Analysis |

If Trump Falls, the Testimonies of Cohen, Pecker and Weisselberg Could Spark an anti-Semitic Backlash

The trio’s public profile is a Jewish stereotype: the lawyer-fixer, the smut-dealing publisher and the numbers whiz who knows it all

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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From left: David Pecker, Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg.
From left: David Pecker, Michael Cohen and Allen Weisselberg.Credit: Stringer/Reuters, Richard Drew/AP, Screenshot from CBS News
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

The name of the lawyer who implicated Donald Trump in the commission of federal crimes is Cohen. The name of the publisher who has agreed to tell investigators how he turned his newspaper into a clearinghouse for Cohen’s payments to women is Pecker. And the name of the accountant who has been granted immunity in order to testify about the role played by the Trump Organization in Cohen’s endeavors is Weisselberg. The common denominators of Cohen, Pecker and Weisselberg, beside their willingness to do whatever it takes for Trump in the past and their apparent willingness to inform on him now, is that all three are indisputably and recognizably Jewish.

Even though it’s too much of a coincidence to ignore, politicians and pundits in the U.S. are in no hurry to dwell on the common characteristics of Cohen, Pecker and Weisselberg. Anyone who does so risks being accused of generalizing, if not actively encouraging anti-Semitism. But this is just the first act: It’s clear that the Jewish gun will go off in the future, somewhere down the line. The racist, supremacist and neo-Nazi element of Trump’s base is already drooling at the impending opportunity of enlisting disgruntled rank and file Trump fans in a battle against the Jewish conspiracy aimed at their idol.

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They may not have to wait long. Trump is in serious trouble and it’s getting worse by the day. Cohen’s admissions in a New York courtroom last week that his payments to porn’s Stormy Daniels and Playboy’s Karen MacDougal were made in accordance with Trump’s instructions have cast the President as a criminal who violated campaign finance laws. Pecker’s testimony could reportedly make clear that the two payments were part of a nefarious system. And Weisselberg’s account, though currently limited to Cohen’s payments, could pave the way to exposure of the long line of alleged misdeeds carried out by Trump as real estate mogul, franchising czar, reality star, presidential candidate and commander in chief.

The road to impeachment is still long, at least until the elections that will be held in 70+ days. Republicans, nonetheless, seem to realize that a Rubicon was crossed this week, and that Trump’s presidency is in real danger. Before Special Counsel Robert Mueller presents his findings on the cardinal question of Trump’s alleged collusion with the Kremlin, Cohen’s hush money capers, hitherto regarded as a sideshow, have captured center stage. They threaten Trump directly, courtesy of Cohen, Pecker and Weisselberg.

Trump’s immediate reaction mirrored that of Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also facing damning testimonies from former confidantes who signed plea deals or were granted immunity. Both leaders launched assaults on what Trump calls “flipping”, known in Israel as “state witnesses”: To save his own hide, Trump, like Netanyahu, is openly trying to undermine a long-accepted prosecutorial ploy that is crucial to convicting criminals. Perhaps it should be made illegal, he suggested.

President Donald Trump speaks during the 2018 Ohio Republican Party State Dinner, August 24, 2018, in Columbus, Ohio.Credit: AP Photo/John Minchillo

Trump repeatedly and profusely praises Paul Manafort, who isn’t Jewish, for remaining loyal despite the past and future convictions awaiting him. Cohen, Pecker and Weisselberg, who sound like a stand-up’s Jewish law firm, are, by implication, part of the vast conspiracy that sounds suspiciously similar to the one confronting Netanyahu, that seeks to bring the President down and to undermine the voters’ verdict.

If Trump emerges unscathed, a scenario that seems increasingly unlikely, fears of anti-Semitic backlash could recede. If Trump is impeached, or forced to resign, or impaired in any other way, shape or form, the outrage against his incriminators and their common heritage could turn into a clear and present danger for American Jews. The American right’s adoration of Israel won’t be an obstacle: Many of Trump’s constituents, like Netanyahu’s, can easily ignore the common bonds between Israel and its greatest Diaspora. Israel is the country of proud and nationalistic Jew-heroes that man the West’s forward outpost against radical Islam and who play a critical role in advancing the End of Days.

American Jews, on the other hand, are prominent carriers of the liberal epidemic that is jointly reviled by Trump and Netanyahu’s bases. Cohen, Pecker and Weisselberg can be easily cast as their malicious or unwitting partners in crime.

The public profile of the tell-all triad is an obnoxious Jewish stereotype in and of itself. Cohen is the “fixer” who does Trump’s dirty work, no questions asked. Pecker is the newspaper mogul who sells his newspapers' soul and ethics in order to wheel and deal in gossip and smut. And Weisselberg is the numbers whiz and money genius that has extricated Trump, in and around the law, from countless bankruptcies and legal quagmires.

From the moment Cohen turned his back on Trump, and more so since Pecker and Weisselberg apparently joined him, the neo-Nazi network is busy preparing the flip side of the coin, the analogy that could impress Trump’s followers, if he falters: The three are portrayed as successors to Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus to authorities.

The connection, and perhaps even mutual attractions, between Trump and the Jews who surround him is, ostensibly, natural. Trump grew up in New York, the biggest Jewish city in the world, at a time when many professions and industries were blocked to Jews, who naturally became doctors, lawyers and accountants. Weisselberg, who according to media reports holds all of Trump’s secrets, started working as an accountant for Trump’s father Fred. Trump’s peace team comes from the same milieu: Ambassador to Israel David Friedman handled Trump’s bankruptcies on behalf of the Mark Kasowitz office that represented him, while Jason Greenblatt ran the Trump Organization alongside Cohen and Weisselberg. Trump also deposited America’s money in the hands of Jews, with Steven Mnuchin at the Treasury and Gary Cohn as the White House’s economic adviser. And let’s not forget Trump’s mentor and role model, the infamous New York lawyer Roy Cohn, who taught Trump all he knows about decimating one’s enemies, no matter what it takes.

But the link between Trump and certain kinds of Jews is hardly coincidental. Trump has made clear on numerous occasions that he believes that Jews are especially and naturally good with money. In a quote in a 1991 book that Trump does not dispute, he said “The only kind of people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” In his infamous initial appearance as a candidate before the Republican Jewish Coalition in December 2015, Trump astonished his audience by saying "This room negotiates perhaps more than any room I've spoken to, maybe more.” He then added insult to injury by proclaiming, “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. Isn’t it crazy?”

Trump’s Jewish daughter and son-in-law serve as human shields that protect him from allegations of anti-Semitism but most of his constituents come from counties with few Jews and plenty of prejudices. They have internalized Trump’s insinuations and can clearly decipher his dog whistles. He refused to relinquish the America First slogan, despite being told of the unpleasant associations it sparks to the pre World War II pro-Hitler movement headed by Charles Lindbergh. He published one campaign ad featuring Hillary Clinton, dollars and the Star of David and another that railed against a globalist conspiracy represented by Jewish mug shots of George Soros, Janet Yellen and Lloyd Blankfein. Trump has since reduced the volume of his subliminal anti-Jewish messaging, because he doesn’t need it any more, but even after coming to the White House he resisted disowning White supremacists or condemning anti-Semitic attacks on his Jewish detractors and made the odious analogy between neo-Nazis in Charlottesville and their opponents.

Before his elections, American Jewish organizations were quick to call out Trump for the suspected anti-Semitic messages in his statements and campaign. Since then, with the prodding of Netanyahu and the vouching of Sheldon Adelson, much of the protest has grown silent. Trump’s disturbing words were swept under the carpet of his decidedly pro-Israeli polices, while Jew-haters receded into the background, or were at least ignored by the media. Let’s give him a chance to “cleanse America,” as they put it.

The Jewishness of the three former Trump aides who have now decided to testify against him could mar the artificial tranquility and, in a worst-case scenario, spark a dangerous wave of anti-Semitism. American Jewish leaders would do well to prepare for such a stormy day, as would Netanyahu, who has placed all of his prestige on Trump and the American right. Based on his record, if Netanyahu is forced to choose between the administration’s pro-settler, anti-Palestinian policies and his duty to fight anti-Semitism and stand up for beleaguered American Jews, they would do well to start seeking their salvation elsewhere.

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