Strange bedfellows, casual anti-Semitism and the Judaizing of Donald Trump

I don’t like Donald Trump. I’m from New York City, so I was reading tabloid headlines  about his unethical foibles from across a subway car long before The Apprentice was even an idea in a TV producer’s head. I was totally horrified by his casual demeaning of women on the Access Hollywood tape and thought that alone should have forever disqualified him from high office.

But I felt something when I saw him, black kippah on his head, standing at the Kotel two years ago in his dark suit. And I felt something reading how he called the Chabad rabbi who survived the San Diego synagogue shooting and, the rabbi reported, spoke of his love of peace, Judaism and Israel. Tears come to my eyes. Our suffering — our thousands-of-years-long suffering to simply continue to be who we are — was seen and acknowledged by the elected leader of the most powerful nation of the world. Yeah, so I felt something.

But I felt something quite different this past Shabbat when my three-year old daughter asked me “what’s that?” when she saw a drawing of a dog leading the very same figure in a black kippah and a dark suit in a newspaper I was reading. I did what parents since time immemorial have done when their children ask them questions about the evil, violence and injustice that permeates the world we had the temerity to bring their innocence into. I lied. “It’s just a dog,” I said. Just a dog.

As you probably already know it was not any dog. It was a caricature of Benjamin Netanyahu with a blue Star of David hanging from the dog’s collar. It appeared in an international edition of The New York Times.

Now, it’s certainly legitimate to criticize Netanyahu politically. For any number of things, including his relationship with Donald Trump; plenty of Israelis would. But I was nonetheless stunned when I recently heard the author of what sounded like an interesting book on Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner suddenly veer off her topic into an anti-Netanyahu screed that seemed to credit him with Rasputin-like magical powers of manipulation so great that he is to be considered the puppet master behind not only Trump, but Vladimir Putin. Here, the author, Vicky Ward, describes Netanyahu as “the grand chess master” who has acted like America’s secretary of state.

This kind of sudden veering reminds me of Kurt Vonnegut’s amazing description of the totalitarian mind in Mother Night as “a system of gears where teeth have been filed off at random.” The system runs wonderfully, smoothly and logically for minutes at a time. And then it gets to the point where some gear teeth are missing, and thus it suddenly jumps far ahead. The missing teeth represent “simple, obvious truths, truths available and comprehensible even to ten-year-olds, in most cases.” I would argue that one of these simple, obvious truths is that the idea that such a tiny group as the Jews would be able to secretly run the world is obviously utter nonsense. The kind of nonsense the likes of which a short, failed artist from Austria with a moustache once believed.

The point is that the line between legitimate criticism of the current Israeli government and just plain old anti-Semitism is getting harder and harder to see. And people, including the creator of the dog cartoon, are slipping well over it all the time. And nobody among them is calling them on it. Such casual expressions of anti-Semitism are becoming all too much the norm on the right and left. And this is making it really hard for people like me.

By people like me, I mean people on the left who love and support Israel. It’s getting to be a harder tightrope to walk up here and sometimes I find myself, much to my utter shock, experiencing positive feelings about how Donald Trump relates to the Jews.

But, trust me my friends, I am not getting down from here. I am not becoming a supporter of The Donald or of Bibi. My favorite description of the Jews has always been that we are an עם קשה עורף — a stiff-necked people (Shemot 32:9). This stiff-necked Jew is going to keep believing in justice, love and peace. No matter how hard the stiff winds from both the right and the left try and push me off my perch.

About the Author
Alan Abrams is a spiritual care educator who make Aliyah in 2014. He and his wife live in Jerusalem with their “sabra” daughter Berniki. Alan is the founder of HavLi, a spiritual care education and research center associated with the Schwartz Center for Health and Spirituality. A rabbi, Alan is scheduled to receive a PhD in May 2019 from NYU for his dissertation on the theology of pastoral care. He was a business journalist in his first career.