Donald Trump’s comments to the Republican Jewish Coalition yesterday about his audience including great negotiators who want to buy candidates were not anti-semitic, as a lot of liberal writers are claiming. The quips were a generalization, surely, but an accurate one.
Trump has expressed bigotry against Hispanics and Muslims, but he is surely immunized from bigotry in this case because he was describing a quality he values more than anything else, dealmaking. I don’t see how you can be anti-semitic if you’re praising a trait you love in yourself.
More important, this was a moment of truth-telling. The (mostly) men in that room are there because they’re wealthy and they’re shopping for pro-Israel candidates. I saw this same crowd at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem raising money for Mitt Romney in 2012. You didn’t get into the lunch by having good ideas. It was a $50,000-a-plate meal. Buying candidates for Israel is the name of the game. Foreign Policy wrote recently that big donors are making the pro-Israel issue the test of being Jewish– “In the Jewish community, the big donors have unnuanced views on Israel,” said one Jewish critic. Rabbi Steven Gutow of the Jewish Council on Public Affairs said a month ago that the Jewish community has given too much power to rightwing pro-Israel donors. “In our community, there is this strange hegemony of big donors demanding control of decisions.”
Again: that’s the money Trump was addressing. He knows many of them from business. The guy who introduced him even made a joke about a $10 side-bet he’d made on what Trump wouldn’t say.
You don’t think money in politics is corrupting? I do. A few weeks back Trump said that Marco Rubio would become the “perfect little puppet” of Sheldon Adelson if Adelson supports him, and it was a true statement. Rubio won’t be out-Israel’ed by anyone, as he showed yesterday in denouncing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions in his speech, and saying Jerusalem will always be Israel’s capital, and he’ll shred the Iran deal. Trump to his credit did not make those promises. In fact, he got booed for refusing to say that Jerusalem must remain undivided. Though he loves Netanyahu, who can doubt that’s his real sentiment. What’s the source of his independence? Because he’s not looking for money, he’s not bought and paid for by the Israel lobby, as Tom Friedman once wrote about the Congress.
The liberal press’s willingness to shame Trump on this point – even Matt Katz was echoing it on NPR—demonstrated the self-censoring refusal of the press to acknowledge the basis of the lobby’s power, donations. Israelis are more honest about this. As Ynet wrote not long ago, “How did American Jews Get So Rich?” and said that Jewish wealth had been essential to Israel.
There is no doubt that American Jews’ huge success helped Jews survive in Israel. “The help is beyond the actual donations,” says [Rebecca] Caspi [an executive at the Jewish Federations]. “The federal aid arrives largely thanks to the Jewish pressure.
Jodi Rudoren said at the Jewish Community Center the other night that the Israel story is an important story for her newspaper, the New York Times in part because the names of so many American Jews are on buildings and organizations in Israel. I think of Robert Kraft, Sheldon Adelson, and Irving Moskowitz, among others. American Jews spend money on Israel, here and there. When Larry Summers got pushed out of the Harvard presidency ten years back, Martin Peretz ascribed the push to”anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish bias” and said he knew of several donations of 100s of millions of dollars that were now in jeopardy. Live by the sword, die by it.
It may be politically correct to say that Jews are no different economically than anyone else, but this defies the truth. We are the wealthiest group by religion in the United States. That Ynet article relates all the numbers, a quarter of the Forbes 400, etc. Many of the top media owners, from Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook to Brian Roberts of Comcast to the Sulzbergers of the New York Times are Jewish.
This is a long tradition. There is a rich literature on how essential Jewish contributions were to the rise of the modern nation state. “If the distinctive contribution of Jews to the construction of absolutist states lay in the realm of finance and military provisioning, their characteristic role in the development of liberal regimes was in the domain of political mobilization and opinion formation,” Benjamin Ginsberg wrote in The Fatal Embrace. In his book To Free a People, Gary Dean Best said that my ancestors were freed from Russia in part through the financial pressure of Jewish bankers on American presidents. And that furor about what a racist Woodrow Wilson was? He appointed the first Jew to the Supreme Court and co-signed the Balfour Declaration. Surely not because he loved Jews but because he sought Jewish support at the polls and, yes, too, for the war effort.
Truman’s recognition of Israel in defiance of his own State Department cannot be fully explained without noting that Abraham Feinberg and Ed Kaufman raised $100,0000 for his whistle stop tour in the subsequent election. Feinberg, who also bankrolled Kennedy, said that money was about Israel. From the Truman library:
I had already got the commitments for the $100,000 from people around the country, all of whom understood that without Truman, Israel would have had very difficult days and times trying to even come into existence. As that train went into towns where there were Jewish communities, I arranged that a Jewish delegation would ask to see the President and be received on the train and that, in as many cases as possible, they would bring him donations above these original commitments.
Feinberg also said, “Certainly, there was never any access denied me either by Truman, Kennedy, or Johnson.” That’s not because he was so charming; he was cutting deals.
Jerry Mueller wrote a scholarly book called Capitalism and the Jews which seeks to explain the affinity of Jews and modern capitalism by noting that Jews recognized the role of “knowledge and the evaluation of risk in economic life…. The economic value of gathering and analyzing information simply was beyond the mental horizon of most of those who lived off the land and worked with their hands.” That pattern persists. Ynet says that in 1970, 87% of Jewish men worked in clerical jobs, compared to 42% of all white people, and the Jews earned 72% more than the general average.
Is this a sensitive subject? Of course it is. Jewish wealth has long been a factor in anti-Semitic hatred. But that doesn’t mean reporters should be stupid about the power of the Israel lobby or the general circumstances of American Jewry. That’s why the candidates were sucking up at the Republican Jewish Coalition. And why Trump was right to quip that he won’t be bought.
Finally, let’s be clear. The vast differences in wealth in our country go well beyond the situation of one ethnic religious group. As the most eloquent advocate for equality in our society Bernie Sanders said the other day, the 20 wealthiest people in America make as much money as the lowest 150 million. That unfairness is undermining people’s personal freedom, Sanders says angrily. And it’s not a Jewish problem, it’s the problem inherent in late capitalism. And many Jews (including Bernie) are among those working against that unfairness.