With friends like Trump and Kanye, do Jews need enemies?

DIASPORA AFFAIRS: West went after Jews in a series of social media posts and interviews Trump warned Jews that they better get their act together...or else.

  Rapper Kanye West holds his first rally in support of his presidential bid in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. July 19, 2020.  (photo credit: REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo)
Rapper Kanye West holds his first rally in support of his presidential bid in North Charleston, South Carolina, U.S. July 19, 2020.
(photo credit: REUTERS/Randall Hill/File Photo)

It’s been an interesting month to be an American Jew. Used to cruising along out of the spotlight as much as possible, the glare instead sought them out via high-profile barbs coming from sources disparate as rap demigod Kanye West and former US president Donald Trump.

West, or Ye, as he’s become known, went after Jews in a series of social media posts and interviews over the last week or so. Trump, meanwhile, seemed to warn American Jews that they better get their act together... or else.

Both cases have been perceived gravely by the American Jewish community and its leaders. But just how bad is it?

Donald Trump's antisemitic statements about American Jews, Israel

Let’s take Trump. Is he promoting dual loyalty among American Jews? The former president posted a warning to US Jews that they "have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel - before it is too late."

Trump posted on his social media app Truth Social, since he’s banned from Twitter. He appeared to threaten Jewish Americans, calling them ungrateful. “No President has done more for Israel than I have,” he wrote. Trump added that the Evangelical community in the US is “much more appreciative” of what he did for Israel than are American Jews.

Thought leaders and Jewish professionals whose expertise is antisemitism claim that Trump’s remarks mark a new manifestation of this anti-Jewish rhetoric.

 Then US-president elect Donald Trump and musician Kanye West pose for media at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, US, December 13, 2016.  (credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY) Then US-president elect Donald Trump and musician Kanye West pose for media at Trump Tower in Manhattan, New York City, US, December 13, 2016. (credit: REUTERS/ANDREW KELLY)

“Trump was basically saying that he operated as president in order to serve Israeli and Jewish interests, not American interests... Trump was accusing liberal Jews and, in a way, also Conservative Jews in America, that they should vote based on an ‘Israel first’ ideology.”

Gidi Grinstein

“Trump was basically saying that he operated as president in order to serve Israeli and Jewish interests, not American interests,” Gidi Grinstein, president and founder of the Reut Group told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday from his home in New York City. “Trump was accusing liberal Jews and, in a way, also Conservative Jews in America, that they should vote based on an ‘Israel first’ ideology,” Grinstein analyzed.

Grinstein thinks that Trump’s post is “sort of paradoxical: He is testifying about himself that he didn’t manage his foreign policy on the principle of America First, an ideology that he promoted through his campaign. He is portraying all Jews as if they should vote on the principle of Israel first. That’s a very dangerous association, with the whole ancient discourse of dual loyalty of Jews.”

According to the American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Translate Hate Glossary, dual loyalty is “a bigoted trope used to cast Jews as the ‘other.’” For example, it becomes antisemitic, according to the AJC, when an American Jew’s connection to Israel is “scrutinized to the point of questioning his or her trustworthiness or loyalty to the United States.”

“The paradox is that Trump accuses liberal Jews of following the America First principle,” he said, while laughing.

Grinstein shared that in his perspective, Trump’s comments are “a new and different kind of antisemitic rhetoric.” He added that the fact that Trump told American Jews that they need to, in a way, get their act together regarding Israel, means that in the former president’s eyes, “American Jewry was lucky that Trump was on its side – meaning that during the Trump administration, the Jews were lucky to be on Trump’s good side. But his statement this week reminds Jews what could have happened if a Trump-type leader in America directed his political direction against the Jews.”

Grinstein, the author of Flexigidity: The Secret of Jewish Adaptability and Challenge and Opportunity Facing Israel, a philosophical book that analyzes the Jewish people’s history and future, said that this situation has larger and broader historical lessons: “Almost every time in history, when the Jews became a wedge issue for society, whether it was in ancient Egypt or Persia during the days of king Ahasuerus [a biblical name of three rulers in Babylonian empire] and in Spain during the Inquisition, it ended in a calamity. The standing of the Jewish community in America, which is often embodied through the approach to Israel, is becoming a wedge issue in American society between conservatives and liberals.” Grinstein is worried about the current situation. “Historically speaking, Jews being a wedge issue for the host society is existentially dangerous in the long term.”

“Historically speaking, Jews being a wedge issue for the host society is existentially dangerous in the long term.”

Gidi Grinstein

Asked what he thinks Jewish organizations or Israeli leaders should do in order to make sure that Israel isn’t a wedge issue in the US, he clarified: “First of all, we’re talking about long processes of decades and even centuries. But what I’m getting at is that those who look at the longer arc of Jewish history should work very hard to eject Israel out of this very contentious position of being a wedge issue in American society. This means that Israel needs to work very hard with both [sides] of the aisle, with all key sectors of American society. It needs to build strong, long-term relations with existing and emerging leaders of different communities in America and of course, avoid a situation where we [Israel] pick sides in American politics.”

Kanye West's antisemitic rants

ANOTHER FASCINATING and worrying phenomenon is the antisemitic rants that celebrity rapper Kanye West has been publishing on social media and saying in interviews. This week, West said that the Abraham Accords was about “making money” for the Kushner family, referring to Trump’s son-in-law and former adviser, Jared Kushner. West said this to host Tucker Carlson on his talk show on the Fox News television network.

West, who now goes by the pseudonym Ye, criticized Kushner’s role in the Trump administration in the interview. “When I think about all of these things that Jared somehow doesn’t get enough credit for with his work, and what is his work? Israel, or his work in Pal[estine]... you know he made these peace treaties,” said West, referring to the Abraham Accords. “I just think it was to make money.”

That didn’t stop Trump from defending West. “He was really nice to me. Beyond anybody, he was great to me.” He added that “he [West] was great, really, to MAGA [Making America Great Again], to the MAGA movement, which was very impressive,” Trump said in an interview with right-wing news host Larry O’Connor.

Most American Jewish organizations refrained from criticizing Trump for his remarks. One of the leaders who agreed to speak on record regarding Trump was Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt.

“Who knows what president Trump ever means?” he said of Trump’s post. “There’s a whole industry of people trying to parse his words, or whatever’s in his head or his heart,” he told the Post.

“I have to deal with antisemitism in America today. And the fact of the matter is that in 2021, we saw the highest number of anti-Jewish incidents on record. In the past week, we’ve had antisemitic vandalism at cities across the country. We had a Jewish Orthodox man assaulted in Brooklyn. We have the rapper Kanye West making wild claims about Zionists and Jews. So there is a larger pattern afoot,” he said in a worrisome manner. “People are feeling attacked, from both sides. It’s incredibly concerning. So when the president says ‘before it’s too late,’ it sounds like a threat in an environment where Jews already feel threatened.”

Asked how he would respond to the fact that Trump has a Jewish daughter and Jewish grandchildren and was a big supporter of Israel, and regarding the fact that many wouldn’t see him as an antisemite, Greenblatt responded bluntly that “the reality is, when Kanye West distorts the Holocaust and claims that Planned Parenthood is ‘his people’s Holocaust Museum,’ give me a break. That is galling, that is ugly and it’s just wrong.

“At this point in time in America today, when we’re more polarized than ever, when Jews, Asian Americans and minorities, again, are feeling under siege, we need all responsible people to exercise some discretion once and for all,” Greenblatt stated.

In his eyes, West’s remarks are similar to those of actor Mel Gibson, who has a long history of antisemitism accusations, such as his remarks made in 2006 after his arrest, calling Jewish actress Wynona Rider an “oven dodger,” as well as claims surrounding one of his films, The Passion of the Christ. “Gibson didn’t have as many followers on social media. Kanye has 31.5 million followers on Twitter alone. The fact that he has such a big platform and he uses it to promote Jew hate is a huge problem. The difference between West and Gibson is that Mel at least apologized and understood that he was out of line. Kanye shows no signs of remorse whatsoever.”

A racist tweet that West published was deleted by Twitter, and his account has been locked because of his inciteful words. “I commend Twitter for flagging his tweets; they did what they needed to do,” Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt shared that he went to synagogue during the past High Holy Days. “You have to negotiate a phalanx of security to get into the synagogue: Locks on the doors, armed security guards standing there in order to check you. If you’re unfamiliar,” the guards won’t let you in. “Most people are used to just walking into a church or temple; not the Jewish community. Whether it’s a day school, a nonprofit office, a JCC or a synagogue, all of them literally are fortified, because the attacks are so real.

“We’ve learned the hard way; we have to be vigilant. And that’s why the normalization of antisemitism, whether it’s coming from the former president of the United States or rappers like Kanye, this only underscores why the community feels so concerned.”

“We’ve learned the hard way; we have to be vigilant. And that’s why the normalization of antisemitism, whether it’s coming from the former president of the United States or rappers like Kanye, this only underscores why the community feels so concerned.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO

Grinstein isn’t as worried about West’s remarks as he is of Trump’s rhetoric. “Everyone knows that Kanye is a bit crazy. I personally get regular updates from my daughters,” he said.

Yet he offered a solution: “I believe that the insurance policy for Israel and for American Jewry is by building strong relations with emerging leaders of the different communities that make up American society. And the only way to do that is by creating opportunities for them to personally connect with Israelis, to give them the tools to bring values to their own communities. We need to effectively associate the good coming from Israel with their ability to address the acute needs of their own community.” •