By Mathew Klickstein
Rabbi Marvin Hier, dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and the Museum of Tolerance, knows a thing or two about receiving criticism.
On Friday, Jan. 20, Hier became the first rabbi since Ronald Reagan’s presidential inauguration in 1985 to contribute prayer services at the swearing-in ceremonies.
One of the six diverse spiritual leaders to read his benediction at the event, Hier is one of only nine rabbis to be invited to a presidential inauguration and the first from the Orthodox denomination.
Despite the auspiciousness of his involvement, Hier received backlash before and after the ceremony from both sides of the political spectrum.
There were critics on the political left critical of Hier’s participation in the legitimization of an election they believe symbolizes an affront to their way of life.
Hier was similarly condemned from some on the extreme right who issued virulently anti-Semitic statements and, according to the rabbi himself, replaced his face in photos of the service with the devil in their postings online.
“We have to be very straightforward that the anti-Semites are not only those on the extreme right like the Neo-Nazis,” Hier told the JT. “We have to remember there’s an extreme left. The two of them coming at it from different angles, but they both join the anti-Semitic club.”
Hier is further concerned by a possibly direct relationship between his observation that “anti-Semitism is more rife today than it’s been in a very, very long time” and what he sees as the proliferation of anti-Zionistic rhetoric.
Though Hier was clear that the Wiesenthal Center, and by proxy he, cannot endorse a political candidate, he was just as forthright that “I’m very eager to be supportive of anyone that supports the State of Israel, because I think Israel was treated in a horrible manner in the last few months.”
One of the reasons he accepted the Trump’s invitation, in fact, is the rabbi’s stance that “there’s no question Donald Trump will be a very close friend to Israel. … He’s showing the world that if you think the United States will desert Israel … we’re going to have very close ties to the state and I’m happy about that signal.”
Hier said he was comforted too by Trump’s involving such an eclectic pool of spiritual leaders at the inauguration, which the rabbi believes to be emblematic of the president’s “signaling that he wanted it to be representative of American society.”
When asked if he believed this “inclusivity,” as he put it, was in earnest on the part of Trump, Hier responded, “It would be only speculation, but he seemed very sincere. I watched him very closely when my colleagues came up and [Trump] was concentrating; it was a great moment for him.”
Although Hier hopes the gesture will open doors to involving more rabbis at future inaugurations, saying “it’s a good idea to be more inclusive,” he’s less enthused by the message broadcasted by the chorus of those who have and continue to oppose the election results.
“That doesn’t sound like tolerance,” Hier said. “It sounds like intimidation.”
As he’s expressed in previous interviews, Hier fears that such oppositional engagement becomes a “game of seesaw where both sides hit rock bottom. So this time the left hits rock bottom and they’re not coming [to the inauguration]. As a result, four years from now or eight years from now, if a Democrat wins, the Republicans might say <I>they<P> won’t come to the inauguration.
“The loser is American democracy,” Hier said. “So I’m not a big fan of the Democrats who boycotted. I think it was a mistake. 364 days a year of bickering ought to be enough. For one day, both sides should be able to come together.”
Hier suggested that those who might not necessarily agree with Trump should “follow thier leaders,” pointing out that unlike those who boycotted the inauguration, “the smarter move was made by the Obamas, Carter, the Bushes and the Clintons. … They don’t like anything Trump stands for, but they came.”
Proclaiming that it’s “time for a little patriotism,” Hier is emboldened by his sense that, if nothing else, once those opposing Trump “get a letter in the mail saying that their taxes have been cut, they’ll immediately jump for joy.”
In the meantime, Hier hopes that those “trying to figure out how they can get rid of Donald Trump” will consider that such continued tension “will take us back to the 1860s. And nobody wants that.”
To Hier, not only would America suffer should the growing schism here lead to some kind of unfortunate civil war, but being that “we’re holding up the rest of the world,” the rest of the globe would suffer in his estimation as well.
“So I would recommend to those people who are popping pills because the election didn’t turn out the way they planned to get a hold of themselves and do what people have done for generations in America: hope that the new president is a great president.
“You can be a Republican, you can be a Democrat, but either way, the election is over,” Hier concluded.
“So if you want, make plans for four years from now. But in the ensuing time, hope that he turns out to be a great president. That’s much better than bickering and trying to do something you can’t do anything about … We don’t hold elections every two weeks. That’s not democracy.”