The same day two monsters murdered three people in cold blood in a Jersey City kosher supermarket—next door to a yeshiva housing 50 defenseless children, which was apparently the original target—the Trump administration announced it would extend anti-discrimination protections under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to American Jews. The juxtaposition is important, because one was an unspeakable act of anti-Semitic evil and the other an act of philo-Semitic friendship. And yet listen to the executive director of the Central Conference of American Rabbis speaking about this: “I’ve heard people say this feels like the first step toward us wearing yellow stars.”
Yeah, so have I. But you know, every day I hear people say stupid, factitious, wrong-headed, historically demented, and slanderous things. I read Twitter. And, for my sins, I am compelled to read the New York Times, which is where I came across that quote from Rabbi Hara Person. In my view, part of the responsibility of leadership in a community is standing strong against those within who peddle vile, ignorant, weirdly self-justifying and self-infatuated argle-bargle. But of course, Rabbi Hara Person of the Central Conference of American Rabbis didn’t just “hear” people say these things. She clearly shares a belief in this awful, unspeakable, vile calumny—the slander that a president who agreed to a change in policy to aid American Jews on college campuses in their efforts to advocate for the Jewish state is an anti-Semite.
This is the blood libel in reverse—a false accusation of a crime against Jews leveled at someone who has not only committed no such crime but has extended his hand in friendship and commonality to us. You are free to dislike Trump for many reasons, and most American Jews appear to do so. But if you choose to imagine his support for Israel and his public acknowledgment of the hostility Jewish advocates for Israel face on college campuses are the acts of a neo-Nazi, you are not only committing a category error but a sin against the truth.
Now, I write this as someone who came under constant daily, even hourly, assault on social media in 2015 and 2016 from noxious Jew-haters who emerged from the dank American cultural sewers as the Trump campaign gathered steam. These repugnant creatures felt empowered by Trump’s cultural divisiveness and the hostile rhetoric he used toward illegal immigrants and simply applied them to Jews who were not falling in line. So I am more than mindful that the rise of Trump has been accompanied by a rise in anti-Semitic rhetoric—and, of course and tragically, the targeting of two synagogues.
Still, the examples people proffer of Trump’s own rhetoric being anti-Semitic are almost all in joke form, as he teases Jews for their affluence in a manner far more akin to Jackie Mason than Father Coughlin—another sign that Trump’s own cultural style is oddly mired in the 1960s, with his Rat Pack mannerisms and Borscht Belt cadence (“that Ted Cruz…oy,” he once intoned before a campaign rally in Indiana, not a state where “oy” is in everyday use).
In general, just as Chris Rock can say things a white guy can’t say, Jackie Mason can say things a Gentile can’t say. But we know Trump recognizes no such boundaries when it comes to manners regarding ethnicities not his own—remember him eating out of a taco bowl to show he loves Mexicans?
Perhaps this simply means he hates everybody. But if he hates Jews, Donald Trump has a funny way of showing it—through acts that strengthen us and strengthen the nation-state of the Jewish people.