When pressed about his Jewishness in the most recent democratic debate, Senator Bernie Sanders said he was not only proud to be Jewish, but that because of his own family history, he himself was aware of the dangers of radical and extremist politics.
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Now that one Jewish question of this election has been addressed, what about the second? Given that Donald Trump has large support from the white nationalist movement, support he relies on not only to mobilize votes, but also to help police his increasingly violent campaign rallies, why aren’t more Jews, and specifically, more Republican Jews, sounding the alarm about Trump? Are they too afraid of Hillary Clinton, too convinced of their own safety, and all out of political ammunition?
It is no secret that white nationalist groups have delighted in and supported the rise of Trump. Their support has been well documented. Their leaders openly endorsed Trump and make robocalls for him in advance of primaries, warning about the preservation of the white race. (“Don’t vote for a Cuban. Vote for Donald Trump.”) They turn out in large numbers to vote for him and attend his rallies in droves, often acting as an informal security force. For his part, Trump has wobbled on disavowing this support. (His son recently gave a radio interview to a noted white nationalist and his campaign has given press credentials to a white supremacist radio station.)
To be sure, Republicans who happen to be Jewish are upset about Trump, but mostly because he’s bad for the brand. He’s not a true conservative, they say. He could have just as easily run as a Democrat, they say. He’s ruining the party, they say, and he’ll ruin the country while he’s at it. But much of the criticism stops there. As we have seen this past week, if Trump is going to be stopped, it is going to be from within. Given this, and given that Republican Jews are well-positioned to take on Trump, why the alarming silence?
Reason number one: Hillary Clinton. Now that it looks increasingly like Trump could be the GOP nominee, attacking him directly could be seen as a vote for Hillary.
If you go to the website of the RJC, the Republican Jewish Coalition, you can click on links to contact your representative to complain about the Obama administration’s “flirtation” with the BDS movement and you can still read all about the votes on the Iranian nuclear deal. As for the man who is running for president, the one whose supporters recently raised their right hands and pledged to vote for him, the one who called minority protestors “disgusting,” the one who has openly mocked the disabled – nothing.
Even some Republican Jewish pundits are afraid to attack Trump without qualifying their attack. For example, a recent photograph showed Trumps supporters all raising their arms in what looked like a Nazi salute, but pundits are quick to remind us of a picture of Obama supporters holding their hands to their hearts and similarly pledging loyalty. And while many have agreed that years of race baiting and birther politics have created the movement that Trump wishes to ride all the way to the White House, we are told that we must also blame Obama’s cult of personality for Trump’s success.
No, Republican Jews were hoping to get into bed with Marco Rubio. Turns out though, that Senator Rubio still sleeps in a toddler bed. Give him eight years or so and he may be ready for prime time. In the meantime, there is no candidate they feel comfortable with (Ted Cruz scares just about everyone), and in the absence of a candidate, speaking out against Trump in an unqualified way, is a vote for Hillary.
Second, it’s possible that American Jews no longer see themselves as the target of these white nationalist groups. Trump has not openly attacked Jews in the race. In fact, his worst comments were made in front of the Republican Jewish Coalition, when he said that it was good to be in a room full of dealmakers and told them he knew they wouldn’t support him “because I don’t want your money.” Many American Jews of all political denominations see themselves as white and while they may abhor supremacist groups, they aren’t scared by them, even if a prominent white nationalist is on the record as saying that while he supports Trump, he is still bothered by Trump’s Jewish daughter.
Then there is the Ivanka factor. It is hard for many to believe that a man from the world of New York real estate, a man whose daughter converted to marry a Jew, a man whose grandchildren are being raised Jewish and will likely attend Jewish schools, could ever really be bad for the Jews. (After all, one tabloid showed a picture of Ivanka Trump and her husband walking down the street carrying flowers that turned out to be a lulav.) This man may be abhorrent, but how bad could he really be for us?
Finally, it’s possible that American Jews wonder if they have blown all their political capitol on the Iran deal. Prominent American Jews and the entire Jewish Republican establishment screamed themselves hoarse about the deal. While they distanced themselves from Mike Huckabee’s comment about President Obama marching Israelis to the door of ovens, now that there are actual Nazis in American presidential politics, now that we are talking about David Duke again, now that there are loyalty pledges and raised arms at rallies, where are all the Nazi analogies, and why can’t we make them without tempering them? Why aren’t our organizations doing more, saying more? Do we not have any voice left?
Because even if you don’t believe that Donald Trump is an anti-Semite, and even if you don’t believe he himself is dangerous for American Jews, what he has exposed and what he has unleashed, cannot be ignored and cannot be good.
Donald Trump is not Pat Buchanan. He may go away at some point. After November, we may never have to hear the words “Donald Trump” and “president” in the same sentence again. But the forces behind him will not disappear. They are not going anywhere, and if he loses, or if he is denied the nomination, they could only get stronger. We may have used up all our moral equivalence in recent months, but surely all Jewish Americans, including Republican Jews, should be afraid.
Lea Geller is a writer who lives in New York City her family. She blogs at www.thisisthecornerwepeein.com