An interesting event happened at my Synagogue yesterday – well, it’s so small it’s more of a prayer group, but we manage to get at least ten people together to read the Torah. Anyway, after the Torah reading, one member turned around, blessed everyone with his Tallit and praised Trump’s inauguration. Well that triggered another member, who wouldn’t stop railing about how “they’re going to kill Jews now! They’re going to kill Jews!”
We did what we could to calm down the argument that ensued. But unfortunately it left on a negative note, with the pro-Trump guy leaving in a huff, declaring “I came from Iran, I am a proud American, you are un-American.”
This saddens me, because this didn’t need to happen. Both fell victim to demagoguery of one form or another. But I also see a great opportunity for us as Jews. We are an intellectual people, and such disagreements in our tribe have intellectual solutions.
That intellectual solution rests in the question: what does Trump mean for the Jews? How can we peel back all the headlines and election mudslinging to get to some concrete reality of a Trump presidency?
A Trump presidency seems to have great promise for the Jews, and namely for Israel. As of writing this article, Trump plans an official announcement tomorrow to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem. This is a major reversal of eight years of Obama which sought to put pressure on Israel to move back to 1967 lines, culminating in the UN declaration on settlements last month.
This has been part of a greater declaration that the US needs to rebuild its relationship with Israel, as well as any and all allies who share our values. And then there’s the fact that every one of Trump’s children (except Barron, who remains unmarried) has married a Jew.
So where does the association of Trump with anti-Semitism come from? The core of this association is one Richard Spencer, the self-proclaimed founder of the alt-right. Spencer has repeatedly quoted from Nazi propaganda and spoken critically of the Jewish people, Although he has denied being a neo-Nazi. He’s certainly not alone in this. A number of outspoken Trump supporters have associated Jews with the liberal left and the media they oppose.
Defining the alt-right itself is subject to much controversy already. I myself defined it much more broadly as a popular reaction to leftist orthodoxy. And it didn’t help that the first person to popularize it was Hillary Clinton in an attempt to smear Trump with some of his supporters.
Never mind that the Democrats have been saddled with those calling for the destruction of Israel for years now, a big reason many Jews are defecting to the Republican party.
But the media took her announcement and ran with it. I had been following Trump’s campaign pretty closely for over a year. I never heard of Richard Spencer until she brought it up. All the anti-Semitic activity I’d heard about had come from the left, thinly veiled as anti-Zionism. When terrorists targeted a Jewish supermarket or what they thought was a Jewish owned nightclub, the media just shrugged it off. Or worse, they blamed gun control or called it an honest criticism of Israel.
But now that they found a way to link anti-Semitism with a criticism of Trump, I all of a sudden heard about the horrors of anti-Semitism.
It doesn’t end with this either. Ben Garrison, a very popular pro-Trump cartoonist, has seen his cartoons altered by internet trolls to make him look like an anti-Semite. Not to mention Breitbart’s Steve Bannon has been called an anti-Semite despite having no such history – not to mention founder Andrew Breitbart himself was Jewish.
I could go on listing events (Milo Yiannopoulos comes to mind), but we can see a trend here. The issue is finding ways to smear one’s opponents by manipulating genuine fears of anti-Semitism.
And these fears are justified. The man who feared Trump echoed a long standing fear – historically, when the Christians backlash against the Muslims, they go after the Jews too. The expulsion of Jews from Spain teaches us that.
But we don’t have the luxury of reacting to such fears. The Nation of Israel is beset by enemies on all sides, and if we lean too comfortably to one side, we are targets to another. It’s been told politics is like a horseshoe – the more to the fringe one gets on the left or right, the more paranoid anti-Semitism one sees. Especially on the internet. If you don’t believe me, just do a Google Image search for “Trump Jews” and see how both sides think he’s either Hitler or a Jewish puppet.
Meanwhile even Trump’s most ardent internet supporters have distanced themselves from the anti-Semitic supporters. There is nothing to gain and much to lose from any association with them. Any association of Trump with an actual anti-Semitic voice is many layers removed, and winds up being more slander than innuendo.
So while it is important to keep an eye on some of Trump’s supporters, I don’t think we have much to worry about. Trump ran on an overall campaign of bringing jobs back, taking care of immigration, and recommitting to our allies. He won an overwhelming popular mandate on this but has few friends in Washington. So if he betrays any of this mandate he will be easy prey to his foes.
As Jews we should only be doing what so many enthusiastic supporters doing – giving him the benefit of the doubt while holding him accountable. I think we’ll be pleasantly surprised with the results of the coming year, but if not, I will be first to speak up.