Attorney General William Barr pointed a finger at groups fighting “under the banner of identity politics” at a summit on anti-Semitism Monday, saying that they were divisive and creating a “breeding ground for hatred.”
“My concern today is that under the banner of identity politics some political factions are seeking to obtain power by dividing Americans and they undermine the values that draw us together, such as a shared commitment to our country’s success. This is the breeding ground for hatred and we must reject it,” Barr said.
The all-day event, which also included remarks from the heads of the FBI and Treasury Department, came as President Donald Trump launched a new volley of attacks on a group of progressive congresswomen who he said have used “racist” and anti-Semitic language.
Trump was criticized for his own racist tweet on Sunday, in which he claimed the group of Democratic lawmakers — all women of color — should “go back” to their countries, though most of them were born in America. On Monday, the President refused to back away from his racist statements, saying, “Many people agree with me” and adding to his personal attacks on the group of lawmakers by falsely claiming one of the lawmakers, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, supports Al Qaeda.
Barr said Monday he was “deeply concerned” about a rise in hate crimes and political violence in the country, and called combating them a “critical priority” for the Justice Department.
He also compared the various forms of “anti-Semitism” to cancer that can “rapidly metastasize and become systemic” without a good defensive system.
“Just like a physical body, the body politic must have an immune system that resists anti-Semitism and other forms of racial hatred,” Barr said.
In 2017, more than half of the victims of religiously-motivated hate crimes were involved in anti-Jewish incidents, according to the FBI.
Barr referenced a “sharp uptick” in attacks on Orthodox Jews in New York City this year and the vandalizing of 59 gravestones in a Jewish cemetery in Massachusetts, in addition to “front-page stories about horrific shootings.”
Eleven people were killed when a gunman in Pittsburgh opened fired inside a synagogue last year. The gunman was charged with several new hate crime counts this year by the Justice Department.
The conference also focused on the movement to boycott Israel on college campuses that organizers say is born from the country’s treatment of Palestinians.
Speaking later at the summit, Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, or BDS, is a “pernicious threat” and a source of anti-Semitism at schools.