It’s time we faced up to re­al­ity

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - Jonathan Freed­land

SOME­TIMES IT’S all about tim­ing. My last col­umn in this slot ap­peared on Jan­uary 27, and it ar­gued that Jews needed to recog­nise that Don­ald Trump — whose pres­i­dency was then just a week old — was no friend of ours and that the cor­rect Jewish stance on Trump was one of vig­i­lant op­po­si­tion.

A mat­ter of hours af­ter that col­umn was pub­lished, the White House is­sued a state­ment mark­ing Holo­caust Memo­rial Day which did not men­tion Jews or an­ti­semitism. At first, sev­eral com­men­ta­tors gave the ad­min­is­tra­tion the ben­e­fit of the doubt: surely, they said, the omis­sion was an un­der­stand­able bun­gle by a new team. But then it emerged that the White House had re­ceived an ini­tial draft from the State Depart­ment that had men­tioned Jews and an­ti­semitism, but Team Trump had ac­tively and con­sciously stripped out those ref­er­ences. In the days that fol­lowed, Trump of­fi­cials stuck by the state­ment, in­sist­ing they wanted to be “in­clu­sive” be­cause many peo­ple had suf­fered dur­ing that pe­riod which was of course “hor­ri­ble” and “sad.”

One group im­me­di­ately un­der­stood the sig­nif­i­cance of the move. Amer­ica’s far right and white su­prem­a­cists were de­lighted: they have laboured for years to en­sure that the fact of a spe­cific Nazi project to elim­i­nate Jews is for­got­ten, lost in a gen­er­alised sense that, sure, lots of peo­ple suf­fer in wartime.

But Trump has not left it that. In his first 50 days in of­fice, he has gone out of his way to show that, at best, he has no in­stinc­tive sen­si­tiv­ity for Jewish con­cerns. Any con­dem­na­tion of an­ti­semitism has to be ei­ther scripted for him or else ex­tracted un­der pres­sure. More trou­blingly, he has an un­canny knack for speak­ing to and about Jews in a way that thrills an­ti­semites.

Much has been made, for ex­am­ple, of the way the Pres­i­dent dealt with a friendly ques­tion from Jake Turx, an ul­tra-Or­tho­dox re­porter, at his first press con­fer­ence. With an ea­ger­ness to be liked that was al­most poignant — like a Jew of old hop­ing to en­dear him­self to the mighty tsar — Turx stressed that he was no critic of the Pres­i­dent who was, he said, a “za­yde” to his grand­chil­dren. Turx then sought Trump’s views on a wave of an­ti­semitic in­ci­dents for which, the re­porter was at pains to add, the Pres­i­dent of course bore no re­spon­si­bil­ity.

Well, you’ve seen the clip. Trump told Turx to sit down and shut up and ac­cused him of ly­ing. That mo­ment played es­pe­cially well with Amer­ica’s an­ti­semites. Jonathan Green­blatt, head of the Anti-Defama­tion League who was in Lon­don this week, told me that the so-called alt-right lapped up Trump’s put-down of a vis­i­bly Jewish jour­nal­ist: “This was the goyim say­ing: ‘Enough, yids.’”

But the worst was yet to come. In an episode that re­ceived less at­ten­tion than it should have, per­haps be­cause it was not caught on cam­era, Trump was asked in a meet­ing of states at­tor­neys-general about the wave of bomb threats to Jewish com­mu­nity cen­tres. Ac­cord­ing to those present, Trump spec­u­lated that, rather than tak­ing th­ese in­ci­dents at face value, they should con­sider that “some­times it’s the re­verse, to make peo­ple — or to make oth­ers — look bad.” Trump re­port­edly used the word “re­verse” two or three times.

What can this mean, ex­cept an im­pli­ca­tion that th­ese threats to Jewish build­ings were made by Jews them­selves, to dam­age Trump? The no­tion of “false flag” at­tacks is a sta­ple theme of the far right. In this con­text, it is a clas­sic an­ti­semitic trope: that anti-Jewish at­tacks are in­vented by cun­ning Jews to win un­der­served sym­pa­thy.

There are peo­ple who still, de­spite all ev­i­dence, want to pre­tend this isn’t hap­pen­ing. My col­league on th­ese pages, Me­lanie Phillips, reck­ons “Trump is one of the most pro-Jewish US pres­i­dents ever to be elected.” Imag­ine what th­ese Trump de­fend­ers would be say­ing had, say, Barack Obama re­sponded to at­tacks on Jewish build­ings by hint­ing that maybe the Jews were do­ing it to them­selves.

Trump’s al­lies cling to the fact that he read some nice words off an au­tocue or that he has Jews in his fam­ily, as if those who voice ugly at­ti­tudes to Jews haven’t al­ways been able to turn to the Jew in the room and say, “Not you, of course.” They pre­fer not to look at the harder truth that Trump thinks and talks like a con­spir­acy the­o­rist — and that’s a way of think­ing that of­ten ends in a very dark place.

Those US Jewish lead­ers ea­ger to ex­plain all this away and hope for the best are the prod­uct of an Amer­i­can Jewish com­mu­nity that has felt com­fort­able for so long, it can scarcely be­lieve what’s now star­ing it in the face. That shell-shock is un­der­stand­able. But it’s time to face re­al­ity – and see the man in the White House for what he is.

The no­tion XO OKU\N ¼KP at­tacks is a sta­ple of the far right

Jonathan Freed­land is a colum­nist for The Guardian

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