Many American Jews are anxious. After Donald Trump’s election, they feel less secure, and not just because most of them voted for his rival, Hillary Clinton. Throughout the election campaign, Trump seemed indifferent to anti-Semitic themes emanating from his own campaign, often disseminating them himself. Some of his family members and advisers and made blatantly anti-Semitic remarks. White supremacist and neo-Nazi groups flourished under his wings. The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, recently said that anti-Semitism in America has reached levels unseen since the 1930s.
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But what is all this Diaspora-Jew whinging, most of it coming from suspect liberal Jews anyway, compared to the authoritative verdict of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, self-anointed leader of the Jewish people and self-appointed number one expert on all things America? In an almost shockingly condescending appearance before the Jewish Media Summit in Jerusalem this week, moderated by Forward Editor Jane Eisner, Netanyahu said anti-Semitism in America was only a “fringe” phenomenon. And in an interview with Leslie Stahl of CBS’ "60 Minutes," set to air on Sunday night, Netanyahu issued a formal kashrut certificate to Trump, befitting the Pontiff from Jerusalem: I know him well, Netanyahu said, and “there’s no question” that “He feels very warmly about the Jewish state, about the Jewish people and about Jewish people.”
Well, it’s certainly true that Trump feels “very warmly” towards some Jewish people, including his daughter, his son in law, his grandchildren and those little Jews with yarmulkes who are the only people he trusts to count his money. He’s even appointing two of them, both with Goldman-Sachs pedigree, to watch over America’s coffers as well: hedge fund and investment banker Steven Mnuchin is slated to become secretary of the treasury and Gary Cohn, current president of Goldman-Sachs, is reportedly in line to be Trump’s director of the National Economic Council.
Trump might even have very warm feelings towards Netanyahu himself, especially now: the Israeli leader’s vote of confidence comes at a perfect time, as efforts to persuade Electoral College delegates to pick someone else as president when they meet next week swing into high gear and in conjunction with the sensational Washington Post report on Friday night that Russia was actively involved in getting Trump elected in the first place. After Trump’s endorsement of Netanyahu before the 2013 elections, it’s the least the Israeli leader can do to return the favor.
From a realpolitik view of Israeli interests, at least as those are seen by Netanyahu, the prime minister’s endorsement is well placed. Trump, who appreciates blind loyalty, will certainly be grateful. The same cannot be said of wary U.S. Jews: not only has Netanyahu steadfastly refrained from condemning the surge of anti-Semitism that has come in Trump’s wake, but now he is in fact asserting that their claims are no more than hysterical poppycock. Just as Sarah Palin could see Russia clearly from her home in Alaska, Netanyahu can see America better from the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem.
Still, Netanyahu’s claim that “there’s no question” about Trump’s warmth towards the Jews may be a bit over the top, to say the least. If Trump was such a Jew-lover as Netanyahu claims, he probably wouldn’t have cited anti-Semitic stereotypes when he appeared before the Republican Jewish Coalition last year, saying Jews only supported candidates they could buy with money. If Trump was such a righteous gentile, it’s reasonable to assume he wouldn’t have allowed his campaign to use the offensive poster with Clinton’s face plastered on piles of money and a six-pointed Star of David, and definitely would have been less dismissive of the unanimous Jewish protests against it.
If Trump was so affectionate of Jews, perhaps he would have rejected the support of white supremacist anti-Semites like David Duke swiftly and empathically rather than mumbling the word “disavow” only when his back was to the wall. He certainly would not have seemed to justify the anti-Semitic attacks on journalist Julia Ioffe, who wrote something that his wife Melania didn’t like. If Trump so sensitive to the Jews, his “closing argument” in the campaign wouldn’t have seemed as if it was directly lifted from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion (and against Goldman-Sachs!). If Trump gave a damn what Jews think, he wouldn’t have appointed Steve Bannon as his chief strategist, ignoring claims that he had made anti-Semitic remarks or his own boast that he had provided a platform for the alt-right movement, which has anti-Semitism running through its veins.
But Netanyahu has no doubts. After all, Trump sees eye to eye with him on the “bad deal” with Iran; his deputy-elect, Mike Pence, has vowed to rip the nuclear deal to shreds; his Jewish “advisers”, who have now receded from public view, expressed the president-elect’s support for settlements and distaste for Palestinian statehood. What difference does it make if a few million Jews, who probably voted for that Israel-hater and Netanyahu-tormentor Obama, feel as if the earth is shaking underneath their feet? Don’t some of them finance the New Israel Fund, which Netanyahu now regularly depicts as among the worst of Israel’s enemies because they supposedly gave money to investigative journalists like Raviv Drucker and Ilana Dayan? Netanyahu doesn’t count any of them, just as he doesn’t count many of the Jews who live in Israel: like Trump, his love for Jews is usually restricted to those Jews who happen to love him back.
One can understand Netanyahu’s relief at Trump’s election. The newly installed president will be more than happy to hug him warmly when Netanyahu makes his first visit to the White House. Their aides will make sure to highlight the stark differences between the incoming and outgoing presidents. But on the day that the first confrontation between the two countries erupts, Netanyahu is bound to find that Trump’s “warm feelings” extend only towards himself, and possibly Vladimir Putin, who may have handed him his November 8 victory. If Israel dares defy Trump or insult him, as it did Obama, the president will strike back with a vengeance, as he does to anyone who challenges him. But contrary to the staple accusation that Israeli politicians made towards Obama, it will be hard to accuse Trump of being an anti-Semite, now that he has an official certificate of philo-Semitism from the King of the Jews himself.