Opinion

Pro-Israel Jews Will Still Vote Trump. Even When He Promotes anti-Semites and Holocaust Deniers

25 percent of U.S. Jews are convinced the president is their best friend. There is nothing Trump could do or say, short of bombing Israel, that would change their mind

Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin
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U.S. President Donald Trump pauses in front of a diagram while touring the Ford Rawsonville Components Plant, repivoted towards ventilators and medical supplies, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, U.S., May 21, 2020
U.S. President Donald Trump pauses in front of a diagram while touring a Ford plant, repivoted towards ventilators and medical supplies, in Ypsilanti, Michigan, U.S., May 21, 2020Credit: LEAH MILLIS/ REUTERS
Jonathan S. Tobin
Jonathan S. Tobin

Looking for more evidence that President Donald Trump actually hates Jews? If so, you rarely have long to wait to find a stray comment or a bizarre re-tweet from the account of @realDonaldTrump to back up your theory.

But if you think any of it is likely to change the minds of the quarter or more of American Jews who will vote for Trump in November, you haven’t been paying much attention to the issues that interest them, or the way people think, in the current toxic and bifurcated political culture in which Americans live.

Trump famously boasted that his fans would still support him even if he shot someone walking down New York City’s Fifth Avenue. His ability to survive the sort of catastrophic gaffes and embarrassments that would have destroyed any other candidate proved him right.

To extend the hyperbolic metaphor, it’s likely that there is nothing he could do or say, short of dropping a bomb on the State of Israel that would convince pro-Trump Jews that he is not on their side, or that he isn’t still much the lesser of two evils when compared to his foes.

Nor are they alone in this kind of thinking in a country where the two major parties have morphed into warring tribes that don’t read, listen to or watch the same media and always believe the worst about each other.

After all, many Democrats have made it clear they don’t care if the man they are nominating to oppose him — former Vice President Joe Biden — might be guilty of sexual assault or if he has done or said other things worthy of outrage. As one columnist wrote in The Nation, she would still vote for Biden even if she learned that "he boiled babies and ate them."

In this context, it’s obvious that pro-Trump Jews are not going to be persuaded otherwise by the latest crop of Trump scandals-de-jour.

Trump’s latest outrage came when acknowledging the family that still runs the iconic car company where he appeared this past week. His praise of the "bloodlines" of the descendants of Henry Ford led some to claim that the remark was yet another dog whistle to the far right, who would connect the dots between the company founder’s rabid anti-Semitism and the use of a racial term like "blood" and see it as a signal of approved for Ford’s hate.

As Trump gaffes go, this is pretty weak tea.

To the extent that generally car crazy Americans, most of whom learn little of their country’s standard history, let alone much about early 20th century American anti-Semitism, know of Ford, it is as the man whose company made the first mass-produced automobile and who paid his workers a living wage that allowed them to actually buy the product they made. 

The assumption that his praise of the Ford family’s background meant anti-Semitism, and not the Model T or even the company’s successful challenge to Ferrari in grand prix auto racing (the subject of a popular 2019 film), is the product of a mindset that is convinced that Trump is not merely bad, but the source of all evil.

His critics were on firmer ground when they noted his recent retweet of Michelle Malkin, contending that tech companies are censuring dissent.

Malkin, a once reputable writer, has, become an alt-right heroine for her defense of Holocaust deniers and has been rightly ostracized by responsible pro-Trump conservatives. One wonders whether the president knew that Malkin is a supporter of extremist trolls called groypers who have targeted his son, Donald Trump, Jr. But either way, his encouragement of her was disgraceful.

President Donald Trump on Charlottesville: 'You Had Very Fine People, On Both Sides.' Aug 15, 2017

But, as with his dangerous conflation of opponents of removing Confederate statues with neo-Nazi marchers in Charlottesville, Virginia in 2017, or his misguided statements about Democrat-voting Jews show "great disloyalty", Trump’s Jewish supporters find his critics unpersuasive. 

Most politically conservative and Orthodox Jews are litmus test pro-Israel voters. Liberals may identify with the marginalized remnants of the political left in Israel and dismiss Trump’s moves on Jerusalem, the Golan Heights, holding the Palestinian Authority accountable for subsidizing terror and his withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal. 

But to those Jews who are most engaged in pro-Israel activism, they are, along with his groundbreaking executive order attacking anti-Semitism on college campuses, incontrovertible proof that Trump is the best friend the Jews have ever had in the White House.

The opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. May 14, 2018
The opening ceremony of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. May 14, 2018Credit: Emil Salman

Democrats and Never Trump former Republicans argue that even if you support the president’s policies, they are bad for Israel. They say that the association with Trump is tarnishing the Jewish state and worsening the partisan divide on the issue. But this has it backwards. 

If Democrats are increasingly divided on Israel, this is a trend that long predates Trump and was largely weaponized by Barack Obama’s feud with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as well as his determination to make his dangerous Iran deal a partisan litmus test for Democrats. If you care about Israel, it is entirely reasonable to reward its friends and to oppose its critics.

Trump has the highest approval ratings from members of his own party than any recent GOP president because he has delivered, not only on Israel but also on policies they care about across the board. They also believe the Democrats will enact policies they fervently oppose.

In particular, pro-Trump Jews find it puzzling that some prominent former conservative pundits, like William Kristol, David Frum and Jennifer Rubin, who a decade ago thought Obama’s policies toward Israel and Iran weren’t merely wrong but an "emergency," which decent Americans should mobilize to combat, are now ardent Biden supporters because of their animus for Trump.

A Biden administration will, at best, be a rerun of the Obama record  — and might be even more critical of the Jewish state. Under these circumstances, Jewish Trump voters consider the support of these Never Trumpers for Biden to be a betrayal that is not explained by scruples about comments that have no impact on the policies of a president whose friendship for Jews (including members of his family) should not be questioned.

U.S. President Donald Trump looks over at Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference announcing his Mideast peace plan at the White House . January 28, 2020
U.S. President Donald Trump looks over at Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a joint news conference announcing his Mideast peace plan at the White House . January 28, 2020Credit: JOSHUA ROBERTS/ REUTERS

To the contrary, they, like many on the right, think the divide about Trump is more about elite contempt for working class Americans and those of faith than any real concern about morals.

The formula to explain reactions to Trump first put forward in 2015 by journalist Selena Zito still holds. Trump’s opponents take him literally but not seriously. His supporters take him seriously but not literally. It can be argued that this gives Trump license to say bad things or encourage radicals. But it’s equally true that the controversies he has engendered are rooted in the delight that he and his supporters get from trolling his media opponents.

After three and a half years, Trump opponents are more convinced than ever of his unfitness for office. But his supporters are equally convinced of the bad faith of his opponents, since they believe the Russian collusion charges and a dubious impeachment based on the holdup of aid to Ukraine were shams whose purpose was to reverse legitimate election results.

In such an environment, expecting anyone, least of all Zionist Jews  —who look to Trump as Israel’s greatest friend  —  to change their minds because of talk of dog whistles to extremists, is absurd.

Jonathan S. Tobin is editor-in-chief of JNS (the Jewish News Syndicate) and a contributing writer for National Review. Twitter: @jonathans_tobin

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