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Donald Trump is the most serious threat to American Jewish security in the past half century

Forty-five years in the Jewish civil rights field did not prepare me for the Jewish community’s response to Donald Trump. From Gerald Ford (the president when I began my 27-year career with the Anti-Defamation League in 1975) to Barack Obama, there was a unifying reality that bound liberal and conservative Jews together when assessing the political scene. All of the following were summarily rejected: bigotry, apologists for bigotry, purveyors of conspiracy notions and anyone who posed a threat (real or rhetorical) to Jews and other minority groups.

Jews—both Republican and Democrats— arose as one in 1976 when the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. George Brown, talked about “They (Jews) own, you know, the banks in this country, the newspapers. Just look at where the Jewish money is Jews running the banks.” He was uniformly condemned.

In 1990 when former Klan leader David Duke ran as a Republican for the Senate in Louisiana, the Republican Party leadership—en masse—refused to support the Klan leader even though the seat would remain in the hands of the Democratic Party as a result. The entire Jewish community applauded President Bush and his colleagues.

When political leaders or their followers evidenced bigotry or racism, invariably Jewish leaders and their constituents would demand that the bigots be ostracized and condemned. Republicans would criticize their own, as would Democrats—-the overarching principle was to isolate and quarantine hate; silence in the face of bigotry was viewed as acquiescence.

In September 1985 I wrote an op/ed in the Los Angeles Times condemning a long-time ally, LA mayor Tom Bradley, for not condemning an appearance in LA by the Nation of Islam’s anti-Semitic leader Louis Farrakhan. Political affiliation and alliances were irrelevant, silence in the face of bigotry was not.

That was how things operated until Donald Trump emerged from his gilded escalator and announced his candidacy. There were Jewish community figures who stood by him then and later while ignoring his musings about “Mexicans” and “Muslim immigrants” and “good people” in Charlottesville. They were also silent when he heavy-handedly stereotyped his accountants with yarmulkes and Jews being excessively interested in money.

But nearly four years into Trump’s term, his avoidance of facts, of data and reason and his embrace of bigotry-laced conspiracy notions are evidence that even lower tax rates ought not outweigh.

An attendee at President Trump’s rally in Tampa, Florida holds a sign mentioning the conspiracy theory QAnon. Image by youtube

In recent weeks Trump has either become unhinged or he has just more clearly revealed the mental processes that were semi-dormant in recent years. He has embraced, encouraged, and enunciated conspiracy notions that are insidious and a threat to any group that has historically been the victim of persecution. The purveyors of hate of sought, and hitherto, failed to gain mainstream legitimation for decades.

That Trump’s enablers in the GOP tolerate his bizarre behavior is depressing enough, but that Jews who ought to have at least a glancing familiarity with the historical record of the past century and the evil that can result from unfounded conspiracy theories directed by a leader at a segment of his population, is downright perverse.

With the recent rise of QAnon, Trump has shown his cards—-bigotry and tawdry hate are simply not disqualifying characteristics in his view of the world. When he was asked point-blank about QAnon’s bizarre conspiracy notions, he did not take his usual tack of just feigning ignorance of the subject. He baldly said, “Is that supposed to be a bad thing or a good thing? So I don’t know really anything about it other than they do supposedly like me.”

For that cohort in the Jewish community (or any minority community in America) that still supports Trump, this should be a wake-up call. This is not a dispute about funding Social Security benefits or whether to cut taxes or save the Arctic tundra; this is a debate about fundamental values of truth and facts that speak to how minority groups and dissenting views are treated in our country.

The president of the United States has no issues with a group that the ADL has described as “conspiracy theorists [who] spread disinformation and foster a climate of extremism and paranoia, which in some cases has led to violence.”

There is no conceivable way that a sentient minority group member should not find Trump’s actions disqualifying on their face.

There are those in the community who choose to support Trump because he will lower their taxes and otherwise benefit their bottom line—-they have a different set of values than most of us—-selfishness. Policy arguments that transcend their bank accounts and the stock markets have no currency with them.

Then there are those in the Jewish community who claim that Trump’s “support for Israel” is sufficient reason for sticking with him (e.g. the embassy move to Jerusalem, etc.) Theirs is a hollow argument with an opponent like Joe Biden whose 50-year plus track record of advocacy and support for Israel is unparalleled. Neither AOC nor Ilhan Omar are running for president nor did their platform planks regarding the Middle East get adopted by the Democratic Party.

Furthermore, Trump’s track record of loyalty to those who have allied with him is deplorable—-he’ll take a better offer of support in a nanosecond if it suits his purposes. Just ask the Kurds.

One might have made a case for Trump in November, 2016 — the slate was partially blank. But now, after over three years of his term, there simply is no question—he is a dangerous empty vessel who promotes the very worst extremists in our midst and legitimizes their lunacy, either out of ignorance or malevolence.

Having been involved in civil rights work that involved monitoring extremist groups (from the Klan to neo-Nazis to Lyndon La Rouche to the PLO) and defending the Jewish community since 1975, there is no doubt in my mind that Donald Trump is the most serious threat to Jewish (and other minority groups) security in this country in the past half century; it’s not even close.

David Lehrer is president of Community Advocates and a co-founder of Jews United for Democracy and Justice.

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