The rise of American anti-Semitism

Trump has helped to propagate dangerous anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

Wendy Kaminer
columnist

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Topics Politics USA

My late father-in-law, born in 1918, offered a view of anti-Semitism shared by many Jewish Americans of his generation. An anti-Semite, he said, was ‘someone who hates Jews more than he should’. Woke readers on alert for verbal offences should understand that he did not mean Jews were hateful. He meant that they should always expect to be hated, or at least disliked and distrusted, and subject to some discrimination.

In his day, throughout much of 20th-century America, anti-Semitism was common: Henry Ford, a virulent anti-Semite, helped to popularise stereotypes of Jews as sly, money-grubbing, conspiratorial globalists, with his purchase of a newspaper in 1918 and distribution of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery purporting to outline a Jewish plot for world domination. At the same time, the Ku Klux Klan helped shape a white-supremacist movement that targeted Jews as well as racial minorities. Immigration quotas fuelled by popular prejudices limited entry into the US of European Jews fleeing persecution in the 1930s and 1940s. Red scares of the 1920s and 1950s associated Jews with two American taboos – Communism and atheism. Meanwhile, casual, quotidian forms of anti-Semitism prevailed: Jews were subject to de facto exclusionary quotas at elite universities and turned away from elite law firms and clubs. Twentieth-century Jewish Americans still enjoyed relative prosperity, but not without developing thick skins and a sense of black humour. The assertion that anti-Semites simply ‘hate Jews more than they should’ is not an expression of self-pity – it’s gallows humour.

Young people are a lot less likely to find this darkly amusing than older, battle-scarred generations who took the persistence of anti-Semitism for granted. Still, even those who aren’t generally surprised (or wounded) by anti-Semitic sentiments are shocked by recent outbursts of anti-Semitic violence, as well as the increasingly routine harassment of Orthodox Jews, easily identified by their attire. Jewish Americans who have long felt relatively safe, and secure in the notion that ‘it can’t happen here’, are not accustomed to worrying about the dangers of appearing Jewish in public, visiting kosher delis, or attending synagogues.

Their fears may exaggerate the chances of being targeted by violence, but are no more irrational than fears of school shootings, which may be relatively rare but still occur periodically. Random violence has a lot of people looking over their shoulders. Other religious minorities, especially Muslims, have been targeted; black Americans have never been free of racial violence; and Christian churches have suffered attacks as well. So Jews are hardly alone in fearing bias crimes.

Still, the recent spate of anti-Semitic incidents is chilling (the Anti-Defamation League tracks them), and anti-Semitism is becoming increasingly respectable. Whether implicitly sanctioned by a president who characterises some neo-Nazis as ‘fine people’ or advanced by those progressives who condemn Jews as racist, greedy beneficiaries of ‘white privilege’, anti-Semitism is one phenomenon that can unite people right and left, even in our excessively tribal times. It’s where some Trump followers can link arms with Corbynistas.

It’s an increasingly weird phenomenon, attracting the strangest bedfellows: Christian evangelicals convinced that all Jews are damned, quite literally, (unless they convert) embrace hell-bound, right-wing Zionist Jews and cast themselves as better friends to Israel (and all Jewry) than Jews who vote Democratic and oppose current Israeli government policies. This evangelical ‘love’ of Israel is not exactly ecumenical or particularly humane. It’s mostly reflective of an apocalyptic theology – the belief that the Second Coming and the long-awaited rapture that will teleport Christians to heaven will occur only after the Jews return to Israel. Once, these views flourished mainly on the political fringe. Today they drive US foreign policy. Secretary of state Mike Pompeo is a fervent right-wing Christian Zionist, a holy warrior, engaged in a ‘neverending struggle’ until ‘the rapture’.

It should be obvious that this transactional support for Israel, based on a very particular Christian theology, is not inconsistent with at least inchoate anti-Semitism. (How else might we categorise the conviction that Jews are damned?) But the alliance between right-wing Christian and Jewish Zionists is transactional on both sides, and is partly a tribute to the power of partisan politics. Orthodox Jewish Republicans, like presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, are content to share the stage with far-right Republican preachers who have long expressed dim views of Jews and Judaism. As the New York Times observed: ‘A Dallas evangelical pastor who once said that Jewish people are going to hell and a megachurch televangelist who claimed that Hitler was part of God’s plan to return Jews to Israel both played prominent roles on Monday in the opening ceremony of the new American Embassy in Jerusalem.’

But the weirdness of anti-Semitism today is not simply rooted in theology. It is also political, or perhaps, in some cases, psychological. Consider the strangeness of xenophobic presidential adviser Stephen Miller, a descendent of Jewish immigrants and an architect of Trump’s draconian anti-immigration policies who embraces white nationalism. Listen to the rantings of Rudy Giuliani, the erratic, possibly demented, Italian-American Trump fixer, who declares himself a better Jew than Holocaust survivor George Soros. He ‘doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion’, Giuliani explains nonsensically. But Soros’s real sin, of course, is the fact that he has devoted much of his considerable fortune to supporting liberal or progressive causes and candidates, and, according to Giuliani, ‘he’s an enemy of Israel’.

What do Trumpists like Giuliani mean when they label someone an enemy of Israel? They mean that he opposes Benjamin Netanyahu, who seems to share a motto with Donald Trump: L’etat c’est moi. From this perspective, a lot of Israeli Jews eager to oust Netanyahu are also enemies of Israel, just as Americans who oppose Donald Trump are enemies of his state. (Trumpists, for example, condemn Americans who question the wisdom or legality of the Soleimani killing as treasonous terrorist lovers who mourn his death.)

Jewish Americans who oppose both Trump and Netanyahu are deemed doubly treasonous. The nominally Protestant, apparently irreligious Donald Trump casts himself as ‘King of Israel’ and ‘the chosen one’ and claims that Jews who support Democrats (a majority of Jewish voters) are guilty of ‘either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty… you vote for a Democrat, you’re being very disloyal to Jewish people, and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.’

So Trump, this gentile ‘King of Israel’, schools Jews on their tribal obligations partly by indulging in anti-Semitic stereotypes: he chides them for violating what he assumes are, or should be, their dual loyalties to Israel and the US. He reminds them that they love money and will vote for him, even if they dislike him, because Democrats like Elizabeth Warren want to tax their wealth. ‘You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all’, the president told a group of wealthy Jews, approvingly.

Is Trump an anti-Semite? Not exactly. In his view, brutality and greed are virtues. He doesn’t hate Jews categorically. He hates people who oppose him, regardless of their identities. And he doesn’t just stereotype Jews. He tends to view members of other racial and religious minorities not as individuals, but as members of collectives. You’ll hear Trump reference ‘the blacks’ and ‘the Hispanics’, but not ‘the whites’ or ‘the Christians’. He’s generally an equal-opportunity stereotyper.

But stereotyping is, of course, the basis of bigotry, and while Trump may feel some kinship with his stereotyped vision of ‘money-grubbing’ Jews, while he has Jewish grandchildren and a favoured daughter who converted to Judaism, he’s encouraged and benefitted from a Christian nationalist movement and the rise of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. Indeed, he employs anti-Semitic memes when they serve him politically. He has, for example, advanced the fiction that Jewish billionaire Soros funded the caravan of ‘very dangerous’ Central American immigrants seeking refuge in the US. After all, ‘a lot of people are saying’ that Soros, the right-wing symbol of an imagined globalist Jewish conspiracy, was behind the ‘invasion’ of people who ‘don’t have the wellbeing of our country in mind’. Trump made these remarks shortly after a crazed wingnut murdered 11 people at a Pittsburgh synagogue, in the belief that Jews were behind an ‘invasion’ of non-white immigrants.

Still Trump is considered a friend of the Jews by right-wing Jewish Zionists, who equate opposition to Israel (Netanyahu’s vision of Israel, that is) with anti-Semitism. The Trump administration agrees. ‘Anti-Zionism is indeed anti-Semitism’, Mike Pompeo asserts, along with Jared Kushner. This claim was recently codified by the administration’s censorious Executive Order ostensibly targeting anti-Semitism on campus. It frames strong support for Palestinian rights and dissent from Israeli policies as civil-rights violations. The order relies partly on a controversial State Department definition of anti-Semitism that includes sharp criticism of Israel, like calling it a racist, fascist state. Whether you consider accusations like this reasonable, hyperbolic or even anti-Semitic, they are, and should be, constitutionally protected speech. Some progressive anti-Zionists are indeed guilty of anti-Semitism, but some are not, and, in any case, the Executive Order isn’t really aimed at and won’t deter anti-Semitism on campus. It’s aimed at left-wing dissent from right-wing Israeli policies generally and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement in particular, which, however intolerant or wrongheaded, also enjoys constitutional protection. The new Executive Order seems bound to snare many more liberal or progressive Jewish critics of Israel than anti-Semitic supporters of it.

Like evangelical support for the current Israeli government, the Trump administration’s selective condemnation of anti-Semitism, which tolerates and exploits white nationalism, may be good for Netanyahu’s Israel (at least in the short term), but it’s bad for the Jews.

Wendy Kaminer is an author, a lawyer and a former national board member of the American Civil Liberties Union.

Picture by: Getty.

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Comments

Jerry Owen

19th January 2020 at 12:20 am

Wendy .. God bless time to get a proper job eh?
You pathetic woman !

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:23 pm

Does Wendy also recognise and condemn the vastly more serious anti-semitism on the left? Also, has she ever said anything complimentary about Trump in any way whatsoever? Links please

Jerry Owen

18th January 2020 at 9:58 am

Kaminer has a rather unhinged mindset towards Trump and I think Spiked should consider dropping her as a .. ahem .. writer!

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:21 pm

One of Spiked’s most regular and dyed-in-the-wool Trump haters. Hey Wendy, could Trump ever achieve anything positive, other than resigning or dying?

Robert Wolfe

17th January 2020 at 9:07 am

This is not an accurate depiction of the problem of rising anti-Semitism in the US. It is an anti-Trump rant largely based on lack of understanding and accuracy. For the author always the Right is evil. “Orthodox Jewish Republicans are to content to share the stage with far-Right preachers.” Nonsense. I’m an Orthodox Jew, and this is a complete exaggeration. Christians who favor Israel are not mainly obsessed with the rapture, they are mainly motivated, in their own words (I have spoken with many of them), by a belief that Israel is beloved of God, and it brings a blessing: Gen.12:3 where God speaks of Abraham’s descendents: “I will bless those who bless you and curse those who curse you.” Or Numbers 24: “Whoever blesses Israel will be blessed, and whoever curses Israel will be cursed.” And by the way, any mention of Obama hanging out with Jeremiah Wright until it was not longer politically expedient? Or Louis Farrakhan? I see the primary demonization of Israel coming from the Left which seems much more dangerous than the far Right’s occasional fits of localized violence. This whole article should be retracted.

Ven Oods

17th January 2020 at 8:29 am

The main thing I took from this piece (grammar beautiful, logic not so much) was that the author has discovered that politics is a balancing act and that politicians have to deal with different sorts of people and factions in order to operate.
We’ve seen the alternative in UK universities; no-platforming of people whose views we don’t share (despite not having listened to them).
While the thrust of the article concerns violence rather than attitude, the idea that anyone could always be so measured in pronouncements as not to chance triggering ‘wingnuts’ is in itself a bit ‘wing-nutty’.

H McLean

17th January 2020 at 4:58 am

Oh dear, quoting the thoroughly debunked and misrepresented ‘fine people’ quote from Trump marks a significant failure in basic journalism. Go back and read the entire speech from Trump, even better watch the whole thing on YouTube. Also, given this article mentions Trump 32 times, maybe the author should get tested for late-stage TDS as a matter of urgency.

Generally, if you want to understand anti-Semitism, look to the left. In the context of the black Americans who have carried out almost all of the recent antisemitic attacks in the USA, look to the Nation of Islam.

brent mckeon

17th January 2020 at 5:43 am

Well said, to write an article about rising anti Semitism in the US and omit the recent anti Jewish attacks in NY city shows it is a mere political anti trump article fitting in with the current impeachment situation.

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:31 pm

I really can’t believe that Spiked approves and regularly publishes such an obviously deranged and badly-informed bigot. Those wanting to read articles fearing and smearing Trump with religious intensity already have the Daily Mail, Guardian, or any other corporate media outlet.

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 12:38 am

So now we know. Criticism of George Soros is anti-Shemitic. Or it is so at least for the purpose of hanging the tag of anti-Shemitism on Donald Trump.

Ven Oods

17th January 2020 at 8:30 am

I believe he’s specifically mentioned in the lHRA.

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 10:36 am

The sacred scripture of the modern day anti-Semite hunter.

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:34 pm

It’s like any criticism of Meghan means you are racist rather than critical of her behaviour. ‘Thinking’ like this reveals the ongoing brain-death caused by wokeness

Gary Luke

16th January 2020 at 11:39 pm

It’s good now and then to be handed a clear view of the muddy thought patterns swimming in the sludge of progressive paradigms. Thanks for this.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

16th January 2020 at 10:30 pm

I suggest that Trump is too stupid to know what a Jew is.

Ven Oods

17th January 2020 at 8:31 am

Nah; I think he just acts dumb to keep us off-guard.

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 9:16 am

What an advantage that is.

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:36 pm

To keep Xenops off-guard, perhaps. But we know trolls fake and provoke for a living

Michael M

16th January 2020 at 8:30 pm

“How else might we categorise the conviction that Jews are damned?” Jews aren’t singled out here. Anyone who doesn’t “convert” is damned.

cliff resnick

16th January 2020 at 6:26 pm

This article is a good example of Trump derangement syndrome!

Jerry Owen

16th January 2020 at 10:03 pm

Quite !

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 12:33 am

Seeing who the author is I clicked with the intention of pressing F3 and then “Trump”, to see how soon and how often she mentioned him. I did not need to. She sniped at him in the sub-heading. She gives him 18 mentions.

Adam K

17th January 2020 at 2:35 am

I know – it’s all over the place

Jerry Owen

16th January 2020 at 5:40 pm

My last post is under mod.
Kaminer’s whole article relies on two words taken out of context ‘fine people’ , Kaminer ridicules herself. Is that all she has ?

Ho Leephuc

16th January 2020 at 4:07 pm

The real bigots and anti semites are the ones that hide in plain sight and are always pointing in the opposite direction. Labour in the UK, Democrats in the US.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

16th January 2020 at 10:30 pm

Of course, there are no ‘bigots’ in the GOP or among the Tories. That is pure bullshit.

brent mckeon

17th January 2020 at 5:46 am

When did oyu last read on this site a Tory/GOP spokesperson attacking the Other for being anti Semitic?

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:42 pm

Keeping faith with Marxist dogma makes you a bigot, Xenops. We know you see non-Marxists as morally and intellectually-inferior because of your compulsive sneering at us, not just by the bile and garbage you vomit up every day. Sadly, we can’t help your kind: ‘hate is a prison only unlocked from inside’, as Stefan Molyneux puts it. I’ll be repeating that one in future responses, no doubt

Andrew Mawdsley

16th January 2020 at 3:48 pm

Isn’t one of Trump’s daughters married to Jared Kushner? Isn’t he a Jewish chap?
It strikes me that while Trump might be a boorish obnoxious individual, he does appear to take people as he finds them and doesn’t really seem to be overly bothered about race. If you’re an American you’re okay, if you’re not then he couldn’t care less. It might be nice to have a few more politicians in this country that felt the same. I really don’t see how a rise in anti semitism can be laid at his door. Maybe the elevation of the Islamic ideology within western cultures may be a better place to lay that particular trope.

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:45 pm

Impossible: criticising the religion of peace is off-script. But you can put a figure of Jesus in a tank of your own urine

Dominic Straiton

16th January 2020 at 3:48 pm

Meanwhile in the real world anti semitism in the US is driven by the same thing as it was for a thousand years in eastern Europe. Jelousy of the man in the corner shop loaning small amounts of money that was forbidden in the other two monotheisms. While backward people bicker the jews have to keep one eye open in case they trip over all those nobel prizes for science they have given all humanity. They mostly live in a dessert and export water ffs. If I didnt like my foreskin so much id wish I was one of the chosen.

Cody Bailey

16th January 2020 at 3:37 pm

I could only make it half-way through. One more face palm and I would have knocked myself out.
Being a free speech absolutist I fully support Wendy’s right to write this embarrassing leftist-stick to the narrative drivel.
*Psst – no one is buying it Wendy. You swayed the same number of people as the Ruskies did in 2016….zero. If after Nov you wonder how Trump won in a landslide come back and re-read this article.

Jim Lawrie

17th January 2020 at 12:40 am

“If after Nov you wonder how Trump won in a landslide come back and re-read this article.” Tha made me laugh out loud.

Jerry Owen

16th January 2020 at 3:18 pm

Kaminer has had her false Trump ‘quotes’ and out of context quotes well and truly trashed here numerous times by many people yet she still persists.
Perhaps Kaminer would like to give us the full quote instead of three words, after all it is rather important for your article isn’t it .. eh ?
Spiked do themselve no favours in allowing Kaminer to have her unsubstantiated accusations against a man that she clearly has a slightly hysterical view of.
Spiked can do way better than this writer.

Ven Oods

17th January 2020 at 8:36 am

“Spiked do themselve no favours in allowing Kaminer …”
Can’t agree, Jerry. The alternative would be ‘no-platforming’ like our hallowed universities are wont to do. And this sort of article gets the sort of trashing it deserves right here in the comments.
I’d rather know what the other side are thinking, no matter how deranged it sounds.

Jerry Owen

18th January 2020 at 10:02 am

The woman is so tedious that’s why I think she should go .. not because of what she says .

George Orwell

16th January 2020 at 2:48 pm

Poor Wendy is overthinking the issue and has tied herself up in intellectual knots.
There is nothing wrong with recognising differences, creating stereotypes or having a better opinion of one’s own culture as long as one retains good manners and does not resort to violence.
Linking Trump to the recent deterioration is a bit of a stretch.
I tend to blame leftist identitarian ideologues which puts the Democrats in the frame.

steven brook

16th January 2020 at 2:11 pm

The rise of American anti-Semitism is because of Trump!
I wonder who else could be responsible?
Quran 98.6 – Verily, those who disbelieve (in the religion of Islam, the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed (Peace be upon him)) from among the people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians) will abide in the Fire of Hell. They are the worst of creatures.

ZENOBIA PALMYRA

16th January 2020 at 10:29 pm

There are very few Muslims in the US proportionally. In France, the rise of anti-Semitism is directly attributable to the huge (and metastising) Islamic presence, which is not the case in America. Anti-Semitism can come from left and right (and centre).

Ven Oods

17th January 2020 at 8:40 am

Exactly, ZP – there are very few absolutes.

nick hunt

17th January 2020 at 4:48 pm

Here you use your voice of reason, rather than that of the bigoted provocateur. Well said. Now, is Trump responsible for US anti-semitism, and if not, what is?

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