A week of antisemitic gaslighting

American politics is imploding, and using the Jewish community as a political cudgel must be stopped.

August 27, 2019 14:38
4 minute read.
A week of antisemitic gaslighting

President Donald Trump caused a furor on August 20 when he said that American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party show “great disloyalty” to the Jewish people and Israel.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Growing up in New Jersey suburbs outside New York, I viewed antisemitism as a historical footnote meant to be studied, not experienced in the present day. Even with antisemitism raging in Europe, life in the US was completely detached from that reality.

Now, I can barely go a day without reading a headline of political leaders saying something vile about Jews, or worse, learning of a synagogue being vandalized or faced with violence.

What was once fringe to me has now mutated into the mainstream — and US President Donald Trump is helping to fuel it.

Last Tuesday, Trump astonished the world when he said Jews who vote for Democrats show “great disloyalty.”

On Wednesday, he doubled-down on this statement, telling press “If you want to vote Democrat, you are being very disloyal to Jewish people and very disloyal to Israel.”

These are bewildering remarks to come from Trump.

His statements invoke the centuries-old trope that Jews are disloyal citizens to their own country.

These comments are not just divisive — they’re dangerous. Antisemitism has persisted for centuries because of tropes like this. Charges of dual loyalty against Jews led to the Spanish Inquisition, Stalin’s pogroms and the horrors of Nazi Germany.

Trump’s comments about disloyal Jews play into the same malignant tropes. It’s the kind of rhetoric that animates white supremacists to commit massacres like the one at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life congregation in 2018.

The questioning of Jewish loyalty has become a surprising theme in 2019. In March, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar was criticized for suggesting that Jews had dual loyalty to Israel. Her comments were condemned by most major American Jewish organizations, and the president has since used the incident to make her a target for racist attacks. What’s mystifying though is that Trump now agrees with her — but in reverse — saying Jews aren’t loyal enough to Israel. Talk about a mind-bender.

In Trump’s logic, antisemitic tropes are only bad when Democrats do it, but are totally kosher when they come from Republicans like himself.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin called out Trump’s remarks in a tweet, speaking to the importance of bipartisan support. No comment has been made from Trump yet.

It’s easy to deride Trump when he acts so abysmally, but he’s also a calculated demagogue.

Central to his re-election strategy is to stoke fear that the Democrats are transforming into the party of Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. The two congresswomen have raised alarm for their support for the BDS movement. But their views are far from the norm among the party. In July, the House overwhelmingly passed a bipartisan resolution condemning BDS by a margin of 398-17.

Clearly the views of two freshman members of Congress haven’t had much impact on the tilt of the party.

However, Trump is using scare-tactics to fuel his base with anti-Omar hysteria and convince swing-voters that he has their backs.

Since Trump’s election, American politics has become more tribal. Politicians are crossing a line that upends mainstream norms of political discourse like never seen before.

The left is not exempt from this problem either.

Omar and Tlaib, who were just barred from Israel at the urging of Trump, recently shared an antisemitic cartoon on their instagram feeds featuring Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump silencing them with a Star of David front and center. The cartoon was made by Carl Latuff, who is perhaps best known for finishing runner-up in Iran’s “International Holocaust Cartoon Contest.”

Democrats were completely silent on this matter, even as it was uncovered that the organization Omar and Tlaib planned their trip with, Miftah, has a vile history of trafficking antisemitism on its site. Miftah published an article claiming that Jews bake blood into their matzah, and several articles praising terrorists.

It should go without saying that standing up for Palestinian rights should never excuse blatant antisemitism. Something is gravely wrong when this is considered acceptable conduct from sitting members of Congress. Only in 2019 could this fly under the radar.

It’s time for Democrats and Republicans alike to stand up to those in power, and stand for what’s right.

We need more politicians like Jewish Democratic Congressman Ted Deutch, who in February gave an impassioned plea on the House floor condemning antisemitism within his own party.

Antisemitism flourishes when it masquerades in plain sight and goes unchecked.

On the right, Trump’s rhetoric is fueling hate and division, while on the far left antisemitism is being mainstreamed under the guise of political dissent and social justice.

Trump is trying to make support for Israel a Republican issue when it’s truly a bipartisan one. The 2019 Pew Report indicates that among the public, a majority of Democrats and Republicans share a favorable view of Israelis. Most Americans support Israel, and it’s not due to political influence or campaign contributions. Support for Israel stems from shared democratic values and strategic interests.

With antisemitism becoming a political tool, having leaders like Chuck Schumer in the Senate has never felt more vital. Trump’s remarks this week are an insult to the more than two dozen Democratic members of Congress who are Jewish and serve this country as loyal Americans.

American politics is imploding, and using the Jewish community as a political cudgel must be stopped.

Antisemitism comes from every direction and every dimension. It’s on the left and the right. From online trolls, heads of state, and leaders of major political parties. It’s all connected.

Don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. Antisemitism comes in all flavors — and they all need to be called out for their bad taste before it’s too late.

Peter Fox is a contributing writer to The Forward and Tablet Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @thatpeterfox.

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