The Sanders campaign has recently released a video in which the candidate vaunts his Jewish identity and his “intrinsically Jewish values.” The video prominently features a man named Joel Rubin, who identifies himself as the campaign’s “Jewish Outreach Director.” (Does that mean he’s the campaign’s Outreach Director and he’s also Jewish, or that he’s the campaign’s Outreach Director to Jewish Americans? I’m pretty sure it’s the latter, but in this era of identity politics one can never be certain.)
Mr. Rubin flatly asserts (at 1:38 in the video) that “[w]e have a white nationalist right now sitting in the White House.” What is the basis for that accusation? Well, according to Mr. Rubin, Pres. Trump is someone “who calls people who protested against Nazis in Charlottesville as equal to those Nazis. He said there were good people on all sides.”
This is not exactly the first time that Democrats have excoriated Donald Trump for statements made at a press conference after the Charlottesville demonstrations. In fact, when Joe Biden announced that he was running for president in 2020, literally the first words out of his mouth were: “Charlottesville, Virginia.” (You can see it here.) He of course went on to accuse Pres. Trump of asserting a moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and people who oppose bigotry and hatred.
There is only one thing wrong with the theme sounded by Mr. Biden and echoed by Mr. Sanders, Mr. Rubin and scores of journalists and commentators who are not fans of the president: Mr. Trump explicitly—I repeat, explicitly—denied any moral equivalence between neo-Nazis and those at Charlottesville who were opposing white nationalism.
As they say in sports, let’s go to the videotape.
The video of Pres. Trump’s controversial post-Charlottesville press conference is here. This is a transcript of what is said from 10:45 to 13:14 in the press conference, with two passages in bold for ease of reference:
Reporter: The neo-Nazis started this thing; they showed up in Charlottesville to protest….
Trump: Excuse me, excuse me. They didn’t put themselves down as neo-, and you had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people on both sides. You had people in that group—excuse me, excuse me—I saw the same pictures as you did. You had people in that group that were there to protest the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from “Robert E. Lee” to another name.
Trump: No, George Washington was a slave-owner. Was George Washington a slave-owner? So, will George Washington now lose his status? Are we going to take down—excuse me—are we going to take down, are we going to take down statues to George Washington? How about Thomas Jefferson? What do you think of Thomas Jefferson? You like him? Okay, good. Are we going to take down the statue? Cause he was a major slave-owner. Now, are we going to take down his statue? So, you know what? It’s fine. You’re changing history, you’re changing culture, and you had people—and I’m not talking about the neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally—but you had many people in that group, other than neo-Nazis and white nationalists, okay, and the press has treated them absolutely unfairly. Now, in the other group also you had some fine people, but you also had trouble-makers, and you see them come with the black outfits and with the helmets and with the baseball bats. You had a lot of bad, you had a lot of bad people in the other group, too.
Reporter: Sir, I just want to understand what you’re saying. You’re saying the press has treated white nationalists unfairly? I just want to understand what you’re saying.
Trump: No, no. There were people in that rally—and I looked the night before—if you look, there were people protesting very quietly the taking down of the statue of Robert E. Lee. I’m sure in that group there were some bad ones. The following day it looked like they had some rough, bad people—neo-Nazis, white nationalists—whatever you want to call them. But you had a lot of people in that group that were there to innocently protest, and very legally protest. Because—I don’t know if you know—they had a permit. The other group didn’t have a permit. So, I only tell you this: there are two sides to a story. I thought what took place was a horrible moment for our country, a horrible moment. But there are two sides to the country.
We can all agree that Pres. Trump is not the most pellucid, articulate extemporaneous speaker. His references to “that group” and “the other group” are vague and imprecise. Nevertheless, any fair-minded reader would understand that, when he talks about “very fine people on both sides,” Trump is referring to people on both sides of the dispute regarding the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and the renaming of the park. I don’t know about you, but I do not believe that a person who thinks statues of Confederate heroes should not be removed from public places is necessarily a white nationalist or a neo-Nazi. The president also rejects that notion.
We know he rejects that notion because, exactly fifty-two (52) seconds—that is, less than one minute—after his “very fine people on both sides” remark, the president says: “I’m not talking about the white nationalists and the neo-Nazis, because they should be condemned totally.” So, there can be absolutely no doubt that Pres. Trump never asserted any moral equivalency between neo-Nazis, who “should be condemned totally,” and those who oppose bigotry.
Bernie Sanders and Joel Rubin no doubt believe that Medicare-For-All represents fundamental Jewish values. That is, I think, debatable. But what is not debatable is that the Eighth Commandment, handed down from G-d to Moses, says: “Thou shalt not lie.” If the Sanders campaign wants to adhere to Jewish values, it can begin by disavowing the truly absurd, demonstrably false claim that Pres. Trump is a white nationalist.
[P.S. At 3:23 in the Sanders campaign video, there is a very fleeting shot of candidate Sanders together with a beaming Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D. Mich.), who supports a “one-state solution” to the Israeli/Palestinian dispute, together with a “right of return” to Israel of millions of so-called Palestinian “refugees” who have never actually been in Israel. Tlaib’s one-state solution would of course result in the disappearance of Israel as a Jewish nation-state. Is that, too, is consistent with Bernie Sanders’ Jewish values?]