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Jews In The U.S. Respond To Trump's Attacks On Loyalty

U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (Gali Tibbon/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a speech in Jerusalem on May 22, 2017. (Gali Tibbon/Getty Images)

With Meghna Chakrabarti

We hear from a roundtable of American Jews about their thoughts and responses to President Trump’s claims about who they should be loyal to and why.

Guests

David Klion, news editor at Jewish Currents. (@DavidKlion)

Jeff Jacoby, op-ed columnist at the Boston Globe. (@Jeff_Jacoby)

Rachel Greengrass, associate rabbi and Jewish life coordinator at Temple Beth Am, a Reform synagogue in Pinecrest, Florida.

From The Reading List

Tablet: “Opinion: What Donald Trump Will Never Understand About Jews” — “Last night, the president of the United States called the vast majority of American Jews stupid or disloyal.

“You don’t need me to rehash the details, or to be the 10,000th person to attempt to find new English words to describe how heinous, twisted, and dangerous this statement is. What we need to do today as a community is decide how to respond. First, though, we need to sit with it for a moment. Despite the seemingly endless onslaught of anti-Semitism in America today, this one is important because it came directly from the president.

“The real either/or here isn’t whether American Jews are dumb or evil—it’s whether the president of the United States is. Personally, I think he is both. There is ample evidence of profound stupidity as well as mind-numbing coarseness, but I also know that it doesn’t matter because in his case the consequences are the same for the Jews, and they are frightening.

“President Trump is well aware that the vast majority of American Jews voted against him and are loyal to the Democratic Party. He is well aware that the vast majority of the Jewish members of Congress are Democrats. The idea that the Democratic Party stands against Israel is certifiably false. Regardless of how you feel about Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Rep. Ilhan Omar—I find them contemptible, not least for lying to Jewish voters during election season about their views on a two-state solution and BDS—they are two junior members of the Democratic Party. They do not represent the majority, or even a sizable faction within the party.”

Forward: “The Long And Violent History Of Anti-Semitic ‘Disloyalty’ Charges” — “In 1807, Napoleon Bonaparte summoned French Jewish leaders for a conversation about loyalty.

“French Jews had gained the status of full citizens 16 years earlier. Napoleon wanted to understand how, as newly empowered civilians, they saw the world. So he asked them if they truly considered France their country, and Frenchmen their countrymen.

“In 1894, French Army Captain Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully convicted of treason. Two years later, incontrovertible new evidence made his innocence obvious. Even then, the French press, led by the anti-Semitic newspaper La Libre Parole, accused Dreyfus of being part of an ‘international Jewish conspiracy’ and disloyal to France. He was retried — and convicted again.

“In September 1941, Charles Lindbergh spoke about Jewish Americans’ perceived ‘agitation for war.’ ‘Their greatest danger to their country lies in their large ownership and influence in our motion pictures, our press, our radio and our government,’ he said. ‘Their country’ — not the same as ours.

“In 2017, former State Department official Dennis Ross wrote in The New York Times about a colleague who asked about a peer for whom Ross was a reference. The official asked if that peer was loyal to America, then, after Ross said yes, whether he would put America’s interests before those of Israel. Ross asked why his interlocutor would ask that question. ‘Because he is Jewish,’ he said.”

Forward: “Here’s What Jewish Leaders Said About Trump And Omar’s Dual Loyalty Comments” — “President Trump’s remarks from the Oval Office on Tuesday, in which he claimed that Jews who voted for Democrats showed ‘either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,’ were condemned by a variety of Jewish figures and organizations.

“But in some cases, their initial reactions were different from their responses after Rep. Ilhan Omar said in March that she wanted ‘to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.’

“Many observers thought that both comments echoed the anti-Semitic trope of ‘dual loyalty’ – but in some cases, figures only explicitly called one of them ‘anti-Semitic.’

“For example, American Jewish Committee CEO David Harris called Trump’s remarks ‘inappropriate, unwelcome, and downright dangerous.’ But after Omar’s comments, Harris was much more direct: It was ‘anti-Semitism, plain and simple,’ he tweeted.

“On the other hand, some prominent Jewish Democrats went in the other direction, calling Trump’s remarks anti-Semitic but not Omar’s.”

Washington Post: “Trump, frustrated by unpopularity with Jews, thrusts Israel into his culture war” — “President Trump decided long ago that it would be smart politics for him to yoke his administration to Israel and to try to brand the Democratic Party as anti-Semitic.

“He set about executing a pro-Israel checklist: moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing the Golan Heights as part of sovereign Israel, and taking a hard line against Iran. And he promoted himself as the greatest president — a deity even — for Jewish people.

“Yet Trump has become flummoxed that Jewish Americans are not in turn lining up to support his reelection, according to people familiar with his thinking, and he has lashed out in predictable fashion.

“‘If you vote for a Democrat, you’re very, very disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish people,’ Trump said Wednesday on the South Lawn of the White House. He was amplifying a statement he made in the Oval Office a day earlier: ‘I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.’ ”

Jewish Currents:Trump’s “Disloyalty” Comments Are What the Jewish Right Believes” — “ON TUESDAY, Donald Trump told White House reporters that any Jew who votes for a Democrat is showing ‘either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.’ In the outcry that followed, many Jews across the political spectrum rightly pointed out that ‘disloyalty’ is a trope that has been deployed again and again against Jews, from The Protocols of the Elders of Zion to Mein Kampf to the McCarthy era. According to this antisemitic canard, Jews are inherently disloyal to the governments of the nations we inhabit; our true loyalty lies elsewhere—perhaps with Bolshevism, or with a transnational conspiracy to control the global financial system.

“But while Trump’s most overtly white supremacist supporters may well have heard his remarks this way, his doubling down over the following days made clear that his point was slightly different. Trump wasn’t precisely accusing American Jews of being disloyal to the United States, as past antisemites—for instance, Henry Ford, whose wisdom the president cited in a separate context yesterday—have done. Rather, he was arguing that American Jews are being disloyal to Israel, a state where most of us have never lived and whose policies many of us fervently oppose.

“Jewish Currents readers don’t need to be persuaded that the president is a bigot, and don’t require a list of examples of his antisemitic comments over many years. The question, as always, is who is influencing his thinking. It’s become a commonplace observation that Trump always says the quiet part loud, but who is saying it quietly?

“The answer lies with the Jewish right, by which I mean the institutions and individuals who broadly represent the 24% of American Jews who voted for Trump in 2016 (the 71% who voted for Hillary Clinton are the ones allegedly displaying ‘either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty’). Trump is surrounded by such figures, from his son-in-law Jared Kushner to his ambassador to Israel, the vehemently Islamophobic bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman, to the Orthodox Jewish political operative Jeff Ballabon. The worldview of the Jewish right is indistinguishable from what Trump told reporters, but it consistently receives far less media attention. They believe that Jews in the US owe our loyalty to Israel, and that supporting the uncompromisingly pro-Israel Republican Party over the more tepidly pro-Israel Democratic Party is necessary to express that loyalty. To them, Trump’s warm friendship with Benjamin Netanyahu and his pro-Israel policies like moving the US embassy to Jerusalem outweigh and excuse his relationship with the antisemitic far right. In short, they prefer the company of Trump, and of his white supremacist supporters, to that of the vast majority of their fellow American Jews.”

New York Times: “Mazel Tov, Trump. You’ve Revived the Jewish Left.” — “On Aug. 11, more than 1,000 people marked Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, by occupying an Amazon Books store in Manhattan, protesting the technology behemoth’s technical support for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Sitting on the floor, they read harrowing accounts of people in immigration detention and recited the Kaddish, the traditional Jewish prayer of mourning. One of their signs said, ‘Never again means never again.’

“According to organizers, 44 people, including 12 rabbis and a member of New York’s City Council, were arrested. It was one of over 50 Jewish-organized demonstrations against ICE held across the country that day.

“A few days later, a corrections officer drove a truck into a row of Jewish protesters who were blocking the entrance to a private prison in Rhode Island where migrants are being detained. Two of the protesters were hospitalized. That demonstration was one of at least 38 organized this summer by Never Again Action, a decentralized group formed two months ago to engage in nonviolent direct action against immigrant detention.

“Donald Trump might have thought he was going to lure Jewish voters to the Republican Party with his lock-step alliance with the Israeli right. Instead, by attempting to use American Jews as mascots for an administration that fills most of them with horror, he has spurred a renaissance on the Jewish left.”

Grace Tatter produced this hour for broadcast.

This article was originally published on WBUR.org.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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