Is Donald Trump an anti-Semite? His supporters scoff that he has a Jewish (by Orthodox conversion) daughter, son-in-law, and three grandchildren, and that he played a major role in the 2004 Salute to Israel Parade.
But The Times of Israel has posted a “timeline” of the Trump anti-Semitism controversies and asked readers to “be the judge.” The timeline leaves this reader — an expat American observing the Old Country’s affairs from southern Israel — worried. I am less worried about Trump being an anti-Semite than about his not seeming averse to using others’ anti-Semitism as an electoral asset.
On April 24, 2013, Trump scurrilously highlighted the Jewish background of Daily Show host Jon Stewart. He tweeted:
I promise you that I’m much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz – I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 24, 2013
Last December, he said this in a speech to the Republic Jewish Coalition in Washington:
Trump appear[ed] to traffic in stereotypes about Jews. “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money,” he told the Jewish audience. He also sa[id], “Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken.”
The fact that Trump’s daughter had converted to Judaism and married a Jew in 2009 didn’t deter Trump from making such statements. Perhaps his statements can be written off as the casual crudity of a person who often insults individuals and groups, but some developments this year are more alarming.
On February 28, CNN’s Jake Tapper asked Trump if he would disavow the support of arch-racist and anti-Semite David Duke. Trump had condemned Duke in the past and had disavowed him at a news conference two days earlier. Yet on this occasion Trump responded:
Just so you understand, I don’t know anything about David Duke. OK? I don’t know anything about what you’re even talking about with white supremacy or white supremacists. So, I don’t know. I don’t know, did he endorse me or what’s going on, because, you know, I know nothing about David Duke. I know nothing about white supremacists.
Trump sounded as if he wanted to avoid alienating a support base, which of course people running for office generally want to avoid. However, there are legitimate support bases and illegitimate ones, and subsequent events indicate Trump is quite comfortable being supported by vicious people.
On April 27, Julia Ioffe of GQ posted a critical profile of Trump’s wife Melania. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer urged readers to let Ioffe — who is Jewish — know what they thought:
[Ioffe was] inundated with a deluge of anti-Semitic online wrath, including a doctored photo of her wearing a Holocaust-era Jewish star, a cartoon of a Jew getting his brains blown out and threats that she would be sent “back to the oven.”
When CNN’s Wolf Blitzer … ask[ed] Trump if he ha[d] a “message” for supporters who were flooding Ioffe with “anti-Semitic death threats,” Trump sa[id], “I know nothing about it. You’ll have to talk to them about that.” He then went on to echo his wife’s criticism of Ioffe’s article. Pressed, Trump sa[id], “I don’t have a message to the fans,” and added, “There is nothing more dishonest than the media.”
Is a U.S. presidential candidate supposed to have such “fans,” openly acknowledge them, and tacitly condone their racist abuse of a journalist? The answer, of course, is no — or maybe, lamentably, it used to be:
Following Trump’s refusal to condemn the anti-Semitic vitriol against Ioffe, Daily Stormer founder Andrew Anglin t[old] the Huffington Post, ‘We interpret that as an endorsement.’”
Anglin, for his part, has endorsed Trump.
In subsequent weeks, Jewish journalists such as the New York Times’ Jonathan Weisman and the Forward’s Bethany Mandel have been subjected to similar anti-Semitic attacks by online Trump-supporting trolls. In Mandel’s case, she posted an article critical of Ivanka Trump’s “Jewish hypocrisy.” In Weisman’s case, he merely tweeted an article critical of Trump by Robert Kagan.
As the above-linked Times of Israel timeline notes, Ari Fleischer of the Republican Jewish Coalition defends Trump:
You cannot ascribe to a candidate the views of the worst radical fringes that may support them. … These arguments about how Donald Trump shouldn’t be supported because fringe radical groups have said good things about him — I reject entirely.
However, let’s look to Ronald Reagan:
[Reagan] forcefully repudiated an endorsement from the Ku Klux Klan, stating: “Those of us in public life can only resent the use of our names by those who seek political recognition for the repugnant doctrines of hate they espouse.”
Trump, when asked by the Anti-Defamation League to “make unequivocally clear” that he repudiated David Duke and anti-Semitism, only responded with:
Anti-Semitism has no place in our society, which needs to be united, not divided.
Trump avoided saying anything specific about the anti-Semitic abuse his backers now regularly engage in.
Whether or not Donald Trump is an anti-Semite — to the extent that coherent attitudes of any kind can be ascribed to him — or just someone content to accept and subtly encourage the support of anti-Semites of the worst kind, the situation is very troubling.