Trump's anti-Muslim Alarmism Wins Over Jewish Retirees in Florida

Over coffee and bagels, older, wealthier Floridians debate whether the candidate's comments are truth or racist rhetoric.

Two elderly women wait for a rally with U.S. Republican presidential hopeful Donald Trump on March 14, 2016 in Vienna Center, Ohio.
AFP

BOCA RATON — Donald J. Trump’s controversial comments about Muslims have become something of a rallying point for some Jewish retirees in Florida.

Over coffee and bagels at The Polo Club, a local country club, dozens of opinionated residents, many of whom are retirees, share their fierce opinions with one another about the U.S. presidential campaign and its various candidates – one in particular.

“I agree with what Trump says but not how he says it,” explained Joe Schueller, 76, to a table of eight men who call themselves The Club. “Trump has a way of inciting people,” Schueller continued, as a boisterous man to his left in a white polo shirt and a class ring chimed in, “Just get ‘em out now,” quoting a comment the GOP candidate made to protesters at a rally in Maine, but referring in jest to many Trump supporters’ reactions to Muslims.

The entrance to the Polo Club of Boca Raton, Florida, which also serves as a primary voting location, March 15, 2016.
Rachel Delia Benaim

Judson Cender, a retired lawyer, explained: “Some people describe Trump’s comments as hate speech,” but “when Trump speaks about these things, I say he’s right.” Cender, the son of Holocaust survivors who was born in a displaced persons camp, identifies as center right, and although he doesn’t agree with Republicans on social issues, he’s a Trump man through and through.

When asked about the comparisons made between Trump’s comments about Muslims and Hitler’s incendiary remarks against Jews, Cender scoffed: “It’s not discrimination to ask for background checks.”

But Erna Kamerman Perry, herself a Holocaust survivor, disagrees. “I like Bernie,” she said, going on to speak about the Democratic candidate’s messages of unity and his ability to inspire people positively. Perry, author of “Christian by Disguise,” was living in Poland with her family when the Nazis invaded in 1939, and she remembers every detail. That is a large part of why she feels such a visceral dislike for Trump – “He feels very strong and dictating.”

She condemns his anti-Muslim rhetoric, but qualified it, saying “not that I’m in love with the Muslims or Islam, but I wouldn’t discriminate against them on the basis of that.”

After kvetching about daylight savings time, a topic of conversation that was perhaps more prevalent in the orange-and-blue Bagel Room than politics, Perry – who was in the minority in her fondness for Sanders – excused herself to go find her husband.

A supporter wears campaign buttons during U.S. Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's campaign rally at the Tampa Convention Center in Tampa, Florida March 14, 2016. REUTERS
Reuters

Ron Tygar, 77, grew up in the Bronx and said he’s voting for Trump. “I have a Trump hat in every color, and if he wins on Tuesday, I’ll buy T-shirts,” he said, sporting a navy hat with the candidate's campaign slogan – “Make America Great Again.”

After telling a string of mother-in-law jokes, Tygar agreed with his friend Cender, who castigated “all Muslims” for not condemning attacks perpetrated by radical Islamist elements.

“The good Muslims are as silent a group as I can find,” said Tygar. “Hardly any Muslim groups have stood up and called it [i.e., terrorism] like it is.”

He went on to explain that security is a large part of what draws him to Trump: “He’s not saying let’s punish all Muslims, but he’s saying we need heavy background checks before we admit more of these people into the country.”

These members of The Polo Club are just a handful of voices from a particular demographic, but the Trump fans among them echo the sentiments of numerous other supporters of the candidate around the country.

On Sunday evening, 6,000 supporters turned up for a Trump rally in Boca Raton. As Dorcas Wood, a volunteer at the event put it, “I think security has to come before religious freedom.”