The anti-Semitic undertones in parts of Donald Trump’s speech at a rally last week in West Palm Beach barely registered on the rapidly spinning news cycles of the 2016 presidential campaign, as American voters were buffeted by an avalanche of sex scandals and WikiLeaks revelations.
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What made major headlines in Trump’s speech on Thursday was his adamant denial of accusations of sexual assault from women in his past. But it was the language used by the Republican presidential candidate in the opening of his speech, read carefully from a teleprompter that set off alarm bells for many American Jews. For the first time, it wasn’t only Donald Trump’s fans on the alt-right media and on Twitter or his white supremacist supporters like David Duke, who appeared to embrace anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. It was the candidate himself.
While Trump never directly referred to Jews in his address, he explained to his audience that his campaign was being undermined because it posed an “existential threat” to the amorphous entity he called “global special interests” which he accused of “rigging” the election. Hillary Clinton, he charged, was meeting in secret with “international banks” and manipulating the media in her favor as part of a master plan to rob the United States of its wealth.
In Israel, Trump’s staunchest supporters remained untroubled by his language – defending the Republican nominee in the face of charges of anti-Semitic “dog whistling” coming from American Jewish leaders, criticism from some news organizations and condemnation on social media.
“I certainly do not think those references are to Jews,” said Marc Zell, co-chair of Republicans Overseas Israel and vice president of the group’s international umbrella organization, told Haaretz, echoing some of Trump’s own themes as he defended of the GOP nominee.
Accusing Trump of anti-Semitism, is “a smear tactic of the sort that Trump refers to when he states that the election is "rigged," charged Zell. He said it is “this kind of innuendo and smearing in collaboration with the media (that) prompts Trump" to denounce and cast doubt on the reliability of the election process.
When asked if he shared Trump’s accusation the election was being unfairly and illegally manipulated in Clinton’s favor and “rigged,” Zell replied, “I'm not sure I would use that exact language, but I would say that there are powerful forces willing to use their influence and resources improperly to prevent Trump's election and to advance a globalist agenda supported by Clinton and Obama.”
Zell contended that “collaboration between the media and the Clinton campaign” has been “incontrovertibly revealed” in the WikiLeaks email dumps from campaign chairman John Podesta’s hacked account, which he said the media has “predictably ignored or downplayed.”
Zell also pointed to a new video by conservative provocateur James O’Keefe, currently making the rounds of the right-wing media as evidence of Clinton malfeasance. The two-part video is an undercover effort to directly link the Clinton campaign and the Democratic Party to provocations at Trump rallies in a way that Zell believes “probably violates federal law.”
But, Zell added, reflecting Trump’s distrust of the media, “I doubt that this investigation will see the light of day in your paper and if it does it will undoubtedly be treated as some alt-right conspiracy theory.”
Zell has been transformed into an impassioned campaigner for Trump, after declaring last April during the primary race that the New York business mogul “wasn’t qualified to be president.” He even offered to step down from his leadership positions in Republicans Overseas over feeling he was unable to campaign for Trump, before undergoing a change of heart. Today, his Twitter account relentlessly condemns the “sick” and “corrupt” “dirty-tricks” and “smut-slinging” of the Clinton campaign.
The language in Trump’s West Palm Beach address that left Zell unmoved but sparked concern among Jews included a description of “a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”
Trump declared: “This election will determine whether we are a free nation or whether we have only the illusion of democracy, but are in fact controlled by a small handful of global special interests rigging the system, and our system is rigged. This is reality, you know it, they know it, I know it, and pretty much the whole world knows it. The establishment and their media enablers will control over this nation through means that are very well known.”
Following the speech, critics compared Trump’s words to the infamous tract “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” pointing out chilling similarities.
Trump – and his campaign, after tweeting out some of the troubling quotes from the speech – was chided on Twitter by the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt for the use of rhetoric that had “historically have been used against Jews” and has spurred anti-Semitism.
The next day, Reform Rabbi Jonah Pesner blasted Trump, issuing a statement saying that “such imagery has a long and vile history among those who perpetuate anti-Semitic tropes.”
“It defies belief to assume that Mr. Trump is unaware of the anti-Semitic associations of the messages he is espousing – nor can he be unaware that such messages are being celebrated by neo-Nazis and alt-right organizations,” Pesner said. “Mr. Trump must act responsibly by ceasing to disseminate false, historically anti-Semitic associations. He must also unequivocally repudiate the support of anti-Semites who have embraced his candidacy.”
Pesner is not the first to request or demand a full-throated repudiation by Trump of his “alt right” and white supremacist anti-Semitic supporters. No such clear denunciation however has been forthcoming.
Responding to the ADL criticism, Trump’s representative Jason Greenblatt told JTA that critics of the West Palm Beach speech were “fabricating connections to anti-Semitism” in order to “divert” voters’ attention away from the fact that “Secretary Clinton is at the heart of a global power structure that has stripped the United States of its wealth to line the pockets of corporate and political interests.”
The ADL chief, he said, “seems to be willing to ignore Mr. Trump’s lifelong commitment and support of Israel and the Jewish community, as well as his forceful rebuke of anti-Semitism, but Mr. Trump will not allow anyone to hide the truth from the American people, no matter what illegitimate means they employ to try to do so.”