Jewish Supporters of Trump Put Democracy at Risk
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his conservative Republican Jewish supporters in the United States and President Donald Trump are trying to influence the upcoming U.S. elections with a toxic mixture of religion and right-wing politics, helping to turn the country against constitutional protections for ethnic minorities, including Jews.
The effort to shape the 2018 midterms and the 2020 presidential contest is being overlooked by much of the media, which is occupied with Trump and the investigation of Russian interference in the last election. But it’s a story too important to be ignored.
The alliance among Netanyahu, Trump and conservative Republican Jewish Americans poses a threat to democratic institutions. The Justice and Homeland Security departments’ anti-immigrant campaign provides an example of how that works. They are stopping endangered immigrants from applying for amnesty, imprisoning them in crowded detention centers and separating them from their children. This violates the spirit and the letter of the Constitution. American Jews are immigrants or descendants of immigrants. Jewish support for a president who orders such treatment betrays the history of a country that welcomed their forebears from oppressive regimes.
Jews have relied on the Constitution and laws implementing it for protection against the anti-Semitism that brought so many of them to the United States. Such protections are starting to lose their effectiveness now that xenophobia has become a national disease, spread by Trump. Still, people of color, as well as Jews, continue to benefit from laws against racial attacks.
I’m a Jew and a supporter of a Jewish state of Israel, but that does not persuade me to join hands with this Trump-Netanyahu crew. Likud is no more my party than is the Republican right wing. I actually believe there should be two states—one Jewish, the other Palestinian.
Polls indicate that only a minority of American Jews support Trump. An American Jewish Committee poll last September showed that 55 percent disapproved of Trump’s handling of Israel; only 40 percent approved. A total of 57 percent identified themselves as Democrats, 20 percent as Independent and 15 percent as Republican. In the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton was backed by 64 percent Jews, compared to 18 percent for Trump.
According to a Gallup Poll in February, “Americans’ stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is as strongly pro-Israel as at any time in Gallup’s three-decade trend. Sixty-four percent say their sympathies in the dispute lie more with the Israelis, tying the high previously recorded in 2013 and 1991.”
But Israel has become a partisan issue. The Pew Research Center reported the results of its own survey in January, saying, “Since 2001, the share of Republicans sympathizing more with Israel than the Palestinians has increased 29 percentage points, from 50% to 79%. Over the same period, the share of Democrats saying this has declined 11 points, from 38% to 27%.”
Months before the November election, it’s an imprecise numbers game. But Jewish Republicans are already campaigning against Democrats by portraying their opponents as anti-Israel.
That was clear in a Times of Israel interview with David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel who was Trump’s bankruptcy lawyer and is a fierce critic of Jews who favor a peaceful, two-state solution to the Jewish-Palestinian conflict.
“There is no question Republicans support Israel more than Democrats,” he said. “There is a large Democratic constituency right now that is not pro-Israel.”
Friedman has attacked one of the most prominent supporters of the two-state idea, the nonprofit organization J Street, in virulent terms. In 2016, in the publication Arutz Sheva, he wrote that J Street supporters “are far worse than kapos—Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps. The kapos faced extraordinary cruelty and who knows what any of us would have done under those circumstances to save a loved one? But J Street? They are just smug advocates of Israel’s destruction delivered from the comfort of their secure American sofas—it’s hard to imagine anyone worse.”
The Republican Jewish Coalition, a leader in the Jewish pro-Trump campaign, supported Friedman’s appointment, which was generally opposed by Democrats.
The coalition’s chair, former Minnesota Sen. Norm Coleman, helped raise $30 million from big Republican donor Sheldon Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate, for this year’s GOP congressional campaigns. Adelson and his wife, Miriam, own Israel Hayom, a widely read Israeli paper that is a staunch supporter of Netanyahu. She is the publisher.
Chemi Shalev, columnist for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, wrote last month that the Netanyahu-Trump alliance is a threat to democracy.
“Both rely on a radical, nationalist base that disdains liberal democracy and demands total loyalty to the leader, ” Shalev said. “Both wield their power bases as a whip, with which they have changed their ruling parties from independent ideological forums into ongoing spectacles of flattery and fawning. Both torment the rule of law and seek to tame their Supreme Courts for ideological as well as personal reasons. Both are assaulting the free media, aided and abetted by loyalist journalists who disseminate their lies while delegitimizing their liberal colleagues.”
In her new book, “Fascism: A Warning,” former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said, “If we think of fascism as a wound from the past that had almost healed, putting Trump in the White House was like ripping off the bandage and picking at the scab. … [W]e have not had a president in the modern era whose statements and actions are so at odds with democratic ideals. …
“From the early stages of his campaign and right into the Oval Office Donald Trump has spoken harshly about the institutions and principles that make up the foundation of open government. In the process he has systematically degraded political discourse in the United States, shown an astonishing disregard for facts, libeled his predecessors, threatened to ‘lock up’ political rivals, referred to mainstream journalists as ‘the enemy of the American people,’ spread falsehoods about the integrity of the US electoral process, touted mindless nationalistic economic and trade policies, vilified immigrants and the countries from which they come and nurtured a paranoid bigotry toward the followers of one of the world’s foremost religions.”
Albright is Jewish, and she and her family fled her native Czechoslovakia when it was taken over by Hitler and the Nazis. Her parents raised her as Roman Catholic. She is now Episcopalian. She learned later in life that a dozen relatives, including three grandparents, were killed in the Holocaust.
The Nazis and their fellow fascists imposed an iron grip on Europe. Albright understands fascism, both that of Hitler and of Italy’s Mussolini.
There is, by the way, a version of history that says Mussolini was much easier on Jews than Hitler. It’s true he didn’t run death camps, but, as The New York Times noted in 1938, “Mussolini’s Fascist government forbade Jewish children to attend public or private schools, ordered the dismissal of Jews from professorships in all universities, and banned Jews from the civil service and military as well as the banking and insurance industries. …. [M]ore onerous laws in 1939 and 1940 revoked peddlers’ permits and shopkeepers’ licenses, and required Jewish owners of businesses—as well as stock or bond holders—to sell those assets to ‘Aryans.’ ”
That, Albright fears, is where Trump could be taking us. Read Merriam-Webster’s definition of fascism: “a political philosophy, movement, or regime … that exalts nation and often race above the individual and that stands for a centralized autocratic government headed by a dictatorial leader, severe economic and social regimentation, and forcible suppression of opposition.”
The definition fits Trump. It is counter to democracy. The American Jews who are rallying around him and his ideological brother Netanyahu are betraying the ideals of their people, who were drawn to America by the freedom it offered. Without such freedom, America is not safe for Jews or other ethnic minorities.
Editor’s note: This article has been updated with details about Madeleine Albright’s background.