Our nation is reeling in the wake of President Trump’s astonishing, disgraceful comments on the events in Charlottesville on Tuesday. In his press conference, the President drew a false equivalence between white supremacists and those who protested them. In his now famous remarks, the President referred to some of the white supremacist marchers as “very fine people.”
Groups and leaders throughout the Jewish community have strongly condemned the president, stunned that he would offer a public defense of people who chanted anti-Semitic hate slogans and used Nazi iconography. From the ADL to the URJ to the AJC and beyond, Trump has been slammed by Jewish critics horrified to see an apologist for Nazis occupy our nation’s highest office.
Yet one corner of the Jewish community has been largely and shamefully silent: right-wing Jewish organizations.
This silence has a history. The Republican Jewish Coalition (RJC) and the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) have spent months praising the Trump White House and defending it from charges of anti-Semitism and bigotry. For years, they have attacked prominent Democratic and liberal figures as anti-Israel and anti-Semitic, engaging in smear after smear against the likes of President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Congressman Keith Ellison to name just a few. But now that the President of the United States has made his tolerance for white supremacists shockingly clear, these voices have amazingly little criticism to offer.
Klein and the ZOA have said nothing about the President’s latest remarks on Charlottesville. And after waiting 24 hours to acknowledge Trump’s horrifying remarks in any way, the RJC did ultimately call on the president to “Provide greater moral clarity in rejecting racism, bigotry, and antisemitism”. But this response was totally insufficient, and failed to rebuke the President in strong terms. Writing on Twitter just hours before releasing that statement, Brooks dismissed Leon Wieseltier’s call for introspection by Jewish Trump supporters as “preachy sanctimoniousness.”
It’s important to recount just how far these apologists have gone in the past to cover for Trump and staffers like Steve Bannon, the administration’s most notorious ally of white nationalists. Shortly after the election, ZOA president Mort Klein wrote an op-ed titled “Bannon and Breitbart: Friends of Israel, Not Anti-Semites” defending not just Bannon but the far-right website Breitbart News, which Bannon has described as “the platform for the alt-right.” As Bannon’s White House appointment faced heavy criticism from many Jewish and liberal groups, Klein invited Bannon to attend the ZOA’s annual gala. The RJC defended him as well.
Not content merely to defend the White House, these groups also attacked the Anti-Defamation League, one of the most historically prominent Jewish voices against anti-Semitism and bigotry, for daring to criticize anti-Semitic affiliations and rhetoric in the Trump campaign and Trump administration. The ZOA accused the ADL of “character assassination” against Bannon. Immediately after election day, RJC executive director Matt Brooks attacked the ADL for criticizing anti-Semitism in the Trump campaign, claiming that “the ADL has put itself potentially in a compromising position going forward.”
Now that President Trump and his team have shown just how willing they are to make excuses for violent anti-Semites and bigots, the president’s loudest Jewish cheerleaders and defenders refuse to admit their own colossal errors. The ZOA have said nothing at all - and the RJC’s response was not nearly strong enough.
The RJC, the ZOA and their supporters represent only a tiny minority of the American Jewish community. Yet year after year and election after election, they spend thousands of dollars on ad campaigns and smear attacks designed to paint Democratic and liberal leaders as anti-Israel and “bad for the Jews” - attacks that have little impact on voters but muddle our political discourse. But these groups have little or nothing to say about the President who they championed and defended who has now aligned himself with white nationalists and gives cover to neo-Nazis.
It should be clear at this point that Jewish groups which tirelessly defend the Trump administration against charges of bigotry and anti-Semitism are harmful to the best interests of our community. Responsible Jewish leaders should recognize the RJC and ZOA for what they are - ultra-partisan extremists who have lost all touch with our basic interests and values as Jews and as Americans.
Logan Bayroff is Director of Communications at J Street.