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November 20, 2016 8:34 am

The Jewish Community’s Shameful Silence on Donald Trump

avatar by Ben Ratskoff

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Observer newspaper owner Jared Kushner (pictured) is married to Ivanka Trump. Photo: Lori Berkowitz Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

New York Observer publisher Jared Kushner (pictured) is married to Ivanka Trump. Photo: Lori Berkowitz Photography via Wikimedia Commons.

Last Sunday, President-elect Donald Trump appointed Stephen Bannon as chief strategist in the White House. We  —  as Jews  —  have a profound and existential responsibility to understand carefully what this appointment and, more generally, President-elect Donald Trump’s successful campaign, means for us.

Some seem shocked (“Antisemitism?! Here?!”); most are shrugging their shoulders (“We’ll see what happens.”) And then there’s the Orthodox community, which overwhelmingly supports Trump. What does seem clear, however  —  not from the “liberal” media, but from his own headlines in Breitbart  —  is that Bannon presided over a full-scale legitimization and expansion of what has euphemistically termed itself the “alt-right,” a contemporary iteration of classic white supremacy.

Self-described as virulently anti-establishment, the alt-right traffics in the Christian West’s prolific discourse of anti-Jewish racism in order to launch attacks on a perceived “liberal” elite. Surreptitious influence in media, manipulation of global finance, urban-cosmopolitan degeneracy  —  these are common, well-developed tropes of anti-Jewish racism, whether or not the targets of these attacks are themselves, in fact, Jewish.

The rise in acts of anti-Jewish racism during the campaign and since Election Day —  marking and vandalizing Jewish spaces, attacking and denigrating Jewish peers, cyberbullying Jewish journalists  —  makes obvious that German repentance failed to wash away the Christian West’s original sin. A multimillennial discourse of denigration and domination cannot be dismantled with a few show trials (i.e. Nuremberg) or the proliferation of memorials. It lives with us and inside us.

This is important, because far too many American Jews, especially young ones, live with an intense ignorance of the history of Jewish life in the Christian West  —  overwhelmingly characterized by neither financial comfort nor white privilege, but rather crude violence, debilitating poverty and sinister demonization. The Torah writes that the Jews “became fat” and subsequently forgot God. We might add  —  as the Alter Rebbe of Lubavitch presciently warned  —  that their remarkable prosperity (and for some, whiteness) made them forget they were Jews.

I will not bore you with comparisons to Hitler and the rise of Nazi fascism/right-wing populism in Germany. Those arguments have been made and are simply too obvious and irrefutable to bear repeating here. Furthermore, the alt-right makes an important chiddush, innovation, on Nazism, which is to mobilize and transform Euro-Christian anti-Jewish rhetoric into a machinery for attacking the changing demographics of America.

“Jews control the media” becomes “Liberals control the media.” “Jews are taking our jobs” becomes “Our jobs are going to brown and black people here and overseas.” “Jews encourage degenerate culture” becomes “Multiculturalism is ruining America.” The attack evolves, but the fundamental anti-Jewish contours persist. The scope has widened, but the weapon is the same.

I do not believe that President-elect Trump deserves a “chance.” Winning the Electoral College does not come with a get-out-of-jail-free card; and treating liberal democracy as an infallible model to which we must submit is, of course, avodah zarah  —  idolatry.

But we should return, at the very least, to the prominent Jewish voice emanating from the Trump organization: that of Jared Kushner. We ought to return, in particular, to the opinion piece he published in his own newspaper, The New York Observer, in early July, as Jewish journalists were facing an unprecedented cyberattack from the alt-right on both their work and personal lives.

Kushner began the piece with a simple statement: “My father-in-law is not an anti-Semite. It’s that simple, really. Donald Trump is not anti-Semitic and he’s not a racist.”

Apart from the lukewarm dismissal (and thus tacit approval) of the correlation between Trump’s campaign and the harassment of Jewish journalists  —  emboldened by the fallacious and combative style of the Breitbart media organization  —  the simplicity of Kushner’s statement says everything we need to know about how Kushner, and the Trump organization, understands antisemitism in particular and racism in general.

Apparently, Kushner understands antisemitism as a deeply personal problem. Surely, if you believe antisemitism comes down to psychology; if you believe racism comes down to manners or lackthereof; in short, if you believe racism is about “not being nice,” then Kushner’s statement brings tremendous comfort. How else might we explain its utter irrelevance? Did anyone reasonably suspect that Donald Trump consciously harbored feelings of hatred and desires of domination, or chas v’shalom elimination, of Jews in America?

But anti-Jewish racism, and racism at large, is nothing of the kind. Certainly, there are psychologies and pathologies associated with racist cultures, which subsequently play out in interpersonal relationships. But these psychologies and pathologies are symptoms of the disease; they are not the disease itself. The problem is not the spray-painted swastikas and the sad, empty individuals shouting “kike.” The problem is much wider and much deeper. It begins by sustaining systems of exploitation, categorizing and denigrating large swaths of society, managing their movement and public behavior, producing internal and external enemies, rounding up for deportation and incarceration. And if we treat only the symptoms, our collective body will continue to rot before deciding, in frenzy, to amputate.

Which is why no amount of editorials defending individual track records and proclaiming individual love for the Jewish people will help. The German people were not regrettably unkind. The Cossacks were not simply mean. The Inquisitors were not just bullies. And the Crusaders were not haphazardly sadistic. Deep, systematic structures, compounded over years of exclusion, oppression and theological demonization, produced violent psychologies.

The “Jewish tax” instituted by the Romans and revived in medieval Germany; the New Testament’s potent anti-Judaism (re-energized by countless Popes and theologians); the restrictive concentration of Jewish work into finance, trade, textiles and the culture industry; the proliferation of sexually and physically violent portrayals of Jews in Euro-Christian popular culture; the spatial segregation of Jewish populations into severely under-resourced “ghettos” or regions of “settlement”; a philosophical obsession with the “problem” of Judaism. The list goes on.

And I have no doubt whatsoever that many white Christians who harbor this historic anti-Judaism say “please” and “thank you” and hold the door for their Jewish neighbors. But racism, at its core, has nothing to do with decency. This is why Kushner’s defense, which even cites his own family’s harrowing history, is both frightening and immaterial. Kushner gravely misdiagnoses the problem and in the process consents to his, and our, oppression.

But we Jews have always been near to the center of our own oppression. Our proximity and access to the centers of power has been both our great privilege and most deadly liability. In recent history, both Jabotinsky’s fascination and involvement with Italian fascism and Lukács’s complicity with Stalinism come to mind. And apart from Kushner’s own proximity to the president-elect, apparently vast numbers of Jews, the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party are in like political mind.

If we do not begin to recognize the deep, historic forces we face, not only will we make the fatal mistake of reproducing a multimillennial anti-Judaism, but we will also, however unwittingly, encourage and sustain its attendant violence now directed against numerous other minorities  —  all of whom deserve our vigilant support and solidarity.

Perhaps most damning, however, is the simple fact that our failure to recognize and attack this insidious and widespread racism requires abandoning the countless Jews of color, queer Jews and Jewish women who have already begun to suspect the limits of our collective inclusivity, our achdus  —  unity, and our ahavas Yisroel  —  love for every Jew.

The opinions presented by Algemeiner bloggers are solely theirs and do not represent those of The Algemeiner, its publishers or editors. If you would like to share your views with a blog post on The Algemeiner, please be in touch through our Contact page.

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  • Commentator

    This is a really insightful article. I was previously having trouble understanding why people were concerned about Bannon – especially because news sources tend to convey their concerns with fear-mongering and vague buzzwords – but this article resonates with me (and is extremely well-written).

    I have a lot of mixed feelings as a Jew about the administration – on one hand, it seems to be extremely pro-Israel, and I’m thankful that its controversial rhetoric may serve as a wake-up call for assimilated Jews to connect to their heritage and identity. And on the other hand, as this article makes crystal clear to me, the problem with controversial rhetoric is that it can have very dangerous consequences. After reading this article, I feel inclined to actively reject the rhetoric itself at the very least.

    – Zach

  • leslie

    When the Left lacks facts, they resort to spurious claims and name calling. Conservatives are labellied racist, homophobic, alt-right, neo-con, sexist, right-wing nutjob, Islamophobic and so on. Time for the Left to end the ridicule and deception or time will label you the crackpots of history.

  • babykatsmom

    Once I sifted through the drivel, I found the pile

  • HonestJew

    Demonstrated here is the sickness of the liberal jew. Those jews that do not participate in the religion, in the culture, in the history, in the ethnicity. They are sideline Jews and only identify their Judaism by birth only. They don’t support Jewish causes, and have no other Jewish identity.

    These Jews are suddenly concerned about Anti-Semitism. These Jews are suddenly “jewish”. Nevermind that the guardians of Judaism; those maintaining its history, customs, lineage, etc are ALL Trump voters, with few exceptions. Nevermind that those Jews that actually experienced Anti-Semitism deny the allegations that Bannon is an anti-semite. Because we know one when we see one.

    The liberal is the true anti-semite and the liberal jews, like this author, support that perspective.

    This article is a ball of shame.

  • AniTzioni

    I have zero doubt that the writer voted for Killary Clinton. The total lack of facts and unwarranted accusations are the type of drivel that comes from leftist liberal so-called Jews in the media. Where were these “Jews” when Barack Hussein welcomed Iran into the league of nations by whitewashing all of their transgressions, where were these “Jews” when Bibi was made to enter the White House through a back door and kept waiting by Barack Hussein while he had his dinner, where were these “Jews” when the Anti Semite residing in the White (sic) House spat on Israel and Jews in his 8 year term? The “Jews” who kept silent are simply disgusting KAPO’s, as is the writer of this hack job of a n article. Reform and Conservative Jews don’t give a s… about Israel. Neither does the author of this article.

  • hershelbarg

    This attack on Trump is almost unbelievable. An obviously far-left liberal is conjuring up strange and unwarranted charges against both Christians and conservatives to denigrate the Trump election, and associate it with anti-semitism.

    No mention, of course, about the blatant anti-semitism erupting from atheistic, amoral, socialistic left wing liberals in the Democratic Party. According to this writer, Ancient Christian anti-semitic tropes are still alive. But how about Muslim anti-semitism, Communist anti-semitism, and neo nazi antisemitism (which is independent of Christian theology). How about the not so subtle anti-Jewish, anti-Israel bias demonstrated by the left wing media, the New York Times in particular. How about the supposedly “mainstream” leftist Protestant churches and Jewish Reform Temples.

    What does he have to say about BDS? It was surely not supporting the Trump campaign. What does he say about the pending appointment of Keith Ellison, a known anti-semite, to head the DNC?

  • Hillary’s Fart-filled Panties

    This article is 1,245 words, and yet not s single actual quotation from the subject of the article, only innuendo and insinuation. And if we asked the author to reconcile Trump’s own words which are favorable to Israel, and Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and the possibility of moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, how might the author reconcile the reality to his rhetoric?

  • Seli%kram

    What drivel, full of smears and accusations without a shred of evidence to support the thesis. I read this s##t twice looking for anything Bannon, Trump or Breitbart has done that is anti-semitic or anti-Israel, and there is none. As a Jewish Zionist who was lucky enough to meet Andrew Breitbart (a Jew) when he was alive, and who has read the Breitbart site consistently since its inception by Andrew Breitbart, I can testify that for those who actually care to read the site or search the site, there is nothing but support for Israel and opposition to BDS. What really scares the left is that it is an effective counter to the Jewish in Name Only Jewish Voice for Peace, J Steet,and their ilk. It is really disgusting that an editor of the Algemeiner would print such slanderous drivel without making the writer show his evidence. This is a shonda

  • Mel Profit

    Where was “The Jewish community’s shameful silence on the American deal with a country that has threatened to exterminate 6 million Jews”?

  • bigrobtheactor

    Sorry but I am not alarmed, yet. The president-elect called Israel America’s “great ally” in front of all his “alt-right” fans and the rest of the world at large. In fact, the fact of Israel itself changes the otherwise enduring equation depicted by the writer. We are a) not alone b) not unable to organize and c) frightfully able and chillingly willing to defend ourselves, our lives and our fortunes. These salient factors change the equation radically. The cossacks, inquisators, crusaders and even the Nazis never faced an IDF. Support the IDF, never mind Bannon or Jared or BLM goons. Support the IDF, the rest is commentary.

  • ronhd

    The conservatives are the only ones I know, openly defending the Jewish community and Israel. Maybe it’s a southern thing. You must be speaking of the elitist Jewish who only wear their star for the profit it brings them, yeah, fuck them.

  • Aliquantillus

    This piece not well thought out. The author confuses Antisemitism with Antiliberalism, and ascribes to Mr. Bannon views held by some supporters of his Breitbart website. Mr. Bannon has extensively denounced Antisemitism and says he is proud to be an ardent supporter of the State of Israel and a fighter against Campus Antisemitism in America.

    It is far to early to say something definitive about any antisemitic tendencies in the upcoming Trump presidency. We should more seriously take to heart that the values of Liberalism are in many aspects anti-Jewish and anti-Torah values. One of the big scandals of Jews in the US is their never-ending love affair with Liberalism and Leftism.

    I consider it outright demagoguery to assume that when Trump supporters complain that liberals control the media they really mean to say that Jews control the media. However, here again the deeper truth is that there is not much vocal conservative Jewish journalismm except for Bret Stephens and Dennis Prager. Many Jewish journalists are leftist liberals who in their deluded political correctness attack core Jewish values. So don’t be surprised that non-Jews notice this association between Liberalism and Jews. And don’t wonder that orthodox Jews voted for Trump.

    • Allan Koven

      Unfortunately, non-Jews cannot understand the support the Dems and Hillary got from Jews. Personally, I don’t either.

  • joshua1779

    This article isn’t just total nonsense. It is a beautifully written, dangerous spin. It would take more than a short comment to refute every fallacy in here. There are just so many.
    Author warns against attacks on numerous minorities. Bunk. Trump and his supporters don’t attack numerous minorities. Trump’s people are concerned only about Muslims as a group. Justifiably so. Islam is a violent religion, or rather ideology of conquest, and it is on the march. Trump is for legal immigration. But Trumpards are against left wing ideology pushed on our society by arrogant elites. Somehow author in here, equates these elites with the Jews. Attacks on elites is an attack on the Jews. Disgusting manipulation. It is outrage against such manipulations that fueled Trump victory.

  • jerry

    Valid points. But applucable as well to the alt-Left and it’s rising antiJew bigotry under the cover of supporting Palestinian war against Israel.

    The Left too is “nice” to most individual Jews, yet they demonize Jews collectively, they wipe out our history and are even arguing now that we are not “really” a minority as they raise the same canards as does the Right about “Jewish control” of [fill in the blank]. “Intersectionality” applied — except for Jews.

    And there too, some Jews are not only silent. but complicit as some Jews are on the Right.

    These times of antiJew bigotry rising on both Right and Left suggests a time to double down on support for Israel.

  • Patricia Brenner

    Having read Breitbart almost daily for three years, I can say with confidence that there are no antisemitic or racist postings there.

  • WillielomanIII

    Clearly, Ben is the one who hates the Jews…Ben is an unrepentant extreme left wing Democrat…the party that is now electing an overt antisemite Keith Ellison as its chairman
    …so why algemeiner post an article from an anti-Jewish racist like Ben…I guess they will be posting KKK articles now

    • Allan Koven

      Surprised me. Why would Algemeiner post this?

    • Commentator

      Please refrain from personal attacks. I’ve met Ben personally, and he doesn’t harbor hatred. In fact, it is very clear from this article that he has a great love the Jewish people. His opinions seem to be significantly more left-wing than my own, but he presents a reasonable and Jewish case for them – the least that we can do is to read the article with an open mind.

  • Lancelot Camelot

    Obama has a anti-Semitic wiev on Israel.

  • bargouti

    Steve Bannon is no more an anti-Semite…..Than Obama is Pro-Israel and Pro Bibi….

  • Joseph Feld

    Orthodox Jews in the USA and the UK are right to congratulate Donald Trump on his election. We are told to pray for the welfare of the goverment of the land where we live. This is based on Jeremiah and Pirke Avos. Trump has said repeatedly that he wants to do what’s right for all Americans, not just Republicans, and he has from the start moderated his more extreme views, e.g he seems to say he will deport only undocumented Hispanics who have been convicted of crimes inside the USA. He has said he will appoint Supreme Court Justices who are more conservative, accepting that the Court will have the final say on controversial policies. So far his Cabinet nominees seem to be experienced leaders who will act in America’s best interests. On the issue of Brexit, Obama told the UK that if it left the EU, it would go to the back of the queue for international trade agreements with the USA. Trump said publicly that if the UK leaves the EU, it will be first in the queue for trade deals with the USA. Trump reaffirmed the UK-USA special relationship, and also the USA special relationship with Israel, contrary to Obama’s Iran deal. There is a positive side to Trump and we should acknowledge that while disagreeing on other policies.