Speaking to a group of Jewish big political donors, President Donald Trump this week resorted to his now-familiar ethnic slurs against his political opponents and his antisemitic tropes – earning approving laughter from the far-right crowd.
That triggered criticism from several mainstream Jewish groups, but their criticism was tempered in some cases by praise for Trump’s supposed pro-Israel actions since taking office – a clear signal that these groups have little comprehension of the danger that the president’s appeal to white supremacy, antisemitism and xenophobia pose to the Jewish community and countless others.
Put simply, moving the embassy to Jerusalem and seemingly giving a green light to Israeli annexation of West Bank territories – actions that earned praise from many in the pro-Israel community but deeply worried others – cannot possibly offset the encouragement he has given and continues to give to a rising tide of haters, including hard-core antisemites.
An ocean away, an Israeli prime minister – who has failed twice to form a government after national elections and who is fighting with Trumpian ugliness to stay out of jail after being indicted on multiple corruption charges – continues to assert that his buddy-buddy relationship with the American president is one reason he should stay in office.
But there are indications Trump may be throwing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu under the bus – typical behavior for a president who repeatedly has abandoned former friends and colleagues when they are no longer useful to him.
Netanyahu’s embrace of Trump – and the American president’s support for Israeli far-right policies while also inciting antisemitism at home – offers a clear window into the widely reported alienation of so many American Jews from the Jewish state.
Netanyahu is also telling Israeli voters they need him because, unlike his opponent, he speaks fluent American and “the US public knows me.” True. Maybe a bit too much.
He claims to be the one person who can mobilize American public opinion behind Israel, but the reality is that he has done more to divide than unite, especially when it comes to American Jews.
Polls show that while most Americans have a positive view of Israel generally, they have a negative view of Netanyahu. That could include Trump.
The president declared himself the best friend Israel has ever had in a 55-minute oration before the Israeli American Council, a far-right group sponsored by Republican mega-donors Sheldon and Miriam Adelson. Not once did he mention Netanyahu’s name.
That may be because Netanyahu, who campaigns on his close ties to “my friend Donald,” is on the outs with the Adelsons – or maybe Trump didn’t want to be associated with a prime minister under indictment, at a time when he’s about to face a trial of his own. Trump is known for the speed with which he abandons those he no longer has any need for.
Just two days earlier, the US House of Representatives delivered a stinging rebuke to both leaders by passing a resolution endorsing the two-state solution, and opposing settlement expansion and “unilateral annexation of territory.” Trump has taken no position on creation of an independent Palestinian state, something Netanyahu stridently opposes. The administration has given Israel a green light to annex portions of the West Bank, but it is unclear if Jerusalem and Washington interpret the signal the same way.
THE VOTE was symbolic of the widening chasm between Israel and an American Jewish community that voted 3:1 against Trump and Republicans in the last two election cycles and is clearly moving away from automatic support for Israeli policy. Netanyahu is the problem, not the solution. No one has done more damage – no antisemite, no Arab – to Jewish support for Israel.
All 25 Jewish Democratic lawmakers voted for the resolution, and the two Republican Jews voted no. The message was clear: Bibi may stand with Trump, but American Jews don’t stand with either one.
Trump’s speech to the Adelson group was overflowing with the usual self-adulation, boasts about being the best friend Israel ever had in the White House and listing all the mitzvot he has performed. But he was puzzled, after all he has done, that the Jews fail to show the appreciation he deserves.
He said Jews who don’t vote for him “don’t love Israel enough.” It was a repeat of last summer’s attack calling Jewish Democrats “disloyal to Jewish people and... very disloyal to Israel.” Speaking of peacemaking, he referred to the Palestinians as “your neighbors,” a reminder that on another occasion he referred to Netanyahu as “your prime minister.”
Many Jews in his audience laughed and applauded when he made ethnic and racial slurs against others – like referring to Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren as “Pocahontas.”
When a Muslim congresswoman said Jews try to buy political influence – “it’s all about the Benjamins” – she was called an antisemite; but when Trump used an equally offensive slur in front of a group led by a man who gave $100 million to Trump’s party, he was just met with approving laughter.
“A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well,” Trump told them. “You’re brutal killers. Not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me – you have no choice.” More laughter.
More disturbing than Trump’s usual antisemitic slurs was the cheering response of the Jewish audience, including those he’d just called “brutal killers.” Not only did they seem unbothered, but many actually cheered his bigotry. One has to wonder how they’d have responded if a Democrat said the same thing. (Note to readers: all references to laughter and applause come from the White House transcript.)
The ADL’s Jonathan Greenblatt tweeted that Trump was “trafficking [in] antisemitic tropes” by saying Jews only care about their wealth.
Yair Rosenberg wrote in The Washington Post that “Trump believes all the antisemitic stereotypes about Jews but sees those traits as admirable.”
What he didn’t speak about Saturday was right-wing antisemitism coursing through his party, encouraged by his unfiltered rhetoric. Under Trump, the GOP has become “a cesspool of right-wing nationalist rhetoric, antisemitic tropes... anti-immigrant screeds and conspiracy theories,” wrote Washington Post blogger Jennifer Rubin, herself a pro-Israel conservative voice.
Halie Soifer, executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council, denounced as “vile and bigoted” Trump’s repeated use of “antisemitic stereotypes to characterize Jews as driven by money and insufficiently loyal to Israel.”
Trump’s embrace of antisemitic rhetoric and Netanyahu’s embrace of Trump and his politics of hate threaten Israel, its bipartisan political support in the United States and its relationship with American Jewry.