Two headlines have contrasting messages about Donald Trump and Jews.
“Clinton Leads Trump by 43 Points Among Jewish Voters in Florida” – Jewish Insider
“Trump’s image among [US] Jewish voters is underwater by 50 percent…A whopping 71 percent have an unfavorable view of him.”
“Third Israeli Trump campaign office opens in Tel Aviv’s Diamond District” – Jerusalem Post
“A fourth office is scheduled to be opened in the West Bank, and a fifth may be added later, according to the report.” (Approximately 200,000 American citizens live in Israel, 60,000 of them in occupied Palestinian territories.)
Reports say Israeli Jews have an unusual taste for The Donald, compared to American Jews. Jews in Israel may more easily support Trump because they will not be exposed to danger from a radicalized Christian majority.
The ancestors of most Jews experienced the worst of being outsiders, “vermin,” “parasites,” and Jews have a learned aversion to governments that persecute, and to proud majoritarian mobs. For better and worse, our mythology is of a wanderer people, reviled, homeless — what Esther Benbassa calls “Suffering as Identity.”
The experience of fear, experience of being a suspect stranger no matter the length of sojourn, is credited for an ennobling of the Jewish character in Jewish self-talk. For you were strangers in the land of Egypt…
In a sort of perverse Johnny Appleseed law of Jews, Theodor Herzl proposed that “We naturally move to those places where we are not persecuted, and there our presence produces persecution.”
(This summarizes the Jewish national territorial imperative of his 1896 Zionist manifesto Der Judenstaat.)
A descendant of a Lipschitz or Slutzky from Romania or Moldova has been able to make a life in the United States, with no limits except those internalized, but reawakened Christian hostility has always been a consideration.
Trump’s manner may not be as shocking to the Israeli ear. Current Israeli Justice minister Ayelet Shaked posted an article with the idea that Palestinian Arabs are “snakes” who need to be killed.
Trump repeatedly likens refugees to snakes and, notoriously, opened his campaign slandering Mexican immigrants. (The one thing that candidate Trump consistently models is brutality.)
Was his talk to the Republican Jewish coalition on Dec. 3, 2015 antisemitic?
“Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t renegotiate deals? Probably 99% of you. Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken in…. I’m a negotiator, like you folks.”
And later, the shiv: “But you’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money… You want to control your own politicians.” Trump spoke with an abandon about Jews not seen since Warren Beatty’s Bulworth. (In the 1998 movie, Beatty’s character, a California senator, says, “They always put the big Jews on my schedule. You’re mostly Jews, right? Three out of four of you? I bet Murphy put something bad about Farrakhan in here [in my speech] for you!”)
Reviewing Trump’s Republican Jewish Coalition speech and other behavior, scholar Deborah Lipstadt wrote in an article in the Forward, in June, “He may be what I call ‘the inadvertent anti-Semite’ — the person who, while not a hater of Jews, has internalized some of the most pernicious stereotypes about Jews.”
Whether Trump “turns on” Jews formally may be unimportant. Lipstadt sees the Trump campaign leaving a legacy of “enabling and legitimizing Jew hatred.”
Lipstadt sums the public American consensus since the Holocaust: “When confronting racism and anti-Semitism, there is only one acceptable response. It’s not ‘no comment’ or ‘I don’t know anything about David Duke.’ It’s unequivocal condemnation.”
There was an unprecedented breach of the consensus when Breitbart.com called William Kristol a “renegade Jew” in a headline. (Breitbart executive Stephen Bannon is now Trump campaign CEO.)
It’s not unreasonable to think that the collapse of the consensus that we speak of each other with at least the pretense of respect will impact the Jewish community. It brings to mind the jokes with the punchline, What does it mean for the Jews?
It’s a rare American Jewish artist — from Mel Brooks to Edward Lewis Wallant to Bruce Jay Friedman — who does not have fear as a boon companion. Transmuted, dressed as a harlequin, but a partner.
American Jews have been holders of a particular combination of privilege — “white” in America, and with Moses at Mount Sinai when the Torah was received — and memories of talks at the kitchen table of family lost in Europe, what industries were hostile to Jews, and slurs or beatings.
American Jews, a group that prides itself, justly, with working for the public good in many ways, and in organizing social welfare institutions that serve the communities in which it lives, may have to confront how other work it has done is perceived.
Bigots are coming out of the woodwork, exposing American Jews to treatment that unprotected minorities have experienced but which Jews have only sporadically been exposed.
Jewish journalists have reported messages and threats unknown previously in their careers, from Trump supporters.
Historical maltreatment of Jews in America has been more than country club exclusions or university quotas.
The lynch death of Leo Frank is an example of the worst treatment. Pictures of Frank’s death, Aug. 17, 1915, in Marietta, Georgia, became part of the American commercial art form of lynching photo postcards — proud, organized action of “lynch law” — distinct from “mob violence.”
American Jews may not be braced for the changes happening. George Washington University’s Program on Extremism has published a report reporting on a 600% increase in White Nationalist tweets since 2012: “White nationalist movement growing much faster than Isis on Twitter, study finds”
That White Nationalism/Christian Identity movement politics is a prominent strain in the Trump cause may signal a season of danger to Jews and other stigmatized “undesirables” in the United States.
If we are worthy of our heritage, we’ll take strength from the example of Chaney, Schwerner and Goodman, and fight for our home.
At first, this possibility of “Othering” may seem it would an unimaginable break in American existence. Looked at with the experience of those on the receiving end of American power — the indigenous, enslaved, scorned, or foreign — it snaps into focus.
Expulsion from America was near to the mind of Eastern European immigrant Jews in the late 1800s.
“This possibility was discussed dispassionately and without bitterness almost, as if it were a logical proposition and the inevitable fate of diaspora existence,” Shlomo Noble wrote in a survey of proto-Zionism in the early US Yiddish press.
A poem found by Noble supposed:
In America preparations are made to give you
A blow or a tickle with a knife
You found Ivan’s blow painful
The American blow will be more painful.