Trump’s Attitude Toward Anti-Semitism is Anti-Semitic

When President Donald J. Trump, a man who has inspired multiple terrorist attacks, said that Jews who vote for Democrats are disloyal, he got a lot of attention.

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When President Donald J. Trump, a man who has inspired multiple terrorist attacks, said that Jews who vote for Democrats are disloyal, he got a lot of attention. A lot of that attention focused on his invocation of the age-old canard that Jews are disloyal. Most of the rest of the responses focused on the equivalence he drew between the state of Israel and the Jews: Trump’s rationale for calling Jewish Democrats disloyal was that he, unlike the Democrats, is friendly toward Israel, and thus friendly toward Jews, and thus worthy of Jews’ loyalty. Many liberals pointed out that the idea that the diaspora Jews are ultimately loyal to Israel is just another variation on the “disloyalty” trope that has consistently been used to jusify anti-Semitic persecution.

(Before I go on, two parentheticals: one, Tablet Magazine’s Yair Rosenberg has a fantastic piece in the Washington Post on Trump’s paradoxical view of Jews, in which he argues that Trump sees anti-Semitic tropes as accurate but admirable; he does an excellent job at dealing with the fact that Trump both invoked the “disloyalty” trope and criticized Jews for not being disloyal enough. Two, no group has done as much to promote the equivalence between diaspora Jews and Israel as the Jewish right. Pundits like Ben Shapiro regularly proclaim that not only anti-Zionism but any opposition to the State of Israel is anti-Semitism.)

But Trump’s comments weren’t just indicitive of an anti-Semitic attitude toward Jews; they were indicative of an anti-Semitic attitude toward anti-Semitism, one that is fairly endemic on the Christian right today. That attitude is that to not be anti-Semitic is to do a favor to Jews, a favor that ought to be returned. Under the attitude’s framework, Jews who don’t return the favor are ungrateful. A remarkably honest 2008 piece in the conservative City Journal asks in its title, “Why Don’t Jews Like The Christians Who Like Them?” The City Journal piece cites statistics demonstrating that, while most Evangelical Christians have a favorable view of Jews, “Jews don’t return the favor,” with a large portion (though not a majority) of Jews having an actively unfavorable view of Evangelical Christians.

I cannot claim to speak for all Jews, but I am a reasonably liberal Jew who pretty uniformly supports Democrats and is also pro-Israel (a phrase which here means Zionist, as I despise Benjamin Netanyahu with a passion), and I can speak for myself in explaining my own views, though I should specify that “White Evangelical” would be a more appropriate term here than just “Evangelical.” The reason for the asymmetry breaks more or less into two facets: one, Jews like me don’t trust Evangelicals’ philo-Semitism. I know that according to Evangelical doctrine, Jesus will come when the Jews occupy the Holy Land. I know that according to Evangelical doctrine, I am little more than a pawn on the road to the Second Coming of Christ. I know that according to Evangelical doctrine, I will burn in Hell forever because of my sinful refusal to accept Jesus or even God. I do not appreciate this, and it does not incline me favorably toward Evangelicals. Someone who thinks I will be met with eternal torture when I die—and that I will deserve it—is not someone I like.

Two, I abhor what Evangelicals have sowed and reaped nationwide. I see that Trump has been boosted largely by Evangelical support. I see that allegedly deeply religious people have been able to brush away his barenaked amorality by comparing him to Cyrus, the Persian Emperor praised in the Bible for allowing the Jews to return to the Holy Land. I see that in the name of combatting the rights of women and sexual minorities, Evangelicals have embraced a movement that denies the right to asylum and separates children from their parents, puts them in miserable facilities, and refuses to give them basic medical care. In short, I see hypocrisy. I concur with the Atlantic’s Adam Serwer that the cruelty is the point of the Trump movement, and I see Evangelicals embracing that movement. Quite aside from my suspicion of Evangelicals’ philo-Semitism, I am disgusted by the role they have staked out for themselves in contemporary politics, led by luminaries like Jerry Falwell, Jr.

And yet I am expected to have a favorable view of them, just as they have a favorable view of me? In addition to the fact that anyone who thinks I deserve eternal divine torment does not like me, no matter what they say in a poll, anti-Evangelicalism is very different from anti-Semitism. Jews have been a targeted minority for two millennia. Hatred for us and our existence has been deeply rooted in “Western” society from almost its very beginning. Indeed, the rise of Christianity in Europe was greatly aided by the nascent Church’s embrace of anti-Semitism as it sought to distinguish itself from Judaism and appeal to Roman elites.

The fact that we currently enjoy a status of widespread prosperity, safety, and ostensible popularity, is a historical anomaly—and one that is already fraying at the edges, as conspiracy theories about are spread by Fox News and the President and acted upon by white supremacist terrorists. We are constantly aware that Jews have thought they were safe before. In the musical Cabaret, which takes place in the late Weimar Republic, the Jewish Herr Schultz brushes aside a warning about the ascendant Nazi Party by protesting that he is “a Jew. But also a German. A German as much as anyone.” To Herr Schultz, the serious rise of the Nazi Party is unthinkable because he is too assimilated, an attitude that was all too common among Jews at the time.

We must always live with the knowledge that we cannot make that mistake again.
Evangelicals are different. Whereas Jews are an ethno-religious group that must always live in fear of the very real threat of persecution, Evangelicals are an entirely religious group to whom “persecution” means that ostensibly religious bigotry is no longer tolerated. Evangelicals have historically existed in positions of privilege or safety, at least.

In short, anti-Evangelicalism is very different from anti-Semitism; the latter is a lot worse.

But in the attitude that Jews somehow owe something to those who help them or are “loyal” to them is betrayed an understanding of anti-Semitism that views one of the world’s oldest bigotries as a bargaining chip. Evangelicals like Jews, but Jews need to return the favor. Trump will do Jews the favor of supporting Israel, but they have to support him; to do otherwise would be to be disloyal. Hidden implicitly in this attitude is a threat: if Jews continue to be disloyal, Trump may decide to turn against us.

His current and “loyal” attitude toward us sees him spreading the aforementioned Soros conspiracies and inspiring terrorists like the one who committed a mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburg. Trump apologists pointed out that that terrorist didn’t like Trump, but they left out why: he didn’t like Trump because he felt like Trump wasn’t fully honest. He liked Trump’s talk, but felt that by consorting with the likes of Jared Kushner, Trump was failing to walk the walk. It is scary to imagine that a Trump who no longer felt that he owed loyalty to the Jews might decide to start walking that walk.

Trump’s transactional attitude toward anti-Semitism is, of course, anti-Semitic: bigotry toward us is not a bargaining chip, and respect for us is a bare minimum, not a favor. But it is also ironic: Trump may believe that Jews are obsessed with “loyalty,” even if he admires us for it and treat us accordingly. But the very fact that Jews are remaining proudly disloyal while Trump rants about it lays out the contrast between him and the Jews in stark light: Jews, who have refused to live up to his expectations, are not Shylocks bent on giving only in exchange for getting. We do not terribly care that you have a Jewish daughter if you flagrantly disregard human rights elsewhere. But Trump exactly fits the conniving model he projects on us.

If he were capable of it, he would do well to consider some self-reflection.