"There's people in this country, they're Jewish, they no longer love Israel," said former President Donald Trump, his voice full of outrage, in a newly released interview with Barak Ravid, the Tel Aviv-based Axios correspondent. "I'll tell you, the Evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country," Trump claimed, citing "the Jewish people who run The New York Times," a newspaper that "hates Israel," as an example.
It was yet another provocation from a former president who has seemingly mastered the art of being all things to all people (or at least, all of his fans). His daughter and son-in-law are observant Jews, and yet he's been the patron saint of white supremacists. In 2017, his administration released a Holocaust Remembrance statement that didn’t mention Jews, and he seemingly praised the Nazis who rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia, that year as "very fine people."
Simultaneously, Trump has enjoyed the support of Orthodox Jews because of his staunch backing of Israel, even as he has repeatedly criticized other American Jews for their lack of devotion to what he seems to see as their real country. The Orthodox looked the other way in 2019 and again in 2020 when Trump played on the old "Jews have divided loyalties" stereotype. He let Republican Jews know that he didn’t really see them as Americans, mentioning "your country" and "your prime minister" when referring to ... Israel.
Of course, everyone is a tool for Trump, and his pro-Israel politics were always less about getting the Jewish vote than securing the Christian one: his real prize. That’s why he worked in a compliment to evangelicals, one of his most important constituencies, alongside his remarks last week that could be considered anti-Jewish. "Another day, another Trump rant about Jews," wrote The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg, who warned that philosemitism (seeming support for Jews) can easily flip into antisemitism when convenient.
And sure enough, antisemitic incidents increased from 2020 to 2021 — the swastika carved into a State Department elevator in July being one resonant example — after already reaching record levels in 2019. The pandemic is most likely one cause. Jews are blamed by some for spreading Covid-19 in the U.S., as in Turkey, Brazil, France and Germany. The appeal of conspiracy theories like QAnon, whose dogma about cabals controlling the world often repurposes propaganda about Jewish domination, is another.
Tellingly, a propaganda film shown at the Jan. 6 rally, where Trump and his allies incited the assault on the Capitol, mentioned "globalists" as ruining the country. So did the antisemitic cartoon Fox News recently published (and deleted after protests from the Anti-Defamation League and others), which depicted George Soros as a puppet master causing "lawlessness" and "chaos" in America.
Jews around the world should see Trump's loyalty to Israel and his alliances with Israeli politicians as similarly situational and act accordingly.
American Jews who continue to support Trump and the GOP might take a cue from the experiences of Italian Jews under fascism. Many of them supported Benito Mussolini for years, thinking he was the "good" authoritarian — he persecuted other groups, but not them, unlike Hitler — only to be hit in 1938 with il Duce's antisemitic legislation and forced into ruin or exile. They learned the hard way that once violence becomes legitimized in a country, the roster of "enemies of the people" inevitably expands.
Jews around the world should see Trump's loyalty to Israel and his alliances with Israeli politicians as similarly situational and act accordingly. Just ask Benjamin Netanyahu, the former Israeli prime minister. He enjoyed a good relationship with Trump — until he congratulated President Joe Biden on his election victory. "I haven't spoken to him since," Trump told Ravid. "F--- him."