Hate surges in Donald Trump’s America
A FIFTH wave of antisemitic incidents was unleashed earlier this week in the US, and it hit me where I used to live. A Jewish cemetery in Philadephia was desecrated. I had to check if it was the one where my parents are buried. It wasn’t.
A JCC and a Jewish primary school in Wynnewood in the Philly suburbs, the town adjacent to where I grew up, received bomb threats. Thankfully, no more than threats. So far, 100 such incidents across America have been recorded since Donald Trump was inaugurated President, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
These incidents took place as a meeting of Jewish Republicans in Las Vegas was ending. The group had gathered under the auspices of billionaire casino owner and major Trump donor, Sheldon Adelson.
Many in the Republican Jewish Coalition, founded with Adelson money, are nervous about the President’s response to these provocations. At the Vegas gathering, at which Vice President Mike Pence said that antisemitism had “no place” in America, they were told to be patient.
That may be easier said than done. At a Trump press conference two weeks ago, Jake Turx, a Chasidic reporter, asked him this question: “Despite what some of my colleagues may have been reporting, I haven’t seen anybody in my community accuse either yourself or anyone on your staff of being antisemitic. We understand that you have Jewish grandchildren. You are their zayde However, what we are concerned about and what we haven’t really heard being addressed is an uptick in antisemitism and how the government is planning to take care of it… There are people committing antisemitic acts or threatening to— ”
At which point, Mr Trump told the reporter to sit down and then berated him before going into the classic “I’m not an antisemite” defence.
It was the second time he had gone into a defensive crouch about antisemitism rather than simply state that he deplored antisemitic acts.
This, coming on top of a Holocaust Memorial Day message that somehow did not mention Jews, has even his supporters anxious.
Asked about the bomb threats in a meeting with state attorney generals on Tuesday afternoon, Mr Trump rambled into conspiracy theory and said reportedly said, “the reverse can be true”, a statement interpreted by some as suggesting Jews themselves could have been to blame.
Just as Mr Trump has split America into warring camps with no middle ground on which to meet, he seems to be dividing US Jewish opinion. Or reconfiguring it.
In the anti-Trump camp are the traditional liberal, Democratic voting Jews who never supported the President. They are joined by the neoConservatives like Bill Kristol and the two Elliots: Abrams and Cohen, intellectual architects of using US military might to reconfigure the Middle East so that it is more hospitable to Israel.
Then there are the Republican Jews, whose voices are loud and whose numbers are hard to estimate. Just as there are shy Tories who will not tell pollsters their voting intentions, there are many shy Jewish Republicans who keep shtum about their voting choices.
And that’s because Mr Trump offers them, as Leon Hadar, a Trump supporter and columnist for various conservative websites points out, the most pro-Israel stance of any president, “more ‘pro-Israel’ than many Israelis …”
The problem is that with Mr Trump’s support comes the Bannon baggage. The President’s most senior adviser, Stephen Bannon, is a leading figure in white nationalist circles or the “alt-right”.
Before jumping on the Trump train,
Mr Bannon was chief executive of the online publication Breitbart. He acknowledges that the alt-right has antisemites among its adherents but denies the movement itself is antisemitic.
The key to understanding the split among America’s right-wing Jews can be found in this irony.
The eponymous founder of the website, Andrew Breitbart, was Jewish. He decided to set up Breitbart while on a trip to Israel. It was meant to be “a site that would be unapologetically pro-freedom and pro-Israel. We were sick of the anti-Israel bias of the mainstream media and J-Street.”
Mr Breitbart died exactly five years ago and, under Mr Bannon, the site became America’s most open space for nakedly antisemitic conversations. In the last year, several Jewish staffers left the publication over its tolerance for the alt-right. Others have stayed out of loyalty to Mr Bannon and the President.
The question is: how many acts of vandalism and bomb threats will they tolerate for a “more pro-Israel than many Israelis” foreign policy?
Trump seems to be remoulding US Jewish opinion
Major antisemitic incidents in the US since Trump’s inauguration
Vice President Pence visiting the damaged Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in Philadelphia last week