The other day I happened to catch an interview with a very conservative pundit, Ben Shapiro, formerly of Breitbart News. He resigned after a Breitbart reporter was aggressively grabbed at a Donald Trump rally and the Breitbart organization, instead of defending its reporter, attacked the reporter for creating an incident that supposedly never happened.
The “grabbing” was only the last straw for Shapiro. As one of the few holdouts against the Trump candidacy at Breitbart, which had practically become a Trump house organ, he was under constant attack by diehard Trump supporters, attacks that frequently focused on his ethnicity and religion. He clearly couldn’t take it anymore, nor did he want to.
“I’ve experienced more pure, unadulterated anti-Semitism since coming out against Trump’s candidacy than at any other time in my political career,” Shapiro wrote in May. “Trump supporters have threatened me and other Jews who hold my viewpoint. They’ve blown up my email inbox with anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. They greeted the birth of my second child by calling for me, my wife, and two children to be thrown into a gas chamber.”
Not surprisingly, he did not vote for Trump (nor did he vote for Hillary Clinton) and, happily for him, he has landed on his feet after months of ugliness. He is one of the most successful syndicated columnists on the right, and the number of anti-Semitic tweets and emails he has received since quitting Breitbart are, he says, down 70%.
I found the Shapiro interview interesting and I found him extremely bright, witty and likable.
But then, suddenly, I remembered: I can’t stand Ben Shapiro.
He is extremely right-wing on both American domestic issues and on Israel. He admires the right-wing political figures I despise, and vice versa. And he pulls no punches when discussing those he dislikes (including me).
Until listening to this interview, I’d never had a positive thought about Ben Shapiro. And yet, now I did.
And the reason is obvious. For the first time in my lifetime (37 years longer than his, so far) I feel that all American Jews are bound together by something more than sentiment or ancient genealogical connection. Yes, most of us were also bound together by concern for Israel (whether we’re with AIPAC or J Street) and, of course, the memory of the Holocaust. But, in fact, those ties have been loosening for years.
Israel divides almost as much as it unites, and the Holocaust is receding into the past as we approach the moment when the last survivor is no longer with us. Sure, most Jews my age and right down to people in their 50’s maintain these connections. But our kids and grandkids? With a 50% rate of intermarriage?
But now suddenly there is the Trump phenomenon, and more specifically, his “alt-right” supporters and Breitbart’s Stephen Bannon in the White House. Neo-Nazis who support Trump (although the sentiment is not necessarily reciprocated) rally in Washington with the “alt-right” leader Richard Spencer, toasting Trump’s presidency with Sieg Heils and German-language attacks on the media. My kids’ middle school was smeared with swastikas. Jewish reporters, and those mistakenly thought to be Jewish, are routinely attacked by Trump supporters using horrifying Nazi memes, usually involving gas chambers.
We’ve seen nothing like this before. Those who say that elements of the BDS-supporting left are often just as bad overlook the fact that other than on a few campuses, there are so few of them and that they couldn’t be farther from the levers of power. Left-wing anti-Semites like those of the BDS movement are utterly irrelevant and rarely violent anyway. Right-wing anti-Semites are near the center of power.
And that is why I’m feeling a sense of brotherhood with almost all Jews these days. No, not the (relatively few Jewish) Trump supporters, or the ones who want Israel replaced, or their counterparts on the other side who want all the Palestinians expelled. Nor does my sympathy with Ben Shapiro extend to any of his views other than our mutual antipathy to the anti-Semitism that threatens us all.
On the other hand, we are all in this together, and, let’s get real, those who threaten Ben Shapiro’s children threaten yours, too. Politics be damned, we’re Jews, and the enemies we thought were gone are back — with a vengeance.
MJ Rosenberg worked as an aide to senators and congressmen in Washington for 15 years. He also worked at AIPAC, Israel Policy Forum and Media Matters for America. Follow him on Twitter, @mjayrosenberg