Making matzoh surrounded by Jewish school children in Brooklyn will be one of the few happy memories Texas Sen. Ted Cruz will have from his humiliating defeat to Donald Trump in the Empire State.
That day, no one was screaming “Fuck you, Cruz!” as had happened elsewhere. No, these were innocent, children making unleavened bread, and these cherubs weren’t going to yell obscenities at him. Of course, they might do so in some of Cruz’s nightmares, and with all their epithets in perfect Castilian Spanish. We can’t know for sure. While the content of Cruz’s nightmares remains unconfirmed, I bet they are the absolute weirdest.
The New York Times has an extraordinarily detailed account of his trip to Brooklyn. It’s the kind of extraordinary detail one finds only in stories where nothing actually happened.
“Definitely good for the Jews!” one man gathered at the matzoh shop called out, the Times reports. Well, apparently not for the Republican party.
Some Jews in New York City and throughout the United States really thought Cruz was their savior from Donald Trump, who had had the audacity to suggest he’d be a neutral arbiter for Israel. And even though he lost the state bigly, as Trump might say, he won over parts of Brooklyn — Borough Park and South Williamsburg — and trounced Trump, taking 100 percent of the vote. Of course, only 3 people voted in that particularly slice of Borough Park. But he brought home 60 and 80 percent of the vote in districts with larger turnout (we’re talking 30 or 40 people, here). He did well among the Lubavitchers in Crown Heights, too. In the rest of Brooklyn, Trump won the day among Republicans.
But now, in the wake of Cruz’s quitting and Trump’s win in Indiana, Jewish Republicans are having a reckoning, and their hatred of stuff is what’s keeping them sticking by Grand Old Party, even if they have to share a convention in Cleveland with actual living, breathing voting racist skinheads and Trump’s loyal biker gangs doing the security.
The Republican Jewish Coalition, a pro-Israel etc. conservative lobbying group, is putting its shoulder behind Trump. Their statement Thursday underscores how deeply these Republicans despise Hillary Clinton, even if it means they have to rub elbows with people hiding swastikas under their business suits. After congratulating Trump, the RJC hailed the “unity in the belief that Hillary Clinton is the worst possible choice for a commander in chief….we must remember our core principles: peace through strength, unwavering support for Israel, and robust American leadership at home and abroad.”
Ariel Kohane, 45, was wearing a Cruz kippa when I first met him at a Bernie Sanders rally in Long Island City, Queens, and he has never held back about his love for Cruz. A born and raised New Yorker, Kohane member of the state’s Republican party and Beitar Jerusalem fan, really wanted Cruz to be president. Kohane is a nice guy, and he just had an awful Tuesday. When Cruz dropped out I texted him for his feelings.
“It sucks,” Kohane, 45, texted me as he was in a car on his way to Philadelphia to go to a special Yom Ha-Shoah edition of World Changing Wednesdays, a self-help seminar run by the Hollywood Rabbi R. Benzion Klatzko.
“What are you going to do now?” I asked.
“Support Trump,” he said through text. I called him.
The driver of the car was another Republican New Yorker friend, Chris B., 29, an unemployed air conditioning repairman from Queens. Chris was a big Trump fan. They met at a Cruz rally.
“I’m Trump all the way,” Chris said, after Kohane put him on speaker phone.
Ariel said he was disappointed, but that Cruz was still a young man and still had a long political career ahead of him.
“He’s so young. He has the world at his feet,” Kohane said. “He’s a senator, and he’s a leader of the conservative movement — “
Then Melinda Crump, another New York City Republican from the Upper West Side, called Kohane about something or other. She was once for Jeb, but then Trump won over Crump, a born-again Christian from North Carolina living in Manhattan.
I had the pleasure of speaking to a trio of Republicans one doesn’t meet that often, at least not in the same place. A conservative Jewish guy, a blue collar Trump supporter from Queens, and a Southern lady who gushed about the “Trump train.”
“I know that if you look at some of Donald Trump’s speeches he wants to honor our relationship with Israel. And he was appalled when Obama was appearing to be rude to Netanyahu.”
I asked if she was Jewish. “No, I’m a gentile. I’m a Christian. We’re in solidarity with Jewish people.” As for Trump, he is “bringing courage to rebuild our conservative values again. And he’s winning. He’s actually doing it, you know?
Kohane added that “I’ve said from day one that Trump was the second best candidate. I’ve always loved Trump. I was never part of #NeverTrump. They are very similar, Trump and Cruz. I was concerned when Trump in one of the previous debates said that he would be neutral on Israel when Cruz has always been pro-Israel.”
But Kohane got over that. Lots of Jewish Republican Cruz supporters are trying to make the same call today. I’d bet some might be taking a second look to see how Clinton stands on Israel/Palestine, compared to Trump. I would, if I were in their shoes. They’ll make their decisions over the next five months.
“He [Cruz] basically said that if you don’t support Israel, you don’t support America,” Kohane added.
I asked Melinda, on the other line, what she thought of this. If someone doesn’t support Israel, do they not support America. Her answer was revealing.
“There’s some truth to that. We need to have their back. And I believe that I’m coming from a Christian perspective. In the Bible, it says bless those who bless you. I think we need to take that seriously. If you look back, our nation was founded on Christian principles. George Washington made a covenant with God, and God said he would bless this nation, as long as we kept our covenant,” she explained.
“What’s our covenant?” I inquired.
“To bless Israel,” she replied.
Since AIPAC in March, I have noticed a consistent pattern of self-delusion about Trump and his relationship to far right racists. Like many other Trump supporters, AIPAC attendees felt that Trump can’t help who likes him. But on Cinco De Mayo, KKK bigwig David Duke again congratulated Trump for his win and had some choice words about Jews that should really freak you out. Duke was talking about Jewish opposition to Trump.
“I think these Jewish extremists have made a terribly crazy miscalculation, because all they’re going to be doing by doing a Never Trump movement is exposing their alien, their anti-American, anti-American majority position,” Duke said Thursday, according to Newsweek.
“They’re going to push people more into an awareness that the neo-cons are the problem, that these Jewish supremacists who control our country are the real problem, and the reason why America is not great.”
“Jewish chutzpah knows no bounds,” Duke added, according to the Forward, which noted the RJC endorsement as evidence contradicting Duke.
American Jews reacted to Trump’s plan to ban Muslims and surveil their neighborhood (more than the government already does) with a mixture of horror and, for the most conservative, a genuine openness and curiosity about what he’d do for Israel. Polling data for a group of Americans that includes Cruz-booster Ariel Kohane, a Bernie Sanders supporter and Clinton-fan Lena Dunham is hard to come by, and there’s no data (if you can find it, please put it in the comments below) that breaks down how many support Trump’s Muslim ban.
But some definitely don’t let it stop them from cheering for Trump. The evidence for this support is anecdotal (i.e. things multiple Jews have told me in exclusive interviews), but also on video: Trump received multiple standing ovations at this year’s AIPAC conference show how some politically active American Jews are willing to overlook the mogul’s exclusionary policies against other American minorities — as long as he’ll support Israel.
But what seems to unite all Trump supporters, terrifyingly enough, is their shared fear of Muslim infiltration into American life. Trump has proposed measures that include the tracking and surveillance of American Muslims, with all sorts of “systems.” Unlike some other things, like throwing shade at the Pope or telling people at his rallies to beat the crap out of each other, Trump has never backed down from this position or softened his message. There’s a reason he hasn’t. Inciting fear of Muslims is extremely useful to his campaign.
Trump has sutured together his party with Islamophobia. That’s pretty straightforward. What I also know is that a woman shouting support for Trump was responsible for a grotesque attack on a woman in a hijab at a Starbucks just a ten minute walk from where I grew up. It’s a Starbucks where a friend of mine from high school worked for years. It’s a Starbucks behind which I smoked back in the Bush years, on sweltering summer evenings. It’s a place where I have positive memories of growing up. But now it’s a place where someone has, caught on closed-circuit camera, verbally abused and harassed a Muslim woman by pouring an unspecified liquid on her.
According to DCist, the victim said the attacker, a short, blond woman, yelled at her: “‘Fucking Muslim. Trash, worthless piece of Muslim trash. You all need to go back to where you came from.’ She says if Donald Trump wins the nomination ‘I’m going to vote for him so he can send all of you all back to where you came from.’”
Well, here we are. Trump is the Republican nominee. The attacker, who reportedly plans to vote for him, remains at large. A system of government drafted to reduce religious conflict is crumbling under the force of $2 billion dollars in free advertising the cable news industry has lavished on Trump, even when what he says hypnotizes people into cruel, indefensible acts of hatred.
But the ratings were irresistible, as CBS CEO Les Moonves said in February, well after Trump had exposed his most bizarre and racist policies: “I’ve never seen anything like this, and this is going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.”
The victim told WJLA had a different reaction: “I’m more nervous than ever and I’ve lived over here for six years,”
We can expect Trump to push anti-Muslim rhetoric very hard in coming weeks, knowing that it is central to uniting disparate communities in his campaign, which happens to include right wing racists with prison white power tattoos and politically conservative American Jews. A lot of all of these people, Jews and Gentiles, can get pretty frightened by the threat of Sharia law creeping into their communities. Of course, this isn’t actually happening, but since when did a threat being real matter to a species that evolved as prey for giant cats for millions of years?
The fear-fueled Christian/Jewish alliance this year is kind of a twisted version of the Evangelical alliance with Zionists in the early and mid-2000s. The Evangelical side was just so darn certain these were the end times, that they wanted to make sure they were on the right side of Israel. AIPAC, seeing an opportunity, put money into gentile candidates of this persuasion.
Since Obama has been in office, this relationship hasn’t had an executive to come to bat for it. Supporting Israel has taken on a much more technocratic, less Pentacostal vibe. With a Republican victory in November, Evangelicals and Zionists could have a man in the White House extremely eager to listen to their concerns. The relationship has always been based on not really believing what the other side says.
But back to Melinda, Ariel, Chris and myself, I asked them what they would say to a Muslim mother who has had to tell her son Trump won’t deport his father, who was born in Syria. I spoke to this woman for a piece I worked on earlier this year.
“I am scared because Trump is winning all these states,” the ten-year-old said, he had been paying more attention to the news than usual, his mother, Nazek Habtfha, recalled. A Syrian American born in New Jersey, whose son was born in Ohio, her husband, a physician, was born in Syria.
“If Trump wins the election, then he is going to kick people out of the country. Mom, you and I were born here. But dad wasn’t,” Habatfha, recalled in March. “Ask any mother if they think any politician has the right to make their ten-year-old son go to sleep afraid at night he’s going to lose his father. They don’t. It is unfair, outrageous and unAmerican,” the woman, a Sanders supporter, told me.
So I asked Melinda what she would say to this Muslim mother.
“Well I think that some of the ways that people are processing this have been blown out of proportion, because in the beginning all Trump said was that we need to secure the border until this issue passes. There’s a lot of common sense in that because if we would have had one incident in the United States the borders would’ve been shut immediately. He doesn’t hate Muslims,” she said.
But what would she say to the mother. That was the question. I asked again. I described their background.
“I know that you don’t want to make this kid afraid. I know that’s not you. You’re a nice person. But that’s what this kid understands and so what would you as a Trump supporter, and as a person of good will and as a Christian tell them?”
She replied: “‘Don’t worry, the authorities are not against you. You’re welcome. They don’t want some of your bad counterparts. But you’re not that. So you don’t have anything to worry about. You’re not going to be treated unjustly. Trump is not for just exporting people for no reason.
“Okay,” I said.
“And even Dr. Ben Carson made a good point if you look at his Twitter account he said as long as you want to come here and abide by our laws then that’s fine but don’t come here and decide that you don’t want to abide by our law that you want to abide by Sharia law,” she said.
But what about rabbinical courts in New York City. Crump replied that that kind of law was confined to the Jewish community. Sharia courts would mean everybody is subject to the long scimitar of the law
“[Jewish law] doesn’t say anything about beheading,” she said.
Here is a reference to Talmudic scholarship on when to behead people.
“It’s not about honor killings,” she said. Here is a sympathetic Talmudic take on honor killings emphasizing the seriousness of infidelity. The law actually says that the whole community should stone the offending woman to death at the front door of her family’s house, to shame that family for failing to teach their daughter to not commit infidelity.
Moreover, this contradicts the Bible itself, as I understand it. Mary Magdalene was a Jewish woman. She may have committed adultery. . Some other Judeans were about to stone her to death because of that. Then Jesus was all like “Naw, I don’t think so.” And the rest is history.
To Crump, however, Jewish law is about “Judeo-Christian values, not violence.”
Anyway, I asked why New York could be home to so many faiths and so rarely have religious violence. Is it part of the “Christian nature of New York City’s laws? Or what is it? How does the Christian foundation of American make it so Muslims and Jews and Christians can all get along.”
Chris B. said: “Honeslty I don’t think it has anything to do with the laws or anything like that. If you come over here with the respect and respect us, otherwise they’re not respected. If they cannot give respect, they can’t get respect. If they can’t even respect us in our country, then they’re not going to be respected hard.”
“But for the most part, how aren’t Muslims respecting our country?”
“It has more so to do with respect? If you respect each other on the street nobody gets into a fight.”
“Those were the values Ted Cruz was shitting on in New York!” Chris laughed. “I believe that it comes down to that,” Chris added.
Kohane was embarrassed at his candidate getting ribbed. “That’s not exactly what he meant…”
So that’s the word. Respect. Respect is law. Respect is the law of prison. Reality is a prison. This planet is a prison. We can’t leave, and we’re stuck answering to whoever could kill us and get away with it. Respect might be the law of the land for the next eight — or who knows? — years. But disrespect in prison, even accusations of it, means death, sometimes. For Republicans, however, Trump is Duke of New York, he’s A Number 1.