When I was a teenager in the late 1980s, I attended a Jewish summer camp. In between the basketball and talent shows and color wars, we would have educational activities. I remember one of them vividly.
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It was a discussion inspired by the question, “Would the United States ever elect a Jewish president?” The counselor was skeptical, the campers optimistic.
A dozen years later, Al Gore selected Connecticut Senator Joe Lieberman as his Vice Presidential running mate. Lieberman was religiously devout and an ardent Zionist.
Despite much speculation (and some concern in the Jewish community), his nomination did not inspire a wave of anti-Semitism. Americans didn’t seem to care, as the Gore/Lieberman ticket won a majority of the popular vote.
In 2016, Bernie Sanders ran a strong campaign for President, winning 23 Democratic primaries or caucuses. With a few exceptions, his campaign was not subjected to anti-Semitic attacks.
Yet this year we have a candidate for president whose campaign has inspired a vocal following among anti-Semites.
Donald Trump shares images and tweets from white supremacists with his millions of followers. They, in turn, use social media to attack Jews who publicly oppose Trump’s election or simply ask Trump to stop playing footsie with fascists. These attacks are often explicitly anti-Semitic.
For most of these Jews, this is their first time being subjected to anti-Semitic attacks. As we have seen from their testimonials, it is an unnerving experience.
Dana Schwartz found herself in this situation. Among the threats and jeers, an image of Schwartz in a gas chamber and a smiling Trump with his finger on the button. But unlike most journalists, she happened to work at the New York Observer, a newspaper owned by Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.
Kushner is more than just a Trump by marriage. He is a confident of the candidate, an advisor and a fixer. He is also, like Lieberman, religiously devout Jew and an ardent Zionist.
So Schwartz wrote a public letter to Kushner. How, she asked, could he support a man who promotes anti-Semitic propaganda and whose followers attack Jews with anti-Semitic language and imagery?
Kushner responded. He testified to Trump’s acceptance of him and his wife, who converted to Judaism. He told his own family’s harrowing Holocaust story. He asserted that the accusations against Trump are overblown.
He condemned the attacks on Schwartz. And then he seemed to concede the obvious. The Star of David money shot was a problem. It was no ordinary star. It had been posted in haste. Trump (or his team) can be “careless” and make “small mistakes.”
Later that day, at a press conference, Trump disagreed. He hadn’t been careless and no mistakes had been made. The tweet, which had been removed, should have stayed up. The Jewish star on the pile of money held no deeper meaning. While he didn’t mention Kushner by name, the rebuke was plain.
According to classic anti-Semitic myth, Jews exert control from behind the scenes. So a Lieberman or a Sanders, while undesirable to the typical anti-Semite, is ironically less of a threat than Jewish reporters, financiers, and intellectuals pulling the strings behind the scenes. And, less of a threat than a Jew like Jared, whispering in Trump’s ear.
When push comes to shove, and push certainly will come to shove, Jews should know that Trump doesn’t need them. That’s what he told the assembled at the Republican Jewish Coalition this past December; it’s what he told the press when he undercut his son-in-law.
He needs only the mob. Jews are expendable.
Mik Moore is the President of the Jewish Council for Education & Research, a progressive Super PAC. He is the principal at Moore + Associates, a creative agency that brings comedy to causes and campaigns. Follow him on Twitter.