the group’s senior national security adviser, said, “I look at all these incidents at face value, as they stand alone.”
In other words: Neo-Nazis marching with swastikas and chanting “Jews will not replace us” is somewhat different than pro-Trump extremists (including neo-Nazis) storming the Capitol and fighting with police officers. They’re both really bad, according to these watchdogs, but they’re each bad in their own way.
What unites them, Segal said, is what unites all extremists: a sense of grievance. They feel that something has been taken away from them, and they want to fight the people who took it. In Charlottesville, the neo-Nazis wanted to fight the Jews for taking away their imagined white societies. On Wednesday, the mob wanted to fight the government for “stealing” Trump’s (imaginary) victory.
“Today wasn’t about Jews not replacing us,” he said. “Today it was about something else being taken away: the America that they want, but that’s something that animates extremists all the time — this concept that something is being taken away from them by somebody.”
And unlike Charlottesville, the violence today wasn’t really about the Jews — though Orsini said Jews might be more attuned to it than other people. “This resonates more so because we’ve seen this uptick, this rhetoric of anti-Semitism. We’ve seen violent attacks,” he said.
The difference now is that Wednesday’s mob affected everyone in the country.
“What folks are seeing today, it’s not just a problem for Jews, it’s an American problem,” Segal said.
Extremism researchers aren’t sure what comes next. They want order to return to the Capitol, and they want the new administration to do what this one has not — to urge calm, to call out hate unequivocally.
But mostly, they want people to listen.
“I hoped I’d be out of a job years ago,” said Beirich, who co-founded the Global Project against Hate and Extremism only at the beginning of 2020, after a long career studying hate. “I didn’t want this to keep metastasizing and growing.”
One of Ukraine’s chief rabbis endorses siege of US Capitol by Trump supporters
Rabbi Moshe Azman, a prominent Ukrainian cleric with ties to several Trump associates at the heart of last year’s Ukrainegate scandal, endorsed Wednesday’s violent attempt to prevent the certification of President-elect Joe Biden’s election win, comparing the clashes to his own country’s recent pro-democracy revolution.
Following the storming of the U.S. Capitol by Trump supporters, Azman, a Hasidic rabbi who is one of several figures claiming to be the chief rabbi of Ukraine, posted on Facebook that the “Maidan has begun in the USA,” referring to the widespread protests that led to the ouster of pro-Russia President Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. “The people protesting against mass election fraud broke into the capital. God bless America.”
Yaakov Dov Bleich, who also is a chief rabbi of Ukraine and the only one recognized as such by the World Jewish Congress and the European Jewish Congress, distanced himself from Azman’s words.
“Rabbi Azman is voicing his own opinion,” Bleich said. “I don’t think Ukrainian Jewry has or should have a stand on U.S. politics.”
In May 2019, Azman was photographed in Paris smoking cigars with Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal attorney, fueling speculation among some in Kyiv that the president’s representative and his colleagues were using the rabbi to provide cover for illicit Ukrainian lobbying activities.
The Giuliani-Azman meeting seemed to have been arranged by Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, two Jewish Giuliani associates who have been linked to those lobbying efforts.
Trump was impeached in December 2019 after it emerged that he had pressed his Ukrainian counterpart, President Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Biden and his son Hunter during a phone call five months earlier between the two leaders. During the call, Trump asked Zelensky, who is Jewish, to look into allegations that Hunter Biden had engaged in illegal behavior while serving on the board of a Ukrainian firm that was being probed for corruption. The Senate acquitted Trump in February.
According to the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, an international journalism network that tries to uncover political corruption, Giuliani was slated to deliver a paid speech at a fundraiser for Azman’s Anatevka project in May 2019. Anatevka — named for the shtetl in “Fiddler on the Roof”— is a gated compound outside of Kyiv housing Jews who were displaced by the war in eastern Ukraine.
Parnas and Fruman, who sit on the board of the American Friends of Anatevka, would have met with Zelensky “on the sidelines” of the Anatevka Project event, the report said. But Giuliani canceled his trip due to intense public scrutiny and the meeting never happened.
Instead he flew to Paris, where he attended a number of meetings — brokered by Parnas and Fruman — with senior Ukrainian figures. He also sat with Azman for two hours.
Azman, a staunch Trump supporter, presented Giuliani with a giant novelty key declaring him “honorary mayor of Anatevka.” Azman had previously told the Ukrainian news outlet Hromadske that he prays for Trump “every Saturday” because of the president’s support for Israel.
At least one person was shot during Wednesday’s violence, which saw lawmakers evacuated from the Capitol building, and several people have been reported hospitalized, including at least one member of law enforcement. Dozens of lawmakers, from the House and Senate, were contesting the results of November’s election that Trump has fraudulently claimed was stolen on behalf of Biden.
Bleich rejected any comparisons between what happened in Ukraine in 2013-14 and Wednesday’s events.
“The United States of America is a strong democracy with many checks and balances, there is no basis for comparing it to Maidan,” Bleich said. “Many people are upset about the elections, including myself,” he added, and in his view “it looks like Trump won the elections and the Democrats stole it.”
This opinion is “causing frustration and is making a lot of people, including Rabbi Azman, emotional, but there is no place for violence,” Bleich said.
Azman’s claim to the title of chief rabbi is disputed, including by the World Jewish Congress, which in 2005 said in a statement that Azman’s title was not endorsed “by any rabbinical authorities.”