In today’s hyperpartisan environment, there is little that could be said about the current occupant of the White House that would not be rejected by many. Here is something that will prompt such a response, but deserves to be said nonetheless: President Trump may be the most anti-Semitic president in history.
The president’s supporters would immediately say that is ridiculous and point to the things he has done for Israel as proof that it is not true. His favorite child, her husband and their children are Jews. He moved the American embassy to Jerusalem and he has a peace plan for the Middle East. But none of that matters as much as his words.
Besides, the peace plan is not going to be dead on arrival; it is already dead. Trump has not missed an opportunity to alienate the Palestinians and he assigned the task of coming up with a plan to his son-in-law, his bankruptcy lawyer and another one of his many lawyers. None of them had any experience in government, diplomacy or know much about the Middle East. Thus, they approached the problem the way Trump does everything: treating it as a transaction where the only thing to be determined is the price. The price, in this case, being what Palestinians would accept for selling their identity and their aspirations for a nation.
As for moving the embassy, every president since Truman has considered the idea and rejected it. They all recognized it would not enhance the ability of the United States to promote peace. But enhancing the American role is not Trump’s goal. His moves with regard to Israel are designed to pander to the one constituency he cannot afford to lose: evangelical Christians. Another payoff is pleasing Sheldon Adelson, the casino billionaire, who has contributed hundreds of millions of dollars to the Republican Party.
But whether one questions Trump’s motives and the impact of his moves, despite his supposedly pro-Israel policies, he is a grave threat to Jews. Politicians must fire up their most loyal voters in order to get them to the polls in the highest numbers. Some, like Obama, did that by appealing to their hopes. Others, like Trump and Netanyahu, do so by stoking their fears.
The latter motivated his voters in the last election by warning them that Israeli Arabs were going to the polls in record numbers. The former ignites his base through even more blatantly racist remarks. All Muslims must be banned, Mexicans are murderers, immigrants bring crime, drugs and disease to this country and so on. In reality, Trump does not want to solve the immigration problem, because if he did he would lose the ability to use it to inflame his most ardent supporters.
Aside from using fear and hate to shore up his political support, another Trump tactic is a total disregard for the truth. In August, Trump hit the 12,000 mark for false or misleading claims according to the fact checkers at the Washington Post. While it is expected that politicians routinely stretch the truth, it would be impossible to name one who lies more frequently.
Another aspect of Trump’s disregard for reality is his penchant for conspiracy theories. His obsession with the false story that Vice President Biden urged a prosecutor in Ukraine to ignore a company that his son was involved in is one example. Whenever he begins a sentence with “some people say,” whatever comes next will be another exercise in conspiracist fantasies.
But worst of all, Trump’s rhetoric encourages violence and validates the views of those who would use it. He asserted that among the neo-Nazis and white supremacists marching at Charlottesville there were “many fine people.” He claims that impeaching him would be an attempted coup that could spark a civil war. He says the military is on his side and he has told police they should feel free to mistreat the people they arrest. That kind of language is a nonsubtle endorsement of the use of violence. His meeting with the head of the National Rifle Association to discuss how the NRA could help bankroll his reelection also guarantees that no effort on background checks or other measures to curb gun violence will succeed on his watch.
So what does Trump’s use of fear and hate, lies and conspiracy and his encouragement of violence mean for Jews? The Anti-Defamation League found that the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the U.S. went up 57% in 2017. It was the largest single-year increase ever, and the fact that it happened during Trump’s first year in power was not a coincidence. The incidents surged even before he took office. In the week after the 2016 election, there was a sharp spike in racist and anti-Semitic graffiti and vandalism, that included the widespread use of swastikas.
In the last election for governor in Florida, the Republican candidate said his Democratic opponent, an African American, would “monkey things up” if elected. That prompted the Democrat to say he did not know if the Republican was a racist, but that “the racists believe he’s a racist.”
So while it can be debated whether Trump is an anti-Semite, what is clear is the anti-Semites think he is. His constant use of fear, conspiracies and lies sound like a prescription for how they can justify their hatred of Jews.
As we mark the first anniversary of the Tree of Life murders, it is worth remembering that the killer drove 13 miles to get to that synagogue. He could have picked any number of Jewish facilities that were closer, but he chose Tree of Life because one of the congregations there works with the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. Trump’s anti-immigrant rhetoric validated the killer’s perverted world view. Some of the blood of his victims is therefore on the president’s hands.
Since the massacre, Trump’s rhetoric has only gotten worse. I fear that the killings will continue and some of those inspired by Trump will know where to look for targets. pjc
Dennis Jett, Ph.D., is a former American ambassador whose career in the U.S. Foreign Service spanned 28 years and three continents. Prior to becoming a professor in the School of International Affairs at Pennsylvania State University, Jett was dean of the International Center at the University of Florida for eight years.