What Mr. Shapiro overlooked

Daniel B. Shapiro, who was U.S. ambassador to Israel during Pres. Obama’s term, has written an op-ed entitled “After Charlottesville, Trump violated George Washington’s promise to American Jews.”  Notwithstanding its status as a “featured post,” it’s a farrago of falsehoods, half-truths and material omissions.

Mr. Shapiro begins by referencing Charlottesville, and he asserts that Pres. Trump “egged on…white supremacists, equating them with those protesting their racism by insisting there were ‘very fine people on both sides.’”  He contrasts Trump’s behavior with the probity exhibited by Joe Biden, who launched his own presidential campaign by deploring the moral equivalence Pres. Trump had allegedly asserted between neo-Nazis and those opposing racism.

Unfortunately, both Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Biden have misstated the facts—facts that can easily be ascertained by anyone honestly interested in the truth.  Pres. Trump used the phrase “very fine people on both sides” in a post-Charlottesville press conference; the video is here.  I urge every fair-minded person to watch it and to check the following transcript (which runs from 10:45 to 12:19 in the video) for accuracy.  For ease of reference, two passages are in bold:

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.

Reporter: [Unintelligible]

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.”

No one has ever accused Pres. Trump of speaking extemporaneously with precision and perfect clarity.  Lots of times, he’s simply hard to follow.  But, on this occasion, any fair-minded person can see that, when Pres. Trump refers to “very fine people on both sides,” he’s referring to very fine people on both sides of the question of removing Robert E. Lee’s statue and name from a public park.  How do I know this?  Because, 52 seconds after he uses the “very fine people” phrase, Pres. Trump explicitly states: “I’m not talking about neo-Nazis and the white nationalists, because they should be condemned totally.”

I don’t know about anyone else, but I believe a person can disagree with, and demonstrate against, the removal of statues and the renaming of parks without being a neo-Nazi or a white nationalist.  So, the “battle for the soul of our nation” that Messrs. Shapiro and Biden believe they are fighting is purely quixotic: they are tilting at a strawman.

Mr. Shapiro goes on to blame Pres. Trump for every violent incident perpetrated by people with arguably right-wing views since Charlottesville.  But, when a man who had been a dedicated worker in the Bernie Sanders 2016 presidential campaign attempted (in 2017, a few months before Charlottesville) to slaughter Republican members of Congress, did anyone seriously claim that Sen. Sanders and his fiery rhetoric caused the murderous attack?  Did Messrs. Shapiro and/or Biden blame Sen. Sanders?  I think not.

Mr. Shapiro closes with the thought that, unlike Pres. Trump, “Joe Biden … denounces every form of hate and prejudice without hesitation[.]  Jewish Americans will overwhelmingly support Biden, an empathic, trustworthy and eminently qualified public servant who is determined to stand up to bigotry, to truly give it no sanction.”  Is it true that Mr. Biden denounces every form of prejudice?

In 2019, Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (D. MN) asserted that, to understand why Israel has so much support in Congress, one need only “follow the Benjamins.”  I’ve spent a considerable amount of time scouring the internet for any evidence that Joe Biden denounced Rep. Omar’s anti-Semitic comment, either before or after she issued her non-apologetic apology.  I’ve found nothing.  But, to be fair, I suppose Joe Biden’s silence is better than Sen. Kamala Harris’ statement that we all should be concerned, after Rep. Omar’s remarks, that she—that is, Rep. Omar—might be “at risk”.  Yup, Jewish Americans ought to be enthusiastic as heck about that Biden/Harris ticket.

About the Author
David E. Weisberg is a semi-retired attorney and a member of the N.Y. Bar; he also has a Ph.D. in Philosophy from The University of Michigan (1971). He now lives in Cary, NC. His scholarly papers on U.S. constitutional law can be read on the Social Science Research Network at: https://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/cf_dev/AbsByAuth.cfm?per_id=2523973
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