WASHINGTON – Across from the Trump International Hotel in Washington, as Donald Trump marched down Pennsylvania Avenue fresh off his inauguration as president of the United States, two Jews stood between adoring fans and rancorous protesters and had an unlikely civil conversation.
Hailing from Virginia, Ben wore a T-shirt featuring Trump in portrait clad in Napoleonic military dress. Ben completed his outfit with a camouflage “Make America Great Again” hat.
Marjore, from Massachusetts, wore a blue T-shirt featuring a profile of former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. She was joined by her partner, who standing by her side wore an “LGBT for H” button.
Ben voted for Trump because he identifies as a nationalist and because he wants his Second Amendment right to bear arms protected. Marjore voted for Clinton because she wants civil liberties for all Americans protected. They had never met before.
This is their unfiltered conversation on how their Judaism – and their support for Israel – drew them to opposite sides of a historically sharp political divide.
Ben: “My main news source is Breitbart – I read them a lot.”
Marjore: “I read them as well.”
Ben: “And they are very pro-Zionist, I would say. They have an office in Jerusalem. If anything, they’re anti-Palestinian.”
Marjore: “They are. But there’s a difference between Zionism and antisemitism.
The problem is the concept of – we’re sitting ducks there.
Whether we’re Zionists or not, the people who are there oughta be there and we need to seek peace. The Jews oughta be there. The Israelis oughta be there. The Palestinians oughta be there. The Arab communities that surround them oughta be there. My concern is that we’re sacrificial, as we have been throughout history.”
Ben: “What do you mean sacrificial?” Marjore: “That antisemitism and the alt-right are distinctly linked together, and that in a war situation, the willingness to forfeit Israel – to forfeit the Jewish people – is strong.”
Ben: “Well first of all, if this were an alt-right situation, that might be the case. But Donald Trump is not an alt-right president.”
Marjore: “But he’s surrounded himself by the alt-right. The presidency is an office and an institution, and that institution is made up of all of these people.”
Ben: “I think that as a Jew, our identity since the Diaspora began has been being defined as a people without a land. We’ve been basically defined by being a persecuted people within our own countries. And that, I think, has deformed our character as a people. I think that instead of defining ourselves by who persecuted us, by all of these outside elements, we should be defining ourselves by who we are. And the only way to do that is by having a strong Jewish identity and a nationalist Jewish identity, which is to say Zionism. And therefore...”
Marjore: “But Zionist or not, we are at risk.”
Ben: “Right, but I think that we as a people should live or die by the existence of our state.
As I think all people should.
I mean, I think we should be ready to fight and die for Israel as Jews. And I think that if Israel falls, then we should fall.”
Marjore: “But we don’t have to fight or die. We can live in communities. We don’t have to fight or die.”
Ben: “I think we’ve been living in communities, as you say, for a long time, and it hasn’t worked out for us. We’ve been kicked out of every country either because they don’t like us or because...”
Marjore: “It has worked out. It has worked out.”
Ben: “When?” Marjore: “Well, right now it’s working out. And there’s an Israel in existence.”
Ben: “I know, but I’m saying outside of Israel. Like, when have the Jews not been persecuted outside [Israel] for the past 300 years?” Marjore: “Well I’m saying you can go as far back as you want – the Jews are currently in Israel.
And they’re also standing right here. And there’s a movement of antisemitism in this country.
If you look at the statistics of hate crimes in this country, right after people of color are the Jews.”
Ben: “I’ve never even heard of...”
Marjore: “If you look at the white on white statistics...”
Ben: “I have a lot of friends who are in the alt-right. I’ve never heard of someone actually, like, attacking someone physically for being Jewish.”
Marjore: “It’s a result of history, and some of it is very ugly.
Israel needs to exist. But it needs to exist in the same way that I can live in community with you – and I do believe that I can.”
Ben: “I don’t think those are the same thing. I think a nation-state existing for its people is not comparable to people living in a host state. I mean, I’m a nationalist. I believe that all people should have their own nations. I think it’s critical to identity as a people, and to existence of a people. And I don’t think that you can have a full existence without having your own nation-state.”
Marjore: “I think you can have a full existence – I have a full existence in this country as a Jew. I have children, I raised a daughter, I have a life, I have a partner. I have a life. You have a life. There is a life. I’m not as knowledgeable about Israel because I do not live there, and I cannot speak for them. What I can say though is, geographically, there’s a vulnerability there.
And it might not be that the way to respond to that vulnerability is war and conflict. It’s not about the dying. It’s about how people choose to live.”
The Jerusalem Post
: “Can I just ask you a quick question? Do you consider yourself an ethno- nationalist?” Ben: “Yes.”
Marjore: “What is an ethno- nationalist?” Post: “The belief that a nation should be defined by ethnicity and race.”
Ben: “Yes. Israel, for example, is an ethno-nationalist state.”
Marjore: “Well, it’s both Jewish and democratic.”
Ben: “I think a lot of the antisemitism you see today is because of people on the Right who hear that argument from Jews, and then we Jews don’t allow that argument for non- Jews. We say, okay – we are special because of our own history.
We deserve our own state.
But you whites don’t deserve your own state. We should have people who are not like you, who don’t share your culture, pouring into your own country.
But we shouldn’t have to do the same. And if we didn’t have that attitude, then there wouldn’t be a lot of this virulent antisemitism you see on the rise.”
Marjore: “Well I want to thank you for having this conversation with me. Really, I appreciate it.”
Ben: “Thank you.”