It’s been quite a news cycle for headline-inducing antisemitic macro-aggressions.
The fallout from Kanye West’s tweet about going “death con 3 On JEWISH PEOPLE” and his claims Adidas would not take action even if he “said antisemitic s---” (wrong, as we found out Tuesday) continues apace. A white supremacist group in Los Angeles unfurled a “Kanye is right about the Jews” banner on the 405 and performed Nazi salutes for motorists. Jenna Ellis, a former Trump lawyer and current adviser to Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate Doug Mastriano, referred to Democrat Josh Shapiro as “at best a secular Jew.” A white nationalist raged about urinating on the Talmud, and on and on it went.
What Trump is actually saying is slightly different from a generic dual loyalty charge. And far more dangerous.
But no roundup of This Week In Antisemitism would be complete without a contribution from Donald J. Trump, a true thought leader, influencer and innovator in the Judeophobic space. Via a post on his own conservative media platform Truth Social, the former president counseled Jewish Americans to emulate “our wonderful Evangelicals,” urging Jews to follow the evangelicals in supporting and admiring him for all he has done for Israel.
To Trump’s point, amongst the Jewish electorate, support and admiration have not been abundantly forthcoming: In 2016 and 2020, roughly 70 to 75% of Jewish Americans did not cast their vote for Trump (whereas 80% of evangelicals did). Perhaps aware of those data points, Trump routinely chides the Jewish community. There was thus nothing surprising when he concluded his post with a warning: “U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel — before it’s too late.”
Many in the media and elsewhere reasoned that the former president was playing the “dual loyalty” card with his comments. This well-known antisemitic slander avers that Jews are unpatriotic — more committed to other Jews, and/or Israel, than to the well-being of the United States.
But what Trump is actually saying is slightly different from a generic dual loyalty charge. And far more dangerous.
Trump is making subtle innovations in antisemitic rhetoric, all the while deploying time-tested, old school, anti-Jewish tropes. He might insinuate that all Jews are great negotiators. He might refer to them as "brutal killers" in the real estate business. Nor is he above going Full Shylock. Journalist Yair Rosenberg flagged a Trump quote from decades back: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” That’s some classic antisemitism (and racism) right there.
But lately you’ll notice a tweak: Trump’s now dividing Jews into two mutually exclusive categories of unequal size. First, there are the good Jews. They vote for MAGA Republicans. They unequivocally support Israel (by which Trump means hard-right Israeli governments beholden to religious-nationalist policies).
In fact, these Jews support Israel so much that Trump speaks of them as if they are Israelis, not Americans. When he addressed the Republican Jewish Coalition in 2019, he informed his audience that “I stood with your prime minister,” Benjamin Netanyahu (italics mine). Elsewhere, he pointed out to celebrants at a White House Chanukah gathering that Mike Pence and his wife Karen really love “your country” (again, italics mine). Dual loyalties? Not a problem. As long as good Jews support Donald Trump, it’s kosher by him.
Trumpian antisemitism is equipped with a mechanism of plausible deniability. It obscures its links to classic antisemitism.
Who might the so-called good Jews be? The Ultra-orthodox vote enthusiastically for Trump. The same might be said about citizens who back the policies of parties like Israel’s Likud, and those to its right. Trump appears to be popular among Jews who emigrated from the former Soviet Union. Sprinkle in some elderly Fox News watchers, and you likely round out his Jewish base, albeit one which does not include seven out of every 10 Jews.
This brings us to the “Bad Jews,” to borrow a Twitter phrase from right-wing pundit Ben Shapiro. These wayward Members of the Tribe, according to conservatives like Shapiro, have the revolting tendency to vote for Democrats and are accused of not supporting Israel (i.e., they are not supportive of the way that Trump supports Israel). For those who prescribe to the good Jew/bad Jew school of thought, this isn’t “dual loyalty” — it’s triple disloyalty to Israel, the good Jews, and the United States.
As I see it, Trump has crafted a variant of antisemitism all his own, so to speak. His frustrations aren’t primarily based on the idea that Jews murdered Christ (this deicide charge is often parsed as “religious antisemitism”). They aren’t centered on the idea that Jews possess distinctly inferior blood or racial characteristics (this is is known as “racial antisemitism”). Nor on the notion that Jews are either marauding communists or rapacious capitalists (i.e., “economic antisemitism”). No, Trump’s anger is based on the fact that the overwhelming majority of Jews did not cast their ballots for Trump.
Trumpian antisemitism is equipped with a mechanism of plausible deniability. It obscures its links to classic antisemitism by affirming that there are indeed good Jews. After all, he has Jewish grandkids! Zayde Trump has no generalized ill-will toward Jews, it’s just that he must publicly excoriate roughly three quarters of them on a routine basis.
The danger of this rhetoric to the American Jewish community is threefold. First, there are Trump’s devotees whose capacity for violence is not hypothetical. Second, as we saw above, it emboldens others to chime in with their own antisemitic effusions.
A final problem has to do with the stresses that Trump’s hectoring creates within the community. Anyone familiar with Jewish America knows there are internal tensions (about Israel and its treatment of Palestinians, about assimilation, intermarriage, etc). Say what you will about Trump, but he has a unique genius for finding a crack, a seam, a fissure in the social landscape and then ripping it open into a belching canyon of digital rage.
Jewish reactions to Trump’s Truth Social tirade shadowed some of these tensions. The Anti Defamation League slammed the remarks as “insulting and disgusting.” The American Jewish Committee administered a relatively anodyne wrist slap on Twitter.
Predictably, among Trump’s good Jews, there has been mostly silence, or even empathy. The Republican Jewish Coalition is wordless. AIPAC, if its webpage and Twitter accounts are any indication, has no thoughts on the matter. Morton Klein, president of the right-wing Zionist Organization of America, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz that he “understood Trump’s pain.”
The dual loyalty slander maintains that Jews are clannish, they “stick together.” Trump himself made this very observation. But now he faults the Jewish majority for not sticking together with the Jewish minority who venerate Trump. What separates the good from the bad Jews is worship of Trump — and given the idol in question, that’s what makes this strain of antisemitism so volatile and dangerous.
CORRECTION (October 25, 6:35 p.m. ET): A previous version of this article used the wrong Yiddish word to characterize Trump as a grandfather. The correct word is “zayde,” not “bubbee.”