American Jews Have Nowhere to Go
American Jews have nowhere to go. They are faced on one side by the antisemitism of the alt-right, which has already inspired two synagogue shootings. On the other side is the equally virulent, if more subtly phrased, leftist antisemitism embodied by Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, centered on hatred of Israel and its Jewish supporters.
This axis of antisemitism came to a head last week when President Donald Trump, the tribune of the alt-right, called on Omar, Tlaib, and Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley — now famously called “the Squad” — to go back to their countries of origin if they hate the US so much.
The statement was quite evidently racist, as only Omar was in fact born outside the United States. While Omar’s bitter ingratitude toward the country that saved her from the failed state of Somalia is a legitimate target of criticism, she remains a US citizen, and this was, in any case, not Trump’s intention. He was self-evidently attempting to paint the four leftists as fundamentally un-American and foreign to the “real” United States, and the fact that they are all women of color is not a coincidence.
More disturbing for the Jewish community is that Trump has explicitly linked this racist rhetoric to Israel and antisemitism. In the same breath as he accuses “the Squad” of anti-Americanism, he accuses them of antisemitism, and demands they apologize to Jews and Israel, as his acolytes howl “send her back.”
There is no doubt that there are members of the Jewish community, some quite prominent, who are not overly vexed by this. While they may personally disapprove of Trump’s race-baiting, they believe that the problem of right-wing antisemitism is overblown, that left-wing antisemitism and the BDS movement (which most of “the Squad” supports) is a far more serious and immediate danger, and that Trump is the best friend Israel has ever had.
Most importantly, they believe that however much Trump may engage in deplorable rhetoric, he is unquestionably not an antisemite, and his most fervent opponents most definitely are. Fighting Trump, then, is at best foolish, and at worst actually self-destructive.
Putting aside the issue of whether a racist who is not an antisemite should or should not be fought by all decent people — and indeed, whether a racist is not also inherently an antisemite in the first place — the pragmatic argument for Jewish support for Trump is ominously wrong.
The reason for this is not Trump’s specific views on Jews or Israel, which can certainly be debated, but rather the more general movement — the larger project in which Trump is engaged.
This project is quite simple: Trump is seeking to build a viable white identity politics. He wants to bring American whites together in a movement that is conscious of its whiteness as the essential aspect of its identity, and to vote accordingly.
To do so, he pits the true, “white” America against other identity groups — Hispanics, African-Americans, immigrants, etc. Also on the designated enemies list are whites deemed race traitors — “globalists,” elites, liberals, progressives, cosmopolitans, indeed anyone who views their whiteness as either an irrelevancy or a problematic fact that must be seen in the context of power relationships and America’s history of racism.
This is, of course, hardly unprecedented in the United States. White identity politics drove the pre-Civil War pro-slavery movement, secession, and the Confederacy itself; the South’s long struggle against Reconstruction and civil rights for African-Americans; the Ku Klux Klan’s founding in the 1860s and revival in the 1920s; immigration restrictions; and many other deplorable ideologies and movements in American history. But not since the presidential campaign of segregationist George Wallace in 1968 has white identity politics had a coherent, conscious, and energetic political movement on its hands. And even then, it should be noted, it could not elect a president. It has now.
To be fair, the left bears some responsibility for this. In its own embrace of identity politics — to the point that in the form of “intersectionality” it has simply overwhelmed the left’s traditional economic and class concerns — it made a backlash of some kind inevitable. And indeed, in their own antisemitism, “the Squad” itself proves the potential toxicity of this movement. Nor can the left’s general problem with antisemitism be in any way minimized.
Nonetheless, and whatever gifts Trump has so far bestowed on Israel and the Jews, his larger project cannot be viewed as anything other than a clear and present danger to the Jewish community.
The reason is that white identity politics, whether American or otherwise, has never and will never accept the Jews. Indeed, it has never seen the Jews as anything other than a uniquely insidious enemy, in some ways even worse than those it views as lower on an imagined racial hierarchy.
Despite left-wing antisemites’ own accusations that the Jews enjoy “white privilege,” white identity politics has always seen the Jews as both racially inferior and preternaturally intelligent enemies of white society, who, through liberal politics, financial machinations, shadowy political control, dominance of the media, and advocacy of miscegenation and other policies that undermine white society, are the ultimate existential enemies of “whiteness,” with everything that implies.
One should not be naïve about Trump’s responsibility for what his movement is becoming. He is not a stupid man. He is not simply riding a sociological wave to political power. He is quite consciously and quite successfully putting together a mass movement out of white identity. And if one places all moral considerations aside, one must admit that there is a dark brilliance at work in this. Despite its real and growing diversity, the United States remains some 70 percent white. As a result, a viable white identity politics could guarantee electoral dominance in perpetuity.
That, at least, is the gamble Trump is taking. And American Jews could well end up paying a terrible price for it.