President Donald Trump’s speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in Las Vegas on 6 April had commentators wondering if a concerted effort by the right to increase Jewish votes for Trump in the next election would be successful. This hand-wringing happens every four years and little changes.
Yes, religious Jews and one-issue Israel zealots have voted for Republican presidents, but American Jews, overall, tend to vote Democratic. A Gallup poll recently found that 16 per cent of Jews identify as Republicans.
What’s more interesting about the speech was what it reveals about the American Jewish right in the context of its campaign to paint the ascendant left, which includes many Jews like presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, as a special threat to Jews because the left tends support Palestinians.
The members of the coalition applauded when Trump forcefully defended the right of the United States to deny entrance for refugees — considering how ancestors of most American Jews came to this country, this is a big finger in the eye of previous generations.
Worse, Trump referred to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has “your” prime minister in his speech.
The Zionist right recently pilloried freshman Congresswoman Ilhan Omar for simply stating that the pro-Israel lobby advances the agenda of a foreign power. But here the RJC endorses Trump’s rhetoric that Jews are not fully American and represent an outside, foreign meddler.
Calling this hypocritical doesn’t quite capture the problem.
If anything, the Jewish right has unabashedly embraced or denied anti-Semitism to further political interests, such as downplaying the role of racist rhetoric that led to the Pittsburgh massacre while trying to deflect attention on the left’s legitimate criticisms of Israel.
If anything, the Jewish right knows that if it is going to keep backing the Republican Party in its current form, it will need to tolerate white nationalists marching in Charlottesville whose agenda squares neatly with that of the president.
It is the Jewish right, in this sense, who are the real self-hating Jews, in the most cynical fashion, and their attempts to smear Jewish leftists is akin to preemptive projection.
This self-hatred isn’t merely political — it’s also religious betrayal. Judaism has many sins, like eating pork and driving a car on Shabbat, but there’s little more damning for a Jew than to worship a false idol.
The Forward reported that at the RJC event, the group’s chairman, Norm Coleman, went so far as to replace God’s name with Trump’s in a rendition of the Passover song “Dayenu.”
Placing fealty to the human-made nation above all moral concerns certainly feels like deification. That’s why the Jewish right’s unquestioning defence of the Israeli government while ignoring both economic injustice and a rise in racist violence that targets Jews, seems so barbaric.
It isn’t new, however. It may have seemed shocking when a video emerged of white supremacist Richard Spencer proclaiming his admiration for Israel. For one thing, he envisions a similar ethnocracy for white Christians, but he’s also content with Jews self-segregating themselves from America and Europe into a separate nation.
But this exposes the chief concern anti-Zionists Jews have had from the start: that Zionism was the only Jewish political doctrine that could accommodate anti-Semitism and vice versa, that it was a capitulation to anti-Jewish bigotry.
In a lecture to the Jewish Society of the London School of Economics Students Union in 1964, Isaac Deutscher, a biographer of Leon Trotsky, said of the difference between Zionists and anti-Zionists in Europe:
“In the idea of evacuation, of an exodus from the countries in which they had their homes and in which their ancestors had lived for centuries, the anti-Zionists saw an abdication of their rights, a yielding to hostile pressure, a surrender to anti-Semitism. To them, anti-Semitism seemed to triumph in Zionism, which recognised the legitimacy and the validity of the old cry: ‘Jews, get out! The Zionists were agreeing to ‘get out.’”
We’re seeing this in today’s Zionist right cheering on the bigots who are saying, “Jews, get out,” or as they said in Charlottesville, “Jews will not replace us.”
The good news is that this is the reaction of a political movement which knows that its veil is coming off.
With the popularity of a Jewish left-wing candidate like Bernie Sanders in 2019, it confirms that the side Deutscher was on may finally have the upper hand in the United States.
Photograph courtesy of Joel Schalit. Published under a Creative Commons license.