Yesterday on twitter and at a rally in West Palm Beach, Donald Trump claimed that Hilary Clinton is part of an international bank conspiracy to take over America. In other sweeping comments in recent days, he has also claimed the media is also in league with Hilary. In his own words:
“@HillaryClinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich” her donors. – DJT
— Official Team Trump (@TeamTrump) October 13, 2016
“We’ve seen this firsthand in the WikiLeaks documents in which Hillary Clinton meets in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers, her special interest friends and her donors.”
“The most powerful weapon deployed by the Clintons is the corporate media, the press…”
The statements are striking in their similarities to anti-Semitic tropes wherein Jewish bankers and media moguls run a global plot to dominate the world. See a side-by-side comparison of Trump’s speech with the Protocols of the Elders of Zion by JTA Correspondent Ron Kampeas.
These conspiracy theories and others are popularly held among the “alt-right,” a moniker for a nativist-racist movement that was handed the limelight by Donald Trump’s political career — and has cheered on Trump’s most xenophobic comments.
And while many Jewish individuals have spoken up to oppose Trump’s demagoguery from the very beginning, the traditional defenders against anti-Semitism have been surprisingly silent. As chronicled by Peter Beinart, the episodic objections from the most recognizable, longest-standing Jewish defense groups strike one as surprisingly few: the the Anti-Defamation League (five times), the Simon Weisenthal Center (twice), the American Jewish Committee (once), and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (not once). The Republican Jewish Committee has even been a proud defender of Trump, despite recent Bend the Arc campaigns to pressure them disavow his statements on women.
(Author’s note: Some readers misunderstand my use of “Jewish establishment” to mean “Jewish conservatives.” That is not the case, since many if not most of these organizations are dominated by Jewish Democrats and hew to a liberal line on most issues except Israel. Indeed many Jewish conservatives have spoken against Trump — much more often than, say, the American Jewish Committee, an ostensibly liberal-minded group.)
Truly surprising is the right-wing pro-Israel blogosphere, where settler enthusiasts regularly pillory Jewish leaders for being insufficiently attuned to anti-Semitism on campuses and on the left. One cannot count the number of times StandWithUs, the Israel Project, the David Project, and all too many others accuse Palestinian and Jewish speakers of even latent anti-Semitic language. The crusades to label Israel boycotts as anti-Semitic by nature stand in daft, deafening contrast to the bold Jew hatred of Trump’s die-hard followers and his own coded statements.
Many will point out that these organizations are 501(c)3 and thus not allowed to engage in politics. That’s not totally true, as the US tax code allows even nonprofits to spend up to 10% of their budgets on nonpartisan advocacy — as many churches and unions do during election years. That means the American Jewish Committee could spend $5.4 million of its $54.8 million unrestricted budget in 2015. The Simon Wiesenthal Center could spend $2.9 million. What could they have done with such a war chest? A far cry more than a couple statements. If, as they claim, they oppose bigotry in all its forms, then a historic opportunity to do that was missed.
Newer organizations, reshaping American Jewish engagement for Millennials and many others, haven’t hesitated. The boldest is Bend the Arc’s political action arm, which bills itself as the only Jewish group openly opposing Trump’s candidacy. The Reform Religious Action Center called for a walkout of Trump’s speech at AIPAC, as well as a smaller group of AIPAC attendees. During his speech to AIPAC, the newly-founded #IfNotNow, devoted to ending establishment Jewry’s support for Israel’s occupation, organized the most visible protest outside the convention center. And while J Street’s political arm is more focused on Iran and down ballot races, their attack ads are proudly punishing Congressional candidates for their endorsements of Trump.
Yesterday’s statement will undoubtedly draw virulent condemnations from previously quiet leaders of American Jewry. It already drew the attention of Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, who took strongly to twitter and in a statement to The New York Times:
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) October 13, 2016
I congratulate Greenblatt for being one of the few so outspoken. The ADL here stands as a notable centrist outlier — so where are all the groups to ADL’s right who regularly assail Greenblatt and all those of us to the left for being insufficiently attuned to anti-Semitism?
No doubt many others will join in the condemnation after today — and will enjoy the safety of knowing that Trump’s highly likely defeat means they didn’t have to pay a consequence when the moment was dire. Their muted protests and even active enabling come too little, too late. Just as moderate Republicans will continue to wear the stench of race-baiting, xenophobia and misogyny for years to come, so unfortunately will many Jews and Jewish organizations.
If Trump’s race-baiting against Mexicans in his campaign kick-off speech wasn’t deplorable enough from the get-go. If his call to ban Muslims from entering the US wasn’t shocking enough. If only now, when he’s scuttled his campaign with his comments against women and gone “unshackled” into anti-Semitic tropes — no, no, it’s far too late to claim the mantle of opposing oppression and prejudice.
Much like the wholesale rejection of the Movement for Black Lives by many Jewish institutions, what we’ve seen over the past year is the inadequacy of many of our current leaders to meet the challenges of our day. If America has truly come so uncomfortably close to putting a purveyor of anti-Semitic tropes into our country’s highest office, then something is deeply flawed in the way we’ve pursued tolerance education, anti-oppression, and alliances with black, Hispanic, and Americans of color.
Many of our Jewish institutions and leadership are missing — indeed already missed — the opportunity to be part of America’s civil rights and progressive movement of the Millennial era.