The Internet has been alive with chatter recently about the question of whether Donald Trump will, as a U.S. presidential candidate, be a strong supporter of Israel. Also circulating is the question of whether he is anti-Semitic, given his tendencies to denounce nationalities and cultures that aren’t his own. Proponents of the world’s most famous real-estate magnate note that his daughter Ivanka married a Jewish man and converted to Judaism, so papa Trump couldn’t possibly hate members of the tribe.
Unfortunately, that kind of thinking is specious and problematic. There’s no reason why The Donald can’t be anti-Semitic, even if his own daughter considers herself Jewish. And I’ll explain why.
There’s an old excuse that bigots use to defend themselves from being accused of prejudice that goes something like this: “I’m not racist; one of my best friends is black” or “I’m not homophobic; my uncle is gay.” Friendships and family ties have nothing whatsoever to do with ideological leanings; an individual can hate what another close to him or her represents, even though he or she doesn’t hate the person. Plenty of mothers- and fathers-in-law despise their children’s spouses, as well as what they stand for … and vice versa. For a fictitious example, one need only look at the popular U.S. TV series All in the Family to observe that. For a real-life example, one need only scrutinize any one unit in America—or, for that matter, anywhere else in the world—for evidence.
Happily, I love my in-laws. I have no idea if Donald Trump does. What I do know, however, is that he made disparaging public statements about Mexicans, and that leads me to believe that he could do the same for other races and religions, too. Bigots generally don’t just hate one group of people. They’re often all-encompassing; there are many cultures they dislike. And of course, their prejudice is irrational, spurred by ignorance. They may say absurd things such as “I know some Jews who are very good people”—which is akin to a comment Trump made about Mexicans. But this is, as Admiral Ackbar exclaims in the classic Star Wars film Return of the Jedi, “a trap.” It’s a comment made to placate folks who are easily swayed by kind words. It’s not the truth.
Trump’s perceived “neutral” stance on Israel may be perplexing to proponents of the Jewish state such as me, but the possibility of his anti-Semitism is alarming. This is an individual who is extremely media-savvy, who has been in the spotlight for decades in my home town of New York, who seems to believe in the adage “there’s no such thing as bad publicity.” He knows exactly what he’s doing, and that makes him all the more frightening. The fact is, the general public may never know what goes on in his head, because he’s so attuned to saying out loud what the media wants to hear. Does he really believe all the offensive nonsense he broadcasts, or is he just using Americans by appealing to lowest-common-denominator sensibilities?
I’ll tell you one thing: I’m not interested in finding out.
I didn’t vote in the last U.S. presidential election, for various reasons. I will in this one, though. Because I’m concerned that a fellow New Yorker might win and make bigotry the norm in America, rather than the antithesis of all that the country stands for. I know we’re better than that. I know we can, as Obi-Wan Kenobi says in the original Star Wars, “do what [we] feel is right.”
If only the Force could play a part in making that happen.