I USED to be a fan of Donald Trump. Initially appealing to my distaste for political correctness, his attitude towards Israel once elected appeared just short of a miracle. In recent months, however, I began listening to American Jewry; after all, they feel the impact of Trump’s domestic policy – positive and negative. After internalising their words – and actually listening to Trump’s – rather than focusing on his Middle East policy, reality slapped me in the face. Trump is a danger to American Jews.
Sure, he’s made courageous moves vis-a-vis Israel, but we need to stop telling ourselves it justifies his dangerous domestic decisions.
Trump has a habit of not only encouraging, but aligning with the ‘alt-right’ – defined by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) as “a segment of the white supremacist movement” that favours “politics that embrace … racism, antisemitism and white supremacy”.
Once in office, Trump appointed Steve Bannon – former executive chairman of Breitbart News – as his chief strategist. When asked about Breitbart in 2016, Bannon openly stated “we’re the platform for the alt-right”. Andrew Anglin, editor of neo-Nazi website The Daily Stormer, told the Los Angeles Times, “Virtually every alt-right Nazi I know is volunteering for the Trump campaign.” According to Richard Spencer, a leader of the alt-right, “Before Trump, our identity ideas, national ideas … had no place to go.”
Trump claims ignorance on these issues. He says he doesn’t know these people or their beliefs. In his defence, he can’t control who supports him, but let’s contemplate this for a moment. His ex-chief strategist openly supported the alt-right, yet Trump claims he knows nothing about his own alt-right supporters. It’s not that Trump doesn’t know. He simply doesn’t care.
In June, he retweeted a video of a supporter yelling “white power”. In 2016 he retweeted an account called ‘WhiteGenocideTM’ – an account that has since been suspended. Trump’s tweet remains.
Deliberately ignoring such associations aids proud antisemites. When, during the first presidential debate, Trump was asked to condemn white supremacists, he consistently dodged the question. Finally relenting, he called on white supremacists to “stand back and stand by”, before seamlessly transitioning to blame “the left”. The mental gymnastics it takes to interpret that as an out-and-out condemnation of white supremacy is mind-boggling.
Within minutes, Proud Boys – the group to which Trump referred in his so-called ‘condemnation’ – along with other white supremacists, celebrated his statement on social media as a “call to arms”. They even created a logo with the words “stand back and stand by”.
We cry foul when left-wing politicians support antisemitic organisations such as BDS, so why are we giving Trump a free pass on his support – albeit if at times indirect – for the alt-right?
I don’t believe Trump is antisemitic, but we cannot ignore that his rhetoric empowers America’s vilest antisemites. These are the very antisemites who massacred 11 Jews in Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue in 2018, and shot up Chabad of Poway in 2019 – for which 60 per cent of American Jews thought Trump “bears at least some responsibility”, according to a poll last year.
It’s not just Jews who Trump endangers. In a 2018 rant, Trump called illegal immigrants “animals”. Earlier that year, he ridiculed the protection of immigrants from Haiti, El Salvador and African states, labelling their birthplaces “sh**hole countries”, then suggesting that the US bring more immigrants from countries like Norway. Even Fox News – a network known for hostility towards illegal immigrants – refused to air a 2018 ad from Trump targeting Mexican immigrants, out of concerns it was racist.
None of this goes unnoticed by those who deny the Holocaust, yet simultaneously wish Hitler had ‘finished the job’. To the contrary; it empowers them, and American Jewry is feeling the heat. Recent ADL polling found 63 per cent of American Jews feel “less safe” now than at any point in the past decade, and are “deeply concerned for their personal safety”, while Washington Post columnist Dana Milbank believes under Trump, it’s “the new normal … for Jews to fear for their safety”. Just last Thursday, a white supremacist admitted to plans to blow up a Colorado synagogue.
Trump’s Middle East policy may benefit Israel, but it is immaterial to American Jews watching neo-Nazis grow in confidence under Trump. Policies favouring Israel can be undone by future presidents. What they cannot undo is Trump’s stoking of the flames of eliminationist antisemitism.
In the words of ex-New York Times writer Bari Weiss, Jews who support Trump due to his foreign policy “have traded policies that they like for the values that have sustained the Jewish people and … [the US] … forever … and no policy is worth that price”.
Jews always lament how the world ignores our concerns about antisemitism. American Jews are now raising those very concerns – that they feel insecure under their own President. It’s time for us to listen.
Josh Feldman is an active member of the community involved in informal education and Israel advocacy.