Trump and the Jew

To the contrary, most American Jews see themselves ultimately as potential targets of eruptions of hateful speech, gun carnage and racial bigotry.

September 25, 2019 12:25
3 minute read.
Trump and the Jew

US President Donald Trump addresses the Republican Jewish Coalition Annual Leadership Meeting in Las Vegas on April 6. (photo credit: KEVIN LAMARQUE/REUTERS)

Let’s assume that President Donald Trump’s more vitriolic tweets and other utterances are not just a knee-jerk reaction to people he dislikes. Rather, let’s assume they have a more thought-out, strategic purpose, say, helping him in his bid for reelection in 2020.

Looking through that lens, let’s examine his words that many American Jews consider antisemitic in their effect, if not in outright intent. To cite a few examples: after the August 2017 demonstration in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent, Trump told the media that there were “very fine people on both sides.” One might assume this included even those chanting “Jews will not replace us.”

More recently, Trump criticized American Jews who opposed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ban on congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib visiting Israel, including the territories. His tweet accused his Jewish critics of “dual loyalty.”

Whatever Trump meant by the phrase – and let’s be more charitable here than the president would be – for most American Jews, “dual loyalty” conjures up memories of hateful canards about their being more loyal to Israel than the United States. President Trump claims he is not antisemitic, so let’s take him at his word. After all, as the joke goes, “What is the difference between Trump and Jews on New York’s Upper East Side?” Answer: “Trump’s grandchildren are Jewish.”

Whatever one thinks about Trump, he is not Adolf Hitler spewing forth an ideology of racial Aryan purity that condemned Jews to gas chambers. Trump’s ideology, to the extent he has one, is focused on himself, which stated more narrowly, means his prospects for reelection in 2020. Within this narrow focus, Trump’s utterances make sense, at least in his own political calculus. After all, most American Jews are not going to vote for Donald Trump. They did not in 2016, and will not in 2020.

In the mid-term elections last year, exit polls showed that close to 80% of American Jews voted for Democratic Party candidates. The voters Trump is counting on to win the presidency in 2020 are not staying awake at night worrying about antisemitism. Their concerns were captured in Trump’s politically astute slogan that propelled him to victory in 2016, “Make America Great Again,” which appeals to the nostalgic longings of likely Trump voters for an imagined past when they were ascendant.

A disproportionate number of these voters are less well-educated white males. To hear Trump tell it, the seesaw for many of these people started moving the wrong way when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president in 1932. It culminated in the election of Barack Obama, an African-American. How upsetting it was to have a black Harvard Law School graduate and his black Princeton-educated wife sleeping in the presidential bedroom in the White House. A silent rebellion erupted fueled by fear and, yes, tweets. Trump rode the anti-elitist seesaw to victory.

But American Jews were not looking for a Trump-inspired change. To the contrary, most American Jews see themselves ultimately as potential targets of eruptions of hateful speech, gun carnage and racial bigotry. As the Anti-Defamation League has long made clear, American Jews say sooner or later “the haters” will aim and direct their hatred at me, a Jew.

For most American Jews, this fear of another Holocaust – still at the outer edge of living memory – overrides whatever good they might see in Trump’s moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, or supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hardline anti-Palestinian position in the territories.

As I learned from my time in the Carter White House advising the president on Jewish affairs, American Jews may care about Israel, but they take a back seat to no one in their belief in the principles laid down by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution that have guaranteed Jews the right to remain Jews (less than 2% of the country’s population) and prosper and flourish as Jews. In contrast, most American Jews wonder whether Trump’s fervor is only for himself and his political future, whatever the cost may be for others, including America’s Jews.

Alfred H. Moses, former American ambassador, chairs United Nations Watch in Geneva, and is the chairman of the Honorary Board of Beit Hatfutsot – The Museum of the Jewish People. He lives in Washington, with a second home in Jaffa

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