Opinion

I Hadn't Been Called a Kike Since Fourth Grade. Donald Trump Changed All That

There's a reason why so many anti-Semites are going for Trump. It's not that he's an anti-Semite. He's something worse. He's an influential public figure who enables and tolerates and excuses and pumps Jew-haters, and who, most crucially, cannot afford to lose their votes.

Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters during a campaign rally on October 4, 2016 in Prescott Valley, Arizona.
Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks to a crowd of supporters during a campaign rally on October 4, 2016 in Prescott Valley, Arizona. Ralph Freso, AFP

I don't remember the first time I got called a kike as a kid. But I remember the last. 

I was a fourth grader. I wound up in a short fight with a bigger kid. All I remember is that he was a guy with trouble at home and trouble inside, and harbored some grievance about our respective places in line for the movies.

The adult advice I got at the time was that anti-Semitism – of the long-ago type that had made changing our family's immigrant last name a key part of my dad's application process for college – was on the ropes. It would soon be extinct, I was assured, like polio. "Just let it go, or it'll get worse."

It was bad advice. It was bad advice then, and it's bad advice now.

That fight was the last time I ever got called a kike. Until this year. Until this presidential campaign. Until Donald Trump.

Until, that is, white supremacists and American Neo-Nazis and Klansmen and the technology-borne alt-right gleefully began to hear in Trump's dog-whistles, in his retweets of their filth, and in his belated, disingenuous, or nonexistent disavowals, the sound of a common cause, and a golden opportunity.

Actually, at the periodic "kike" and "Jew underminer" call in my inbox, I've been let off easy.

Two weeks ago, Washington Post columnist Anne Applebaum wrote a piece titled "In Poland, a preview of what Trump could do to America.

The Breitbart news site – whose on-leave executive chairman is Trump Campaign Chairman Stephen Bannon – then ran an article which said of Applebaum that "hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned."

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The attack on Applebaum followed a torrent of online abuse directed at Jewish reporters, or reporters with Jewish-sounding names, or reporters married to Jews, whose words were seen as uncomplimentary to Trump or his wife.

The attacks began in earnest early in the year, following the February South Carolina primary, when reporter Bethany Mandel was attacked as a "slimy Jewess" and was told she deserved "the oven" for writing about Trump's relatively large number of anti-Semitic supporters.

"As any high-profile Twitter user with a Jewish-sounding last name can tell you, the surest way to see anti-Semitism flood your mentions column is to tweet something negative about Donald Trump," Mandel later wrote in the Forward. 

"My anti-Trump tweets have been met with such terrifying and profound anti-Semitism that I bought a gun earlier this month. Over the coming weeks, I plan to learn how to shoot it better." 

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The attacks only grew in intensity, scope, and, if alt-right sites are to be believed, in organization of harassment. In April, prominent feature writer Julia Ioffe published a profile of Melania Trump in GQ. Ioffe, who is Jewish, was barraged with death threats and crank callers, one of whom played recorded speeches of Hitler on her phone line, another who told her that her face would look good on a lampshade.

On Twitter, Ioffe was pictured as if interred in Auschwitz, with the caption "Julia Ioffe at Camp Trump." 

Melania Trump later said that while her "fans … maybe went too far," Ioffe had "provoked them."

Ioffe, for her part, remarked, “The irony of this is that today, when I was getting all of this horrible anti-Semitic shit that I’ve only ever seen in Russia, I was reminded that 26 years ago today my family came to the U.S. from Russia."

"We left Russia because we were fleeing anti-Semitism,” Ioffe told the Guardian. “It’s been a rude shock for everyone.”

Social media-borne Holocaust imagery has been directed at countless journalists, among them Huffington Post Senior Polling Editor Natalie Jackson, pictured on Twitter locked into a gas chamber, with a beaming Donald Trump, dressed as a Nazi officer, ready to push a green button marked "GAS."

"Your clothes will be removed and fumigated. You will be held down and given a bath," the tweet reads.

For many journalists, especially millennials, the barrage of pro-Trump, alt-right harassment, threats, and mass trolling, has been their first brush with anti-Semitism.

And not only journalists.

“What Trump has brought to the surface is, in many ways, the first blatant anti-Semitic experience for the vast majority of American millennials,” Ohio State sophomore Zach Reizes, 19, told Politico Magazine. 

The quote is from an extraordinary report this week by Politico's Ben Wofford.

In an allusion to the large numbers of Jewish organizations who have refrained from challenging Trump on the anti-Semitism issue, Wofford notes that among Jews the pro-Trump outrages of the alt-right have "heightened a divide between young and old, left and right: Progressive young Jews learning to form the words 'anti-Semitism,' often for the first time — even while they take umbrage at their right-leaning scolds who, now into October, have kept up a deafening silence on the topic of Trump."

Through it all, Jew-hating Trump supporters have reserved some of the most toxic of their venom for staunch Republicans and conservatives who happen to be Jewish. They've even coined an obscenity just for them: Kikeservatives.

As in this headline on the Infostormer website: "Kikeservative [Susan] Goldberg Defends Kikeservative [Jonah] Goldberg From Patriotic Jew Exposers."

Back in May, when former KKK leader David Duke said that white supremacists saw great promise in Trump as "our white knight, our advocate, our person,” he added that the Jewish enemy within was not far off: Jewish neo-conservatives who oppose Trump.

“I think that like so often happens, Jewish chutzpah knows no bounds," Duke said in his radio broadcast. "These Jewish extremists have made a terribly crazy miscalculation because all they’re really going to be doing by doing the ‘never Trump’ movement is exposing their alien, anti-American majority position to all the Republicans.”

Trump helped throw the holding tanks of anti-Semitism wide open in July, when he gave national exposure to, and then proceeded to defend, a white supremacist-designed meme in which Hillary Clinton appears flanked by a red six-pointed star on a background of a pile of hundred-dollar bills.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center was quoted at the time as saying that Trump's comments, even if unintended, had legitimized the kind of bigotry represented by the likes of David Duke, whom the Anti-Defamation League has called "perhaps America's most well-known racist and anti-Semite."

In Cooper's view, “The anti-Semitics, the David Dukes, and their younger supporters ― they’re having a field day." He added that it was important that Trump make clear to “these people who have crawled out of the sewers that he doesn’t speak for you, he doesn’t represent you, that’s not what America is all about.”

For alt-right figures like Andrew Anglin, however, that is exactly what America is all about. In response to the anti-Clinton meme, Anglin of the avowedly pro-Nazi Daily Stormer website, tweeted: "Glorious Leader Tweets Hillary Image With Dollars and Jew Star."

In a piece set under a winking image of a youngish Adolf Hitler, Anglin wrote of Trump that "the evangelicals will listen to his pro-Israel statements, while we will listen to his signals. Everybody wins. They can even report on me saying this is a dog-whistle – it doesn’t matter."

The website, named for the viciously anti-Semitic Nazi tabloid Der Sturmer, goes on to explain that under alt-right ideology and values, "Jews are behind all of the things which we are against, the diametric opposite of everything that we stand for. In a very real sense, defeating and physically removing the Jews will solve every other problem. None of this would be happening if it were not for the Jews."

Not all Jewish organizations have been silent in the face of Trump's anti-Semitic supporters. "We've been alarmed that Mr. Trump hasn't spoken out vociferously against these anti-Semites and racists and misogynists who continue to support him," Anti-Defamation League leader Jonathan Greenblatt, said in July. "It's been outrageous to see him retweeting and now sourcing material from the website and other online resources from this crowd."

There's a reason why so many anti-Semites are going for Trump. It's not that he's an anti-Semite. He's something worse. He's an influential public figure who trades on anti-Semitism, who benefits from it, who enables and tolerates and excuses and pumps it, and who, most crucially, cannot afford to lose the votes of his admirers who hate Jews.

Just as he cannot afford to lose the votes of his admirers who bear strong prejudice against women, Muslims, Hispanics, African-Americans, Asian-Americans, Native Americans and others.

He has given a podium to bigotry, an arena stage to hatred. 

Donald Trump may be the grandfather to a Jewish baby. But if that baby grows up in a nation ruled by Trump, one day he may be the one Jew at that dinner table to ask why his grandfather helped make anti-Semitism American again.

UPDATE: Reacting to the firestorm over Trump's vulgar characterizations of women, Anglin this week held Jews responsible for the criticism. "We are being kiked so hard it'll make your head spin," he wrote. "I hate all these people. We're on the brink of a nuclear war, and these scumbags are talking about pussy-grabbing."

"If we lose this election," Anglin concluded, "the Jews are going to be blamed."