Brett Kleiman
Brett Kleiman

Republican Jews, Step Up

On Saturday night, while speaking at the Israeli-American Council’s (IAC) annual conference in Florida, President Trump argued that American Jews don’t love Israel sufficiently and that most Jews will vote for him in order to protect their wealth. These anti-semitic comments must be internalized by the entire American Jewish community but especially by Republican Jews.

Let’s walk through each comment. First, on Israel. Trump attacked Jews for not loving Israel enough, in his eyes. “You have people that are Jewish people…. — they don’t love Israel enough” he said to a room of applause. This bad-faithed attack’s premise is the same as his attacks in August, and of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s in March: that American Jews are guilty of a dual loyalty to America and to Israel. This charge is literally textbook antisemitism, as the State Department defines it, as “accusing Jewish citizens of being more loyal to Israel… than to the interests of their own nations.” This attack is undoubtedly dangerous. Back in 1930’s Germany, for instance, Nazis and anti-semites accused Jews “of being traitors and used charges of disloyalty to justify their arrests [and] persecutions,” writes Julie Hirschfeld Davis, in the New York Times. In no way is what is happening now similar to the atmosphere then, but nonetheless, it underscores the hate and seriousness that comes with questioning Jews loyalty.

This comment is also of the same fabric of non-Jews deciding to delineate between “good” Jews and “bad” Jews. This tokenization is bad any time it is done to any minority group and inevitably leads to intra-group tension. I do not necessarily believe that Trump is some sort of five dimensional chess player, but I do know that his latest comments – that some Jews do not love Israel enough – will further inflame the simmering tensions that already exist between conservative and liberal Jews. At a time when anti-semitism in America is unequivocally on the rise, we should be more united across partisan lines.

That Jews “don’t love Israel enough,” as Trump proclaimed, reminded the anti-semites how much they just do not like Jews. Bigoted columnist Ann Coulter tweeted animusly about us American Jews, responding that “could we start slowly by getting them to like America?” As of December 9th, this tweet is still up, with seven thousand likes. This sort of language promotes hate and violence, a violation of Twitter’s rules and rules of basic decency. Twitter has yet to take down this call to act against Jews down.

Before I continue, it is worth noting two things: first, during his nearly hour long speech, which covered a range of topics, Trump neglected to mention either of the two synagogues shootings that took place recently. Second, IAC is essentially a more right wing, hardline version of AIPAC and is funded by right-wing mega-donor and Trump supporter Sheldon Adelson.

Trump’s second comment, which like a lot of things he says was said with a twinkle in his eye, concluded that Jews would overwhelmingly vote for him to protect their wealth from the Democratic candidates, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren: “you have to vote for me; you have no choice…. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax.” Obviously accusing Jews of caring about money over everything else is anti-semitic. In fact, it is one of the oldest canards used by anti-semites.

Back in February, Rep. Omar pulled a double whammy for anti-semitism, arguing that the real reason that Americans support Israel is  because “it’s all about the Benjamins baby, ” similar to what Trump just said. Republicans pounced. The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) issued a statement immediately, bemoaning partisanship, saying that Rep. Omar’s comments brought “a vile anti-semitic stereotype into the partisan politics of our day.”  President Trump said said Omar “should be ashamed of herself” and that her subsequent apology was inadequate. Jewish Republican congressman Lee Zeldin has not been shy in his criticism of Rep. Omar, saying in a March tweet that her “simultaneously disgusting, anti-semitic gas lighting that support for our great ally Israel is due to a pay off by Jews & allegiance to a foreign country will hopefully give all parties pause & reason for reflection at this moment in US history & politics.”

In May, Rep. Zeldin penned an op-ed with House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (who has palled around with white supremacists), in which they argued that “we have seen a resurgence of anti-semitism in the global left.” Their op-ed was simply a denunciation of anti-semitism from the left. Rep. Omar,  they (rightfully) claim, “has made numerous anti-semitic remarks over the past few months referencing tropes about the Jewish people.” But their frame misses the point, “Omar’s comments are part of the clear and alarming rise of anti-semitism among Democrats.” It is quite clear that Republicans can understand that dual loyalty and Jewish-money tropes are incredibly anti-semitic. But when their messiah, President Trump says them? Radio silence or (maybe worse) justifications. Loud mouthed executive director of the RJC tweeted that all the people claiming the 45th president dabbled in some anti-semitism to “get over yourselves.”

Trump, the RJC, Rep. Zeldin and others are are clearly blind, or acting in bad faith. They are only able to see and feel comfortable criticizing anti-semitism that emanates from the left. They bemoan partisanship, yet they are only willing to so valiantly speak up against anti-semitism if it is from leftists, as they know that that criticism will score them political points.

In February, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and a host of the Democratic leadership condemned Rep. Omar, saying her “use of anti-semitic tropes and prejudicial accusations about Israel’s supporters” were deeply offensive. Since this condemnation was done in good faith, from a member of her party, from someone who she respects, Rep. Omar apologized, saying that she never intended to offend anybody. This was novel, as it is hard, says anti-semitism expert Yair Rosenberg, for “many across the political spectrum” to confront anti-semitism “among ideological allies.”

But that is clearly the best way to actually change the issues. Ostensibly, whether you’re a left wing Bernie supporting Jew, or if you have a MAGA kippah, you’d agree with the following: a) that anti-semitism is on the rise in this country; and b)it would be nice if it stopped. Hurling back condemnations and accusations of your political opponent engaging in anti-semitism won’t really solve anything. The Jewish Democratic Council of America strongly condemned President Trump’s latest attacks. But to most Republicans, this won’t change their calculus. They’ll see it and ignore it as just one more instance where “Democrats are trying to tear down Republicans.” It’ll be viewed in a partisan context, changing nothing; just continuing the entrenchment of our community and our country.

This needs to change. Donald Trump is a man who covets the approval of others. Republicans – elected officials and voters – need to call Trump out for his anti-semitism. The only way we make a dent on stopping bigotry is if we overcome our partisanship and the pettiness and stand up to our ideological allies and teach them how to get better. How to be less anti-semitic. As of yet, Republicans (Rep. Zeldin, the RJC, Sen. Mitt Romney to name a few) have shied away from this battle. We all know they feign interest in stopping anti-semitism, in ridding it from our country, but they refuse to truly engage with the problem. Even a basic reading of history would lead one to understand that anti-semitism has been and will be prevalent on the left and the right. It is a transcendent phenomenon.

The only way we can stop anti-semitism from infesting our politics is by engaging with those who might (purposefully or not) be employing anti-semitism within our own political camps, amongst our own political allies. For Republican Jews, the time is now to step up and condemn (and also educate) the anti-semitism that has become far too prevalent amongst some of their non-Jewish allies.

About the Author
Brett L. Kleiman is currently a student at Emory University in Atlanta, GA, where he studies political science and international relations. He is a research intern at the Institute for the Study of Modern Israel and is the former president of the Emory Democrats. Born and raised in Houston, Texas, Brett attended The Robert M Beren Academy for 12 years. From September 2015 to June 2016 Brett lived in Israel through Young Judaea's gap year program, Year Course. Brett is interested in Israel, America, diplomacy, podcasts, Game of Thrones, The Wire, politics, reading, sports, and peace.
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