When Donald Trump laments that the Jewish community is not supporting him enough, one can see where he is coming from, especially if one measures this as a function of his Israel bona fides.
Trump’s popularity in Israel exceeded that of all of his predecessors, owing to a series of historic decisions that he took while in office. The great courage he showed in taking those steps earned him a place of honor in Jewish and global history, and you can understand why he was expecting more gratitude from Jewish Americans.
However, for a great number of American Jews, Israel is not front and center. Trump learned this the hard way and late in the game. But this reluctance does not justify the former president’s playing with fire.
Yes, Trump can dismiss Ye as nothing more than a person who is struggling with mental issues and whose antisemitism should not be taken seriously. He can claim that Ye “arrived with a guest whom I had never met and knew nothing about,” despite this guest being Nick Fuentes—a known Holocaust denier. But such excuses are akin to playing with fire, the fire of the age-old hatred towards Jews.
Even if this dinner was indeed an innocent mistake, Trump is still duty-bound to make amends. But Trump, who has yet to apologize (he never does), has only poured more fuel on the fire. His statement on Friday, in which he essentially invoked the old accusation of “dual loyalty” and also gave backing to anti-Israeli members of Congress from the fringe of the Democratic Party, only makes the surge of antisemitism in the U.S. that much worse. There is more than one reason to believe that Trump’s decision to engage in such rhetoric is part of a deliberate cynical approach to the issue.
Trump could have sought to assuage Jewish concerns or explain what he did. But instead, he has been sounding dog whistles that are music to the ears of antisemites. For the first time he has managed to bring together white supremacists and African-American antisemites, with both having Jew-hatred as a common denominator.
On top of that, just days before the controversial dinner with Ye, Trump wrote on Truth Social, “No president has done more for Israel than I have. Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than the people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S.” He added that America’s Jews must “get their act together” and show appreciation for all of his actions to benefit Israel “before it is too late.”
The severity of those words speaks for itself, but Trump never explained what he meant by “before it is too late.” In light of the ensuing Ye-Fuentes controversy, one could be forgiven for thinking this was part of a larger plan: Trump gave Israel a final warning before he would start setting things ablaze, and now that the Jews have failed to heed his warning, he opted to meet with Ye and Fuentes and proceeded to attack Jewish Americans in order to advance his overarching goal of garnering political support from everyone he can.
One person who may have gotten word of this plan and decided to keep a safe distance was Jared Kushner, Trump’s Jewish son-in-law. Kushner, who was the architect of Trump’s 2016 victory, has made sure to show he is having a good time very far away from Mar-a-Lago, enjoying every moment of the FIFA World Cup 2022 in Qatar. Perhaps he knows something we don’t.
Whatever Trump’s agenda is, and despite the immense respect for the former president, there are some lines that must not be crossed. He breached those lines not just for American Jews but also for many Israelis. Fanning the flames of antisemitism and downgrading the support for Israel in Congress are two things that no Jew could accept—not in Israel nor abroad.
Trump could lose not just the support of Jewish voters and Israelis but also the very evangelicals he praised. This important constituency has put Israel front and center. It is also very attentive to Israel—much more so than to Trump. As soon as Israel signals that Trump is no longer legitimate—and this will happen—pro-Israel Christians will withdraw their support from the former president. It is now clear that Trump is looking at not just losing his moral standing but also political self-implosion.