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August 15, 2019 8:08 am

Paul Krugman Jew-Shames Stephen Ross

avatar by Ira Stoll


Paul Krugman at a press conference at the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences in Stockholm. Photo: Prolineserver via Wikicommons.

A Paul Krugman column in The New York Times makes an issue of the Jewish background of Stephen Ross, the real-estate executive and fitness-business investor (SoulCycle, Equinox) who hosted a fundraiser for President Donald Trump.

Krugman writes, “Ross is Jewish — and anyone Jewish has to be completely ignorant of history not to know that when bigotry runs free, we’re always next in line for persecution. In fact, the ingredients for an American pogrom are already in place.”

This is foolish on several levels. First, Krugman’s language is clumsily imprecise to a point that approaches comedy. It’s not accurate to say that when bigotry runs free, Jews are “always next in line for persecution.” Actually, often we’re not “next” in line — we’re first in line. “Always next in line” would be an okay place to be — it would mean we aren’t being persecuted, at least right now. I mean, if we’ve got to be somewhere in the persecution line, it’d be better to be way at the very end, but if we can’t be there, at least “always next” is better than “it’s your turn right now.” At some point this persecution “line” may be replaced with vibrating pagers, or at least those little paper tickets with numbers on them like they use in busy delicatessens (“now serving…”), but until then, that’s the situation.

Also, while Krugman warns of an impending pogrom, he does not mention the attacks on synagogues in Pittsburgh and California that have already happened. A pogrom generally involves a group of people with the permission or support of the authorities. The closest we’ve come to that in the United States in recent decades was the Crown Heights riot in 1991.

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Krugman’s contention is that Ross is, as the column puts it, an “idiot” for backing Trump. If that applies to Ross, then it also applies to any other Jew who supports Trump or serves in the Trump administration — as Krugman puts it, “anyone Jewish.” That would include everyone from Trump’s Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to his Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to Trump’s daughter and son-in-law who serve as White House advisers, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner.

As an instruction manual for American Jewish political involvement, the Krugman column leaves a lot to be desired. Bigotry unfortunately isn’t limited to the Republican end of the political spectrum, as evidenced by the recent calls to boycott Israel by Democratic Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib or even by Jesse Jackson’s “Hymietown” comment back in 1984. What are Jews supposed to do, withdraw from American politics entirely? Form our own political party? Actually, it advances Jewish security more for American Jews to be involved in both political parties. That way, neither party can take American Jewish political support for granted, and both have to compete for that support by delivering on things that American Jews want, including physical safety.

Krugman’s point that Trump enables bigotry, bigotry is bad for all Jews, and all Jews should therefore stay far away from Trump is worth considering. It is not, in my view, entirely convincing. What if, by engaging with Trump, Jews can move his policies in favorable directions? If you think a pogrom might be coming, one alternative is to take a fatalistic approach — make sure your will is written. Another alternative, though, is to try to prevent the pogrom by talking to the tzar. In Trump’s case, it’s a tzar who has Jewish grandchildren, hosts a White House Hanukkah reception, moved the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, exited the Iran nuclear deal, has friendly relations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pardoned Scooter Libby, and gave clemency to Sholom Rubashkin. These are unusual characteristics for the leader or enabler of a pogrom.

Personally, I’m not hosting any fundraisers for Trump. But, unlike Krugman, neither am I Jew-shaming any of my fellow Jews who choose to do so.

Ira Stoll was managing editor of The Forward and North American editor of The Jerusalem Post. More of his media critique, a regular Algemeiner feature, can be found here.

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