Is Donald Trump an anti-Semite?
Anti-Semitism is a serious charge that should not be made lightly.
As far as I can ascertain, nobody accused Trump of anti-Semitism prior to his presidential campaign. He reportedly has a history of giving generously to Jewish charities, and in 1983 he received the Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund for dedication to promoting U.S.-Israel ties and outstanding community work.
Trump has a Jewish son-in-law, a much-favored daughter who converted to Judaism, and Jewish grandchildren. He is also probably the most ideologically pro-Israel president in modern history, assuming “pro-Israel” means pro-Netanyahu and anti-Iran.
Let God, karma, or whatever you believe in sort out Donald Trump’s inner landscape
That should be enough to give Trump the benefit of the doubt, although none of it puts the anti-Semitism question to rest conclusively.
The donations can reasonably be seen more as self-serving than heartfelt. Trump has made it clear that he gives money to organizations of every stripe, more as a business strategy than an affinity to their causes. If he thinks giving money can help his business, he gives. In New York, being seen as a charitable contributor to Jewish causes is good for business.
Nor is the family connection dispositive. Personal love of a handful of individual Jews doesn’t answer the question of whether he harbors ignorant or bigoted views about Jews in general, as a religion, a culture or a race. Many slaveholders genuinely loved individual slaves, but kept them as slaves nonetheless, believing that Africans were an inferior race created by God to be subservient to their racially superior white masters.
Trump’s pro-Israel ideology is also a poor indicator of whether he has anti-Semitism in his heart. It mostly has to do with strategic global politics and pandering to his evangelical base.
Politically, Trump sees Israel as a key strategic ally. Israel is perhaps our only reliably friendly, democratic ally in the Middle East. It is a strong military power, a nuclear power, and it shares Trump’s hatred for and fear of Iran. Trump views Israel as central in reining in not only Iran, but also other fundamentalist Islamic forces in the region. You can agree or disagree with these views, but they have nothing to do with an affinity for the Jewish race.
Trump’s unflinching support of Israel also buys him support from his evangelical base. This, too, has nothing to do with love of Jews. Many evangelicals are pro-Israel not because they care about Jews, but because of their belief in a 19th century Protestant prophesy that only after the Jews rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem will Jesus return to rule over an earthly paradise. That paradise will be achieved, by the way, only after the elimination of the entire Jewish race, what evangelical “scholars” delicately refer to as the “Future Jewish Holocaust Problem.” (If you think I am making this up, see an article I wrote last year, “The Religious Lunacy Behind Trump’s Jerusalem Decision,” and check out the sources cited in it.)
So we’ll have to let God, karma, or whatever you believe in sort out Donald Trump’s inner landscape, the content of his soul. We are not his pastor or his shrink. Thank God.
What matters is not what’s in Trump’s heart, but whether his public words and deeds legitimatize anti-Semites
But whether Trump harbors antisemitism in his heart isn’t the right question anyway.
It is the public Trump that matters, not the private one.
Trump is our president, not our spiritual guide. What matters is not what may lie deep in his heart, but whether his public deeds and words foster antisemitism or legitimize anti-Semites to the point where they feel they have sanction to act on their hatred and bigotry.
It is much easier to answer that question than it is to try to see into Trump’s soul.
While avoiding overt anti-Semitic slurs, Trump and his campaign have frequently trafficked in thinly veiled anti-Semitic tropes. His final campaign ad assailed “those who control the levers of power” and “global special interests,” featuring three prominent Jewish Americans, George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein.
Neither Jewish organizations nor white supremacists had any difficulty recognizing the anti-Semitic overtones of this ad. Haaretz condemned it. White supremacist Richard Spencer praised it. Spencer called the ad “powerful,” noting that “any serious person” who examines the financial and geopolitical power structure “will, sooner or later, encounter the reality of Jewish power ― and the Jewish identity of so many making up this structure.”
Trump’s refusal to call out the anti-Semites who chanted “Jews will not replace us” at a rally in Charlottesville also was widely seen as a “don’t worry, we’re with you” wink-and-nod to Spencer’s coterie of white supremacists and anti-Semites. Even Trump’s feeble pretense of walking back his “both sides” comment didn’t last long. He told Bob Woodward that walking back his Charlottesville comments was “the biggest fucking mistake I’ve made.” He insisted that he “didn’t do anything wrong in the first place.”
Trump channeled a particularly insidious anti-Semitic trope when he told a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition that “you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money.” He then asked this Jewish audience whether there was “anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken.”
White supremacists and anti-Semites believe Trump is with them
Whatever Trump intended by all of this, white supremacists and anti-Semites certainly see it as affirmation that Trump is with them.
David Duke exulted at Trump’s election, “We did it!” Duke praised Trump for declaring war on the agenda of the “Jewish establishment.” Duke, Spencer, Alex Jones and the neo-Nazi Daily Stormer all praised Trump for spreading false conspiracy theories about “large scale killings” of white farmers in South Africa. Duke, Spencer, Eli Mosely (the organizer of the Charlottesville white supremacist rally), and Jack Posobiec (the conspiracy nut who made up “Pizzagate”) all praised Trump’s statements about Charlottesville. “Take a bow, President Trump, because you just earned it,” gushed Posobiec.
Most recently, Duke praised Trump for embracing nationalism before “a massive jam-packed 99.9% white venue in Houston.” Duke left no doubt that he understood Trump’s nationalism to be white nationalism. “Of course fundamentally it is,” Duke proclaimed, noting that there is no racial or ethnic group in America that is more nationalist than “White Americans.”
When reporter Julia Ioffe was deluged with anti-Semitic insults and death threats because the alt-right didn’t like a profile she did of Melania Trump, Trump was asked whether he condemned the attacks. His answer: “I don’t have a message.” White supremacist Andrew Anglin interpreted Trump’s response as “an endorsement” of him and his followers. Anglin, editor of the neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, could barely contain himself, telling his readers that “Glorious Leader Donald Trump refuses to denounce Stormer Troll Army.”
That white supremacists and anti-Semites have been emboldened by Trump is supported not just by anecdotal evidence, but by empirical studies.
In its annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents, the Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. rose a whopping 57% in 2017, the highest single-year increase on record in American history. Worse, the ADL found an alarming 86% increase in the category of anti-Semitic vandalism, which “indicates that the perpetrators feel emboldened enough to break the law.”
The only open question is whether Trump’s legitimization of anti-Semitism is a deliberate call or a reckless dog whistle
At the end of the day, there is simply no room for doubt that Trump has emboldened white supremacists and anti-Semites to crawl out of the shadows into the mainstream of American life, where they spread hatred and vile lies, violence, and now even death in the Jewish community.
The only open question is whether Trump’s legitimization of anti-Semitism is a deliberate call or a reckless dog whistle.
But to the American Jewish community, and specifically to the 11 Jewish Americans who were slaughtered at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, it hardly matters.
Even if it’s just a dog whistle, the dogs have heard it.
Yet again, Jews have been killed simply for being Jewish, and the American Jewish community is rightly fearful of what happens next.