Donald Trump always takes you by surprise. Just when the Jews thought they were getting a brief recess from presidential pestering while Trump was busy bothering Puerto Ricans, Persians and Bob Corker, Trump pounced on them with a tweet from left field that could be seen as a revival of the bad-old “dual loyalty” canard. Whether he did so wittingly or not will be a matter of some debate.
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“Dem Senator Schumer hated the Iran deal made by President Obama, but now that I am involved, he is OK with it. Tell that to Israel, Chuck!” Trump wrote on Twitter. Essentially, Trump is daring Jewish Senator Chuck Schumer to justify his opposition to revoking the Iran nuclear deal to those other Jews over there in Israel. As if Schumer needs their approval before he can really sign off on a matter that is vital to America’s national security.
It would have been bad enough if the senator in question wasn’t Jewish. If Trump had sent Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy to “Tell that to Israel” it would have been harmful as well. Depicting Israel as a kind of higher tribune that should pass judgment on U.S. policy is not the way that any sane Israeli government would want to be portrayed. But singling out Schumer as the only senator opposed to Trump who needs to clear things with Israel conjures the dual loyalty demon, which many view as anti-Semitic.
Ironically, Schumer was the target of similar insinuations in August 2015, but from the other end of the political spectrum. Because of his opposition to Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, Schumer was accused of being a “warmonger” who serves Israel’s interests. The allegation drew widespread condemnation then, but its main propagator, one should recall, was a cartoon on a leftist website, not the president of the United States. From Stephen Pollard to Walt and Mearsheimer, this is an arena that American Jews have always tried to avoid.
The fact that Trump is throwing down the Israel card in what should be an internal American debate is also a function of the high-profile boost that he has received from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after last week’s speech on the Iran deal and threats to nix it. On Sunday talk shows, Netanyahu sang Trump’s praises in words that would make Sean Hannity blush. Never one to fail to swoon at flattery, perhaps Trump now views Netanyahu as his lawyer or his spokesperson the Iran deal. You want to oppose my policies and uphold the worst deal in history? Go talk to Netanyahu. Let’s see what you come back with.
Of course, the Schumer-to-Israel ploy is not the only offensive element in Trump’s tweet. It offers more proof, if any was needed, that nuance is lost on him. He sidesteps the radical difference between opposing a deal before it is signed and opposing its cancelation, with all the ensuing political and military ramifications, after the deal is done. For Trump everything is about him. If you’re not for him, you’re against him. If Schumer has a different perspective, it’s because he’s a hypocrite who hates Trump, not because he may hold a reasonable position. Maybe Netanyahu will knock some sense into him.
You could argue, as many will, that even if there is even a hint of anti-Semitism, it was unintended. Of course, it’s harder to make that claim convincing given Trump’s very long record of incidents that could only barely be exonerated of being anti-Semitic. From describing Jews as Americans who buy their presidents to disseminating anti-Semitic imagery against Hillary Clinton to describing neo-Nazis as fine people, Trump has proven that he is prone to stereotyping Jews and to embracing, or at least failing to reject, neo-Nazis and other people who are forever harping on the “dual loyalty” of American Jews.
He did it without thinking, others may say, but that could probably and alarmingly be said about most of what Trump does. On a week in which Netanyahu and other laud Trump’s friendship, one might be tempted to ask: With friends like these, who needs anti-Semites?