Is Donald Trump good for the Jews? The answer is an emphatic “yes” for Trump’s Jewish supporters in both the U.S. and Israel who seem to be impervious to the barrage of exposure, criticism, scandal and self-inflicted wounds that have beset his incendiary presidential campaign. Trump’s Jewish adherents are oblivious to his being excoriated across the board by every major news journal in the U.S., whose universal condemnation can best be summarized by the normally staid Atlantic magazine which declared that he “might be the most ostentatiously unqualified major-party candidate in the 227-year history of the American presidency.”
Such maledictions are greeted with a yawn or dismissed with a “what-do-you-expect from-the-liberal-media” shake of the head by Trump’s Jewish enthusiasts, unimpressed or unaware that the condemnation emanates as well from such traditional Republican newspapers as The Cincinnati Enquirer, The Dallas Morning News, The Arizona Republic and New Hampshire’s Manchester Union Leader. No matter.
They draw comfort from his anti-Muslim rhetoric, celebrate his muscular pronouncements on Israel and point with equanimity to Trump’s donations to Jewish charities and his Jewish son-in-law as proof that he is no anti-Semite. Most importantly, he is an avowed enemy of Hillary Clinton and, for them, the repugnant liberal policies, both foreign and domestic, for which she stands. So what’s not to like?
With friends like these
For starters, the company he keeps. That Trump is not personally anti-Semitic begs the question. He is, in fact, the poster-boy for an agglomeration of anti-Semites, racists and white supremacists whose endorsement he refuses to eschew, whose canards he re-tweets and whose support he tacitly accepts. A recent intelligence report by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which monitors this brood, is instructive:
Richard Spencer, the head of the racist think tank the National Policy Institute, who dreams of a Jew-free America (he has no problem sending them to Israel), has spoken of his “love for Donald Trump” referring to Trump as “someone who can make the future.”
The American Freedom Party, whose leader, William Daniel Johnson, proposed a constitutional amendment to deport any American with “an ascertainable trace of Negro blood,” founded the American National Trump Super PAC and was listed as a Trump delegate in California, although Trump’s handlers attributed this to a “database error.”
Rocky Suhayda, the chairman of the American Nazi Party, who declared that a Trump victory would offer “a real opportunity for people like white nationalists.” Although clearly enthusiastic about a Trump White House, he disavowed formally endorsing Trump, claiming it was a lie perpetrated by the Jew media.
Jared Taylor, who operates the racist journal American Renaissance who initiated a petition to honor Trump for “opposing white genocide.”
And then there is the Ku Klux Klan. When asked to disavow Klan leader David Duke, Trump’s reply? “I don’t know anything about David Duke, okay?” This was one of his many lies since in earlier days (2000) he had denounced Duke as “a Klansman” and a “neo-Nazi.” As for the Klan itself, Trump was equally equivocal. “I have to look at the group . . . You wouldn’t want me to condemn a group I know nothing about.” With the race tightening, Trump knew enough to distance himself from the Klan, a gambit that is hardly reassuring.
Despite the widespread repudiation Trump has received, one media outlet that has given him its enthusiastic imprimatur is: the Daily Stormer, the white supremacist website.
Not too long ago, the endorsement of an anti-Semite such as Gerald L.K. Smith or a Jew-hater like George Lincoln Rockwell would have united the entire Jewish community against such race baiters and any candidate who failed to disavow them. But today, Trump’s Jewish supporters put this on the back burner; they dismiss it simply as chatter emanating from the internet, nothing to be concerned about. This may be the first time in recent memory, if ever, that a segment of the Jewish community was willing to give a pass to a candidate embraced by neo-Nazis, Klansmen and white supremacists.
To cite Trump’s tzedakah and meshpucha by marriage as mitigation, much less justification, for Trump’s wink-and-nod flirtation with these avatars of bigotry is as lamentable as it is pathetic. And what is the rationale of Jews for Trump? That Hillary Clinton is worse. But what could be worse for Jews as a community than a White House whose occupant is the Great White Hope of American racism.
Trump may not be an anti-Semite, but his ascendancy would fructify the seeds of anti-Semitism that have lain dormant in this country for more than half-a-century. Bigots, once consigned to the margins of American political life, could now claim a stake in the rightish populism that has fueled much of Trump’s campaign. Words — and ideas — not broached publicly for decades are legitimized. In effect, bigotry can be openly evinced in the public arena.
Trump’s candidacy has already unleashed such forces. Mocking the inanities of the “politically correct” has now morphed into a Frankenstein’s monster of defiant racist provocation that was simply not part of any decent political discourse since the end of World War II. The anti-Semitic vitriol heaped on such journalists as The Times’s Jonathan Weisman is now out there, with no apologies. And once the genii of anti-Semitism is out of the box, it is very hard to put back. Anti-Semitism was rampant in this country in the 30’s. There is no guarantee that it won’t return. Condoning a candidate that plays coy with this danger is something that no member of the Jewish community, or, for that matter, any decent person, should entertain. That Trump directs his ire for the present against Muslims and Mexicans should be of little comfort to the Jews. Once the targeting of a minority is condoned, the Jews can expect their turn to come. Trump’s complaint that he is the target of a global conspiracy can hardly be reassuring. And it was only the vitriol of a Trump supporter caught on TV, chanting “Jew-S-A” at the liberal media that finally earned an open rebuke from the Trump camp. One has to wonder when, if ever, there will be an Altalena moment for Trump’s Jewish enthusiasts.
So, for Jews supporting Trump, what is it about Hillary Clinton that makes her “worse?” After all, the grievances of the rural estranged are not theirs. While it is understandable that the white left behind, menaced by demography, technology and globalization, are prey to the blandishments of a demagogue promising them a restoration of privilege, security and status, this is not an issue for most of Trump’s Jewish acolytes. Perhaps a few see it as a matter of taxes. A large bloc, particularly among the religious, may be swayed by Trump’s social policies, in line with the Christian Right’s agenda, of eroding the wall between church and state, which would probably mean more money and power for Jewish parochial schools. That it might also one day lead to a sectarian consortium which would make it clear to Jews and other dissenters that this is, after all, a Christian country, is something for another generation to worry about. For the most part, there is little difference between the fundamentalists within both faiths on social issues; they both share Judeo-Christian values as distinct from you-know-who, and if one day an America without church-state separation decides to drop the “Judeo” half, then we can all move to Israel.
The enemy of my enemy
Which brings us to probably the main reason for the groundswell of Trump support among Jews. He is good for Israel. Where does this come from? As a snow-bird confided to me: “Muslims hate Jews; Trump hates Muslims; Trump is good for the Jews.” Crudely put, but apt. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. That Trump talked only a few months ago about being “even-handed” in approaching Israeli-Arab relations — anathema if a Democrat ever said such a thing — is brushed aside given his current enthusiasm for the Jewish state. That this mercurial personality could change his mind again, and again, as he’s done repeatedly, and just as soon turn on allies as stand by them, doesn’t seem to trouble his enthusiasts.
In all likelihood, a Trump presidency would be a nightmare for Israel’s military-intelligence establishment. What they expect from Washington is not always agreement, but stability. Trump is a loose cannon; no one knows where his temperament, or temper, will lead him from one day to the next. Diplomacy is a careful chess game. Trump plays pinball. As well demonstrated, he is petulant, peevish and prone to take tactical provocation as personal insult. Did Iranian vessels taunt American sailors? Bring out the Navy. Rattle the sabers. The American President, given the extraordinary military power at his disposal, is expected to act calmly in the crises that will inevitably befall his administration. Donald Trump would in all likelihood precipitate a crisis, or certainly exacerbate one. Is an unlooked for and an unnecessary war in the Middle East prompted by an enraged strongman in the White House in Israel’s best interest? To be sure, Millennialist Christians who see the Holy Land as the coming stage for an End of Days scenario might be comfortable with an Armageddon, and perhaps a few kindred spirits in the Territories might agree, but for the actual people of Israel, a blustering U.S. President with anger-management problems would be a disaster.
What is in Israel’s interest is a strong America. Why is it that Russia, an ally of Hezbollah, Israel’s mortal foe, is intruding in the U.S. elections to the benefit of Donald Trump? Surely it is more than Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin as a strong-man role model. The plain answer is that Putin wants to weaken America, and Donald Trump in the White House would do just that. How much different would a high-handed Trump be from an authoritarian Putin? And with little to choose from, why would American democracy be that much better than Russian autocracy? Consider what this would do to America’s international status? Imagine Trump presiding over a meeting of NATO (from which he might withdraw) or representing this country at a summit conference. We would be the laughingstock of the world. Which is exactly what Putin wants when he sets out to destabilize our election process in favor of Trump: to undermine not only the U.S., but our democratic system itself. A weakened America would pose a serious concern for Israel’s security.
Israel’s predicament raises another issue regarding anti-Semitism on either side of the Atlantic. In England, segments of the British Left have used the word “Zio,” short for “Zionist,” as a term of opprobrium extended to all Jews, although they would deny this, pointing to their useful-idiot Jewish collaborators as proof of their tolerance.
They have been called out on this, as have their adherents in the BDS movement in the States as well. Their motives have long ago morphed from issues of state politics into straight-out anti-Semitism and they have rightfully been condemned for this. But when it comes to the anti-Semitism of Donald Trump’s white nationalist cadres, his Jewish supporters are strangely struck dumb. Why the silence? Why be enraged — correctly so — when anti-Semitism comes from the Left but dismissive when it comes from the Right? Both are equally execrable. Both should be called out. To excuse Trump because he is not personally an anti-Semite is like condoning a mayor who may be personally honest although his administration is riddled with corruption.
Truth is a strategic Jewish asset
There is yet one more reason for Jews, in America, and Israel as well, to oppose a Trump candidacy. It should be clear to anyone by now that Trump has no respect for the truth, or perhaps even cognizance of what truth is, except whatever serves his purpose.
As the saying goes, we are entitled to our own opinions, but not our own facts. Trump has his own facts and keeps changing them from day to day. Like many politicians, Hillary Clinton is a selective dissembler. Donald Trump is a congenital liar. There is no equivalence. He lies about everything and then he lies about his lies. His “pants-on-fire” record of lying is off the charts. He says whatever he feels like saying, the only criteria being whether it plays well to his followers.
For the Jews, over the centuries, their primary defense, often their only defense, has been the truth. We do not poison wells. We do not commit blood libel. Our enemies seek to defame us with such calumnies and, when we have been successful in defeating them, it is with the force of the truth. Alfred Dreyfus and Mendel Beilis finally overcome the falsehoods of their powerful accusers by an appeal to the truth. Leo Frank did not. The strongest weapon our enemies wield is the power to lie. The greatest calamity that befell the Jews in our history came at the behest of a demagogue who was a master of the Big Lie repeated over and again until it became a distorted truth. To vote for a mountebank, a charlatan and a fraud may be a foolish choice, but to cast a ballot for someone who uses falsehood as a path to power is a vote against truth itself, the last defense of the Jews.
Jack Schwartz is a former book editor of Newsday.