A message to Donald Trump’s Jewish supporters

Click photo to download. Caption: Donald Trump speaks in Arizona on March 19, 2016. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.
Click photo to download. Caption: Donald Trump speaks in Arizona on March 19, 2016. Credit: Gage Skidmore via Wikimedia Commons.

By Ben Cohen/JNS.org

“He’s not Hitler. He wants to help America.”

Melania Trump’s comment about her husband, GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump, will go down as one of the more memorable quotes in an election cycle that has had its fair share of gaffes, outbursts, and the like. While her second sentence is debatable, the first one is undoubtedly true. If you are looking for this era’s aspiring Hitlers, you will not find them in America.

In another country and in another political system, Donald Trump could quite conceivably become a dictator. Given his admiration for the collection of clowns and thugs who currently fit that political descriptor, he clearly has the right personality. And even if the strength of our democratic structures means that Trump cannot become an American caudillo, the fact that one can easily picture him enjoying such a role is a critical reason why so many Americans shudder at the thought of Trump in the White House.

While most American Jews share that visceral reaction, there are a growing number who don’t—and who are going to campaign for and vote for Trump. Those I’ve spoken to have all said that they can’t stomach the thought of a Hillary Clinton presidency after eight years of President Barack Obama. They list positive reasons, too—they think Trump will be receptive to Jewish concerns, that he’ll be tough on national security, and that he should be applauded for standing up to the same progressive Democrats who treat Israel as an enemy instead of an ally.

Those are all positions that deserve to be considered and debated rationally. Jewish supporters of Trump have a point when they say that the reality TV star is well-poised to win the election, and that therefore we would be wise to engage him. But equally, they need to understand that, historically, Jews have invariably oriented towards the center of politics. Demagogues articulating strident messages that translate uneasily into policy are the polar opposite of the establishment, experienced political figures who have traditionally won Jewish support.

At issue here, moreover, is not just Trump, but Trump’s supporters. As I said, even if Trump wants to imitate Russian President Vladimir Putin, conditions in America mean that he cannot do so. In a country like Russia, Putin can court the far right—like the Rodina party, whose “Tiger” youth wing pledged allegiance to Putin in 2015 from the depths of a nuclear bunker in central Moscow—without any political cost. Contrastingly, in America, a would-be president is expected to act like a statesman; by that logic, and sooner rather than later, Trump should disavow, explicitly and unreservedly, the semi-literate Klan-like rabble that is riding his coattails.

Crucially, nobody has given him an incentive to do so—yet. That incentive can, realistically, only be provided by Trump’s Jewish supporters, since he never listens to his adversaries. If these Jews are going to give him legitimacy, and assist him in resisting the false charge that he’s an anti-Semite, then their voices need to be heard on the following developments that have further marred Trump’s appeal to Jewish voters:

Anti-Semitic harassment of Jewish critics

Julia Ioffe, a prominent journalist whose GQ magazine profile of Melania Trump earned her the enmity of the Trump campaign, was bombarded with sickening anti-Semitic messages from pro-Trump trolls on social media. Nazi imagery was richly in evidence in the case of Ioffe, as it has been with other Jewish critics of Trump, like John Podhoretz of Commentary magazine (“Are you gonna flee to Israel after TRUMP is elected president?! LMAO KIKE!!” read one message) and Daily Wire editor Ben Shapiro, whose newborn baby was described by one sociopath, in the fashion of Der Stürmer, as a “cockroach.” In public at least, Trump has been unmoved by any of this, and has even ventured that these critics brought this foul invective upon themselves.

As a Jew…” apologetics

When I read the vile attack carried by Breitbart.com on Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, which identified him as a “Renegade Jew,” I wondered whether this would be an isolated example or the harbinger of a new phenomenon. The author of the piece, David Horowitz, has embraced Trump with the same dogmatic fury that he employed in embracing the far left in the late 1960s. In highlighting the irrelevant fact that Kristol is Jewish, Horowitz trod the same ground as those forelock-tugging Jewish leftists who ingratiate themselves with Israel’s enemies by disavowing the Jewish state.

“I am a Jew who has never been to Israel and has never been a Zionist in the sense of believing that Jews can rid themselves of Jew hatred by having their own nation state,” Horowitz implored pathetically. For good measure, he added that he is an “American (and an American first)”—thereby insinuating that the remainder of the Jewish community is fatally compromised by a greater loyalty to Israel. Are there other Jews on the right who are going to follow the shabby example of those on the left by presenting themselves as the “good Jews?” Does a Trump supporter who invokes the “dual loyalty” smear get a free pass?

The rise of the “alt-right”

The “alternative right,” to give its full name, is a toxic cluster of blogs, websites, and one-person “think tanks” that fuses old-style white power nationalism with what its followers mistakenly regard as witty ripostes to political correctness on race and gender. Many of these people are Holocaust deniers, baiters of the disabled, and similar malcontents. They have all lined up behind Trump. Are Jewish supporters of Trump really going to employ the same argumentation as those on the far left, soothing themselves that we have nothing to worry about because his daughter converted to Judaism and some of his best friends are Jews?

If there’s one lesson we have learned in dealing with the left-wing anti-Zionist onslaught of the last decade, it’s that some very ugly fringe memes can suddenly emerge in mainstream discourse. There is no reason why that should be any different on the right. That the Jew-hatred is not confined to Trump’s supporters—the billionaire Koch brothers, who are opposed to Trump, are financing a conference featuring the anti-Semitic academics John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, authors of the discredited book “The Israel Lobby”—is even more cause to act quickly to prevent the mainstreaming of this poison.

Here, therefore, is my challenge to Donald Trump’s Jewish supporters: Will you seize the opportunity to display the same toughness you’ve shown towards the left with your favored presidential candidate? Will you tell Trump that he needs to ditch this faction of his supporters? Your answer is eagerly awaited.

Ben Cohen, senior editor of TheTower.org & The Tower Magazine, writes a weekly column for JNS.org on Jewish affairs and Middle Eastern politics. His writings have been published in Commentary, the New York Post, Haaretz, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. He is the author of“Some of My Best Friends: A Journey Through Twenty-First Century Antisemitism” (Edition Critic, 2014).

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