You would think they would have figured out by now that they’re playing his game. It’s been more than seven years since Donald Trump came down the escalator at Trump Tower to begin living full-time in the minds of his many detractors.
Yet, in all that time, his political opponents and their allies in the mainstream media and organized Jewish world still leap to take the bait every time he says or posts anything on social media.
But the reason that his recent comment on U.S. Jews and Israel was seized upon by Democrats and liberals had little to do with its intrinsic importance or with the dubious notion that they were taking a stand against anti-Semitism. Their motivation was purely political.
The left in general, and the Jewish left in particular, is addicted to trying to link Trump to anti-Semitism because they think it is a useful issue for them. This is truer now more than ever.
Democrats are flailing in the weeks before the midterm elections, with polls—even from liberal publications like The New York Times—showing they’re in deep trouble. While in the past, the media feeding frenzy about a Trump quote was done in the genuine hope that publicizing his hot takes or gaffes would do him in, now it’s merely a device to try to distract the voting public from the disastrous record of his successor, Joe Biden.
The pattern is predictable. Every controversial comment from Trump is hyped by the liberal media as new proof that he is as horrible as they have always believed him to have been.
It has long been obvious that Trump deliberately goads them. He hopes to provoke exactly the kind of over-the-top reactions that, far from undermining him, actually delight his followers. They regard the rage he arouses among the chattering classes as evidence that he is on their side against an establishment that is indifferent or hostile to their concerns.
This doesn’t seem to enter into the calculations of those rushing to jump on his comments. Journalist Salena Zito’s Atlantic article provided the best insight on Trump to date: “The press takes him literally, not seriously; his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” Her observation is still spot on.
The latest illustration of this tedious piece of political theater came from a Trump post on his Truth Social site, a pale imitation of the ubiquitous Twitter, one of the platforms from which the former president was banned after the Jan. 6 Capitol riot. In it, he boasted of his historic support for Israel and noted that Evangelicals are more ardent backers of the Jewish state than American Jews.
He then spoke of his popularity in Israel and, clearly joking, said he could be elected prime minister there. He concluded with the line: “U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel—[b]efore it is too late!”
The post was blasted as anti-Semitic by the White House, leftist pundits and open anti-Semites like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), and then denounced by the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee as an example of the dual loyalty trope and threats against Jews.
As Ruthie Blum aptly noted, all this hysteria was absurd. What he said about his own record, evangelical support for Israel exceeding that of most Jews and his popularity in Israel was all true. And the concluding warning phrase was no different from many exhortations to Jews from Jewish leaders and others urging them to get behind the Jewish state lest it be overwhelmed by its many foes.
The notion, put forward by the AJC and the ADL, that a non-Jewish supporter of Israel has no right to chide Jews for their lack of interest in Zionism—and that one’s doing so is somehow offensive—is, at best, curious.
Of course, American Jews are free to do as they like and support whatever causes interest them. Like many non-Jews in public life, Trump was slow to pick up on the fact that for the vast majority of U.S. Jews, support for Israel isn’t a priority or a litmus test for voting. Almost all of the Jews Trump knows are dedicated supporters of the Jewish state. That’s also true for many Republicans and Democrats in Congress, who often take a while to figure out that while backing Israel is good politics, it’s something that only a minority of Jews care deeply about.
That the AJC was actually disputing the truth of what he wrote about the majority of U.S. Jews and Israel (“baseless judgements”) demonstrated the organization’s bad faith, since it knows very well that the statement was accurate. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt was even more disingenuous.
Greenblatt, who has helped transform the group from a non-partisan, if liberal-leaning, organization under his predecessor, Abe Foxman, into an auxiliary of the Democratic Party, continues to insist, without any evidence, that Trump “curries favor” with “anti-Semites.” He’s been doing this since Trump took office in 2017. The ADL falsely blamed him for bomb threats on Jewish Community Centers, which turned out to be the work of a disturbed American-Israeli teenager.
It continued with the group’s joining those seeking to falsely claim that Trump supported the neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia, and even to blame him for the actions of deranged extremists who attacked synagogues in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and Poway, California, even though those involved were against Trump because of his support for Israel.
Many on the left really do believe that Trump is akin to Hitler, despite the absurdity of the claim. Groups like the ADL, which support the Democrats’ talking points about a fake war on democracy, are committed to an approach that seeks to make the midterms a referendum on attitudes about the former president rather than on the incumbent Biden administration.
As we’ve seen in recent weeks, a willingness to mainstream Jew-hatred exists on both the left and the right. But the liberal Jewish obsession with Trump, and the attempt to brand him as an anti-Semite, has nothing to do with that fight. Rather, it is part of the same strategy the Biden administration has been pursuing in the last year: trying to make the Jan. 6 Capitol riot the centerpiece of political discourse.
Virtually everyone agrees that it was a disgrace, but most don’t believe the conspiracy theories the Democrats and their never-Trump allies have tried to float about its having been an attempted coup d’état. The latter more aptly describes the Russia-collusion hoax that Democrats and liberal media promoted to derail Trump’s presidency. Furthermore, most voters want Washington to be focused on the crumbling economy and raging inflation.
A more sensible approach from the Democrats would be to ignore Trump. Their ongoing attempts to prosecute him on charges relating to Jan. 6 or for his having held on to classified documents are only helping him.
Indeed, the worse he is treated, the easier it is for him to stay in the spotlight. It also makes it more, rather than less, likely that the Republicans will nominate him again for president in 2024. Perhaps some on the left think that is to their advantage, but right now, polls show him winning a rematch with Biden.
The problem here is not figuring out what to think about Trump, a question on which Americans will always remain deeply divided. Groups that claim to be fighting anti-Semitism are too tied into partisan narratives and the effort to defeat the GOP to understand that the only way to win the battle against hate is to stop linking it to liberal talking points about Trump, and focus on those who are actually spreading Jew-hatred on both ends of the spectrum.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (Jewish News Syndicate). Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.