During the primaries I found myself arguing with a friend about Bernie Sanders. I suggested Sanders was given a pass in the primary. Hillary (for strategic reasons) did not hit him hard and thus the poll numbers in a match up with Trump were always inflated.
I argued then, as I do now, that he would have been an easy target for Republicans in the general. In many ways, Bernie Sanders, the Democratic Socialist intellectual Jew from New York (via Vermont), is the boogeyman Republicans have been running against for the last 40 years. I told my friend that if Bernie became the nominee, his religion would become very salient very quickly.
After all, Republicans turned Barack Obama into a Muslim Socialist Kenyan Dictator, how long would it take them to destroy Bernie? How long before Bernie’s Jewishness made him “other”? How long, I wondered, before his citizenship was challenged and his allegiance questioned? (Not long).
I saw the hate boiling up against Muslims and immigrants and I knew that Jews were not far behind. I knew in my bones that antisemitism was alive and well in the United States and that all you needed to do was scratch the surface. I had heard its whispers in Sarah Palin’s complaint about Wall Street bankers- a code that Jews know all too well.
I knew that despite the a Gallup poll that found that 91% of Americans said they would be comfortable with a Jewish president, that Jews are still the target of hate crimes – more often even than Muslims-but not as often as LGBTQ individuals (the ranking is LGBTQ, Jews, Muslims).
Make no mistake, I told my friend, if Bernie Sanders is the nominee, antisemitism will be rampant.
My very smart Christian friend dismissed my arguments as paranoia. But I knew.
And it turns out, we didn’t even need Bernie as the nominee for the antisemitism to come out.
Donald Trump plays footsie with the KKK and neo-Nazis (and yes- these guys ARE deplorable). He and his sons tweet and re-tweet memes that originate with white supremacists- drawing inspiration from antisemitic tropes used by the Nazis. His supporters gleefully target Jewish reporters and those online whom they think are Jewish- tweeting images of swastikas, ovens, gas chambers and other gruesome provocations. They place Jewish names in triple parentheses identifying them as individuals to be targeted. When Trump hired Steve Bannon from Brietbart to manage his campaign, the flirtation turned to an official union. It was the marriage of mainstream politics and the alt-right.
Trump’s performance at the 2nd debate was horrific on many levels and media pundits rightfully called Trump out on his misogynistic and anti-democratic performance (as I did, here and here). But what went without mention was the particular way in which Trump was also playing to his antisemitic base during the debate.
I don’t blame the pundits, it was probably not particularly noticeable to non-Jews who are not themselves antisemitic. But to Jews and to antisemites, the code was clear. In Trump’s diatribes against Hillary, he managed to mention quite a few Jews.
He told the audience (twice) what a terrible guy Sidney (((Blumenthal))) is and that Obamacare was designed by Jonathan (((Gruber))). He told everyone that George (((Soros)))- the prominent philanthropist and Holocaust survivor- uses tax loopholes like he does, and of course, Trump brought up Hillary’s speeches at (((Goldman))) (((Sachs))).
Any one of these mentions alone might not mean anything, but so many of them on one night certainly caught my attention and that of other Jews.
Of course, those mentions were really directed at Trump’s antisemitic and white supremacist fans who salivated over the the remarks as surely as they did Trump’s attacks on traitorous Muslims and hordes of Mexican rapists.
And to those who would object and point to Trump’s Jewish son in law and the fact that his daughter converted to Judaism, my answer is that I don’t know if Trump is personally antisemitic and the truth is, it doesn’t matter. Trump is giving voice to the worst parts of American society. He has emboldened the xenophobes, misogynists, racists, homophobes and yes, antisemites.
Many young Jews (particularly millennials) had never experienced antisemitism prior to this election cycle. But now they know. They know what their parents and certainly, their grandparents, have always known: that beneath the veneer of civility and acceptance lays a deep reservoir of distrust and indeed, hate. They may or may not know how dangerous it is, but they certainly feel the menace. I know I do.