Opinion

Orthodox Jews Are Not Just Trump’s Enablers - They’re Also His Victims

Only when I saw the Orthodox journalist actually justifying the president’s public verbal assault on him, I understood why so many in my community can’t disengage from Trump.

Reporter Jake Turx asks Trump about what actions would be taken against the rise of anti-Semitism on February 16, 2017.
Stephen Crowley / The New York Times

"If you want Jewish unity, stand up for Jake Turx,” I wrote a few minutes after the news broke about the ultra-Orthodox journalist berated by U.S. President Donald Trump for daring to ask about anti-Semitism during last week’s press conference

Here we go, I thought. The moment some from the very vocal majority of Orthodox Jews who support Trump will have to confront the danger of attaching themselves to a man who oozes hatred. For a year now, I’ve watched in wonderment as so many of those in my community have hitched their wagon to Trump. Couldn’t they see where this ride leads? Where it always leads?

But, inevitably, that’s not what happened. The same people who claim that speaking out against Trump hurts Jewish communal unity now turned on Turx, attacking him for being “unprofessional” or “not speaking clearly” or simply for daring to ask the president a question.

I waited eagerly to hear what Turx would share with the world. I assumed he was pro-Trump from his Facebook posts, and since he was the only journalist for an Orthodox Jewish news outlet to have access to the White House, but I still expected this to be an opportunity to finally have a deeper dialogue about the way Trump deals with hate crimes committed in his name or in the spirit of his administration. I assumed Turx would say something to help this critical dialogue get started.

Instead, as he finally made a statement on Fox News, I watched in shock as Turx not only defended the president’s record on anti-Semitism, but actually defended the public abuse he had received at Trump’s hand only hours earlier.

In Turx’s words: “It is very unfair what’s been done to him. So I understand why he’s so defensive.”

Turx was using Trump-logic: since Trump has suffered “injustice” at the hands of the press, the president was justified in (reciprocally) treating him, Turx, so utterly poorly: interrupting him, yelling at him, telling him to “sit down.” At such an identifiably Jewish individual voicing a concern about his community, who was – in Turx’s way of thinking – justifiably being abused in front of the entire world for daring to ask a question about it.

For the first time since this whole mess started, I saw what was happening to the Orthodox community in front of my eyes. They aren’t just enablers of Trump: they are also his victims.

This week, for the fourth time in a month, dozens of JCCs received bomb threats. Trump didn’t say a word, just like the other three incidents. On the same day, a Jewish graveyard was vandalized in St. Louis.  Again, not one word of comment.

Finally, his press secretary gave a vanilla statement about “hate” that didn’t mention anti-Semitism, or even Jews, once (that’s becoming a habit).

It took an entire day of vociferous anger from non-Orthodox Jews, non-Jews, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton and the press to finally get Trump to even utter a word about the attacks.

As the pattern of Trump’s refusal to stare hate in the face has unfolded, the wider Orthodox world has not just tamped down its demands on Trump, it has actually, like Turx, supported him. Trump supporters in my own circles have asked to give him “time” to figure out how to deal with these issues. They ask us not to be so hysterical. They bring up how anti-Semitic they believe former President Barack Obama was. And, ironically, when Trump finally does speak up, they act as if it wasn’t the insistence and resistance to Trump that finally got him to speak up. Like Trump, they attribute any good he does to him and all bad he does to others.

In other words, the Orthodox Jewish world is supporting hate against itself. Justifying a stalled and half-hearted defense from a president that they would never in a million years have accepted from another president. In the name of "Jewish unity," they stand silently as other Jews suffer and live in fear.

This is not the Orthodox Jewish community I know, or thought I knew. With any other president, the community I know would have stood up valiantly to these things. They’d be the most vocal, they’d be doing “mitzvah campaigns” and demanding action and organizing.

But they have been infected with authoritarianism. Authoritarianism demands that the followers never speak up against their leaders. That the leader take precedence over all. That questioning itself is a crime. That fear and passivity will eventually stifle any desire to query the leader. The Orthodox community by and large has thrown its lot in with Trump, and this is part of the package.

That is why Turx didn’t stand up to Trump. It’s why he justified his own abuse. Because we are in a situation, sadly, where Trump’s followers simply can’t imagine a world where Trump is actually to blame for anything. Where there must be someone else responsible. Even if it is ourselves.

Elad Nehorai is the founder and editor-in-chief of Hevria, a publication for creative Jews, and the blogger behind Pop Chassid. Follow him on Twitter: @PopChassid