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What (not) to do about a Racist and Antisemitic President


As you may know, Donald Trump recently appeared in front of the Israeli American Council and said some things. Here’s the Washington Post headline:

Starting at around the ninth paragraph of that story, Josh Dawsey writes that:

[Trump] said that some Jewish Americans needed to love Israel more, however, remarks that drew some immediate criticism. “You have Jewish people that are great people, they don’t love Israel enough,” he said.

He described Democrats’ rhetoric and policies as a reason to vote for him, joking that many in the room might detest him but would not want to pay a 100 percent wealth tax — a false characterization of Democratic policies. He attacked Democrats such as Rep. Ilhan Omar (Minn.) and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.), and slammed former president Barack Obama, whom he said did not support Israel enough.

“You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that much,” he said, referring to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, a Democratic presidential contender, using an insult he has regularly deployed against her.

“You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax,” he continued. “Even if you don’t like me, some of you don’t … you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’ll be out of business in about 15 minutes.”

Here’s an alternative headline from The Independent:

That account, by Conrad Duncan, fills in some important gaps:

Donald Trump has been accused of antisemitism after he told a pro-Israel Jewish group they will vote for him to protect their wealth.

Mr Trump referred to members of the Israeli American Council as “brutal killers” and “not nice people” but claimed they would vote for him to avoid a wealth tax, as proposed by Democratic challengers Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

“A lot of you are in the real estate business because I know you very well, you’re brutal killers. You’re not nice people at all, but you have to vote for me. You have no choice,” the president said.

“You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas [a racist slur Mr Trump uses against Ms Warren], I can tell you that. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax!”

The dilemma of how to cover Trump’s racist and antisemitic comments—to a stridently ‘pro-Israel’ and predominantly Jewish audience that repeatedly laughed and cheered!—drove the Times of Israel to write two separate, but largely overlapping, stories. Compare and contrast:

So the press continues to struggle with how to cover a racist president. And yes, even if Trump often treats stereotypes of Jews as positives, he’s still trafficking in antisemitism. As Yair Rosenberg explained back in August:

This understanding also helps explain the most confusing aspect of Trump’s most recent anti-Semitic outburst. The president claimed that Democratic Jews are “disloyal” to Israel. But this is an inversion of the traditional dual loyalty trope, which charges that Jews are more loyal to their fellow Jews or Israel than to their home countries. Trump, by contrast, was arguing that Democratic Jews were insufficiently devoted to other Jews or to Israel — that they were not strong enough dual loyalists. In other words, he criticized American Jews for not conforming to the anti-Semitic stereotype.

This form of positive anti-Semitism is not as uncommon as you might think. As a reporter who has covered anti-Semitism for years, I’ve seen it abroad in countries with few Jews, where admiring stereotypes proliferate without much familiarity with actual Jews. The Talmud Hotel in Taiwan — which boasts rooms named after wealthy people and has a “Talmud-Business Success Bible” by every bedside — is a classic example. There’s even an old ironic Jewish adage about this phenomenon: “A philo-Semite is an anti-Semite who likes Jews.”

But while this form of “positive” anti-Semitism is better than the negative kind, it is still deeply dangerous — even when it’s not being wielded as a political cudgel against Jews in the way Trump has been doing this week. At best, expression of such stereotypes by the most powerful man in the world affirms and reinforces the beliefs of bigots who see those anti-Semitic ideas as reasons to hate Jews. At worst, given the right impetus, the coin of philo-Semitic anti-Semitism can easily be flipped, and all those formerly positive stereotypes can be weaponized against Jews.

While the press oscillates between normalizing and spotlighting Trump’s racist and antisemitic rhetoric, at least Republicans are condemning their leader with the same vigor they attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments that could be interpreted as deploying such tropes.

Oh, wait. They’re behaving exactly like they did when, in an April appearance before Jewish Republicans, Trump implied that American Jews should care about Israel more than the United States. That is, if it doesn’t help them attack Democrats, the GOP doesn’t care.

I warned about the cancer of antisemitism in the conservative movement in August of 2017.

So what we’re seeing is the normalization of anti-Semitic tropes and rhetoric in the Republican party. It’s another cancer that’s on the brink of metastasizing; the window of opportunity to excise it is closing.

But I’m not holding my breath. Nothing in recent history suggests that Republicans will do the right thing. Moreover, the peculiar politics of Israel provide real cover here. Maybe your rhetoric is indistinguishable from actual neo-Nazis, but hey, how can you be anti-Semitic if you support Israel’s unfettered hand in the West Bank and unequivocally back Israeli policy in the wider Middle East? Of course, mixing pro-Israel politics with anti-Semitic tropes is nothing new for the American right.

Nothing’s changed for the better since then.

Much has changed for the worse.

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