I have previously denounced in no uncertain terms Donald Trump for his record of xenophobia, misogyny, bigotry against African-Americans, and appalling ethics. Yet I have never accused him of anti-Semitism. The fact that his daughter is a convert to Orthodox Judaism is strong evidence that he is not anti-Semitic, although that in itself hardly establishes him as an unwavering ally of the Jewish people.
Yet it is indisputable that in the course of his presidential campaign, Donald Trump developed a personal dilemma regarding American Jewry, and that this continuing dilemma, it itself, has been a significant contributing factor to the anti-Semitic threats and vandalism incidents that are spreading across America.
The Trump Jewish dilemma, in a nutshell, is this: A critical core constituency of the Trump movement is the Alt-Right, including its white nationalist sector. The Alt-Right has been a major force for the resurgence of anti-Semitism in America. In fact, anti-Semitism has been at the heart of white nationalist ideology. Out of fear of alienating White Nationalist America, Donald Trump refrained from any clear and unequivocal repudiation of anti-Semitism as long as he could. Finally, media pressure forced him to issue his condemnation of anti-Semitism at his visit to the National Museum of African-American History on February 21, 2017.
The Trump Jewish dilemma became first evident with his equivocation after receiving the endorsement of David Duke in February, 2016. Rather than immediately disavowing the support of this virulent anti-Semite, Trump at first refused to do so, falsely claiming that he knew nothing about Duke.
The Trump refusal to condemn anti-Semitism had the effect of legitimizing it among his Alt-Right supporters. During the campaign, leading journalists of Jewish ethnicity told me that every time they would write a negative column on Trump, they would receive a barrage of anti-Semitic phone calls and emails. These hate callers are the same types of people perpetrating the current wave of anti-Semitic threats and violence.
With the arrival of Steve Bannon to the Trump campaign in August, 2016. Trump’s Jewish dilemma became more acute. I have heard and read conflicting assertions as to whether or not Bannon himself is an anti-Semite, and I make no judgment on that issue. It is beyond question however, that Steve Bannon has been a major ENABLER of anti-Semitism.
Bannon, the former Executive Chair of Breitbart News has continually boasted that under his leadership, Breitbart became the platform of the Alt-Right. When Trump appointed Bannon as White House Chief Strategist, both David Duke and White Nationalist leader Richard Spencer were lavish in their praise of him – and Bannon shamefully never disavowed their support.
As White House Chief Strategist, Bannon has been described by some journalists as Trump’s Rasputin. Others have described him as Trump’s Suslov, the chief ideologue of the Soviet Union Politburo in the post-Khrushchev era. Regardless of the nature of the personal relationship between Trump and Bannon, one thing is abundantly clear: No significant White House communication can be issued without Bannon’s approval. In this regard, one must consider the Bannon White House International Holocaust Memorial Day proclamation that failed to mention Jews.
Donald Trump proclaims himself as the master of “the art of the deal.” It can be said of Steve Bannon that he is the master of “the art of the dog whistle.” The aforementioned Holocaust proclamation was a clear Bannon dog whistle to White Nationalists, assuring them that the Trump White House understood their feelings on the Holocaust. Richard Spencer lauded the proclamation as the “de-Judification of the Holocaust,” a reaction totally foreseeable by Bannon.
The legitimization of White Nationalist anti-Semitism resulting from Bannonism is thus abundantly clear. Yet Bannon does have his defenders on the Jewish Right on the basis that he is pro-Israel. These individuals foolishly forget a fundamental aspect of Jewish history: that there are numerous examples of anti-Semitic individuals and governments who have strongly supported Israel for reasons relating to their own private political agendas. Two specific examples readily come to mind.
The first is that of Richard Nixon. The Watergate tapes revealed that he was an unmitigated anti–Semite. Yet Nixon’s airlift of armaments to Israel during the 1973 Yom Kippur War actually saved the existence of the Jewish State. His motive was his concern that a fatal defeat of Israel by the Arabs would skyrocket the prestige of the former Soviet Union, the Arabs’ military patron.
The second is that of the Polish government of the 1930s. This extremist anti-Semitic government actually sought to expel all its Jewish inhabitants. Accordingly, the then Polish government actually strongly supported the establishment of a Jewish State in the former Palestine, so that they would have a place to relocate Polish Jewry. In fact, the Polish government went so far as to provide military training to Betar, a para-military Revisionist Zionist organization.
Bannon’s pro-Israel posture is motivated by his world view of a continuing conflict between Western and Islamic civilizations. In such a conflict, Israel can be a vital American ally. So under Bannonism, the Trump White House will support Israel while continuing to acquiesce in the anti-Semitism of the Alt-Right and White Nationalism. The Trump Jewish dilemma will thus endure.
The year 2018, however, will provide Donald Trump with an opportunity to satisfactorily resolve his Jewish dilemma. In April, 2018, the world will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising.
The revolt of the Jews of the Warsaw ghetto against overwhelming Nazi forces constituted an heroic chapter in the ongoing historic struggle against virulent anti-Semitic hatred. Donald Trump should mark the occasion with a visit to the site of the Warsaw ghetto, followed by visits to the sites of the various Nazi extermination camps in Poland. On his return, he should issue a proclamation honoring former President Lyndon Baines Johnson for his heroic efforts in assisting refugees fleeing Nazi persecution during the Holocaust era.
Actions like these will do more than satisfactorily resolve the Trump Jewish dilemma. They will constitute Trump’s rejection of Bannonism and at long last earn the 45th President a place of international moral leadership.
Alan J. Steinberg served as Regional Administrator of Region 2 EPA during the administration of former President George W. Bush and as Executive Director of the New Jersey Meadowlands Commission under former New Jersey Governor Christie Whitman.