November 30, 2022
For much of Donald Trump’s presidency, Jewish Republicans rationalized away the bigoted fringe of Trump’s coalition—arguing that the unsavory supporters in his midst and the antisemitic tropes he deployed paled in comparison with the staunchly pro-Israel policies of his administration, reports The New York Times.
But last week, Trump dined at his Palm Beach palace, Mar-a-Lago, with the performer Kanye West, who had already been denounced for making antisemitic statements, and with Nick Fuentes, an outspoken antisemite and Holocaust denier, granting the antisemitic fringe a place of honor at his table. Now, even some of Trump’s staunchest supporters say they can no longer ignore the abetting of bigotry by the nominal leader of the Republican Party.
“I am a child of survivors. I have become very frightened for my people,” Morton Klein, head of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, said on Monday, November 28—referring to his parents’ survival of the Holocaust. “Donald Trump is not an antisemite. He loves Israel. He loves Jews. But he mainstreams; he legitimizes Jew hatred and Jew haters. And this scares me.”
Not all Republican leaders have spoken out, but Jewish Republicans are slowly peeling away from a former president who, for years, insisted he had no ties to the bigoted far right, but refused to repudiate it. Jewish figures and organizations that have stood by Trump—from Klein’s group to the pro-Trump commentator Ben Shapiro to Trump’s own former ambassador to Israel and onetime bankruptcy lawyer, David M. Friedman—all have spoken out since the dinner.
For Jews, the concern extends far beyond a single meal at Mar-a-Lago, although that dinner has become a touchstone, especially for Jewish Republicans.
“We have a long history in this country of separating the moral character of the man in the White House from his conduct in office, but with Trump, it’s gone beyond any of the reasonably acceptable and justifiable norms,” Jay Lefkowitz, a former adviser to President George W. Bush and a supporter of many of Trump’s policies, said on Monday.
For American Jewry, the debate since the dinner has brought into focus what may be the most discomfiting moment in U.S. history in a half-century or more.
On Monday afternoon, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic majority leader, went to the Senate floor to denounce Trump’s actions as “disgusting and dangerous,” then called them “pure evil.”
West, a figure with an enormous following, has espoused hatred of the Jews. The basketball star Kyrie Irving has spread antisemitic views with a tweet, though he eventually apologized. Neo-Nazis are returning to Twitter, bringing memes and coded messages not seen for years, now that its new owner, Elon Musk, has reinstated accounts that had been blocked for bigotry.
“The level of antisemitism being expressed, antisemitic acts at a very elevated level, and the acceptability of antisemitism — it is all creating an environment which is, thank God, unusual for the United States, and it has to be nipped in the bud. That’s it. That’s the moment we’re in,” said Rabbi Moshe Hauer, executive vice president of the Orthodox Union, which represents the branch of Judaism that has been most supportive of Trump.
Now, West has promised on Twitter to “go death con 3 ON JEWISH PEOPLE.” The comedian Dave Chappelle delivered a stinging monologue on “Saturday Night Live” on “the Jews” and their numbers in Hollywood. And at the same time, American Jewry is divided over whether denunciations of Trump might harm American policy toward Israel, should he return to power, Peter Hayes, a Northwestern University historian, said.
“The more people prioritize Israel, the more they are willing to make excuses for Trump, and that just makes me sad,” he said.
Research contact: @nytimes