On Saturday, President Donald Trump gave a speech at the Israeli American Council’s National Summit in Florida. It should have been a straightforward appearance in front of a sympathetic audience. He could have bragged about his close relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, or maybe mentioned how he moved the American Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a move that garnered support from multiple conservative and mainstream Jewish groups even as it angered leftists.
Instead, as CNN reports, he chose to lead with stereotypes of Jews as money-hungry villains, telling the crowd: “A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers, not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me, you have no choice.” He might as well have declared, “Good morning, money stealers.”
According to CNN, “Trump’s remarks were greeted with laughter and applause from the conservative-leaning crowd, which at several points during Trump’s speech chanted ‘four more years.’”
Other less conservative Jewish groups were furious. “We strongly denounce these vile and bigoted remarks in which the president – once again – used anti-Semitic stereotypes to characterize Jews as driven by money and insufficiently loyal to Israel,” Halie Soifer, the executive director of the Jewish Democratic Council of America, wrote in a statement.
J Street, a liberal Jewish group, tweeted their dismay:
The President of the United States is incapable of addressing Jewish audiences without dipping into the deep well of anti-Semitic tropes that shape his worldview. https://t.co/XGewT2VGPC
— J Street (@jstreetdotorg) December 8, 2019
The American Jewish Committee tried to have it both ways, thanking Trump for his support of Israel while admonishing him for perpetuating stereotypes, as USA Today explained:
Dear @POTUS – Much as we appreciate your unwavering support for Israel, surely there must be a better way to appeal to American Jewish voters, as you just did in Florida, than by money references that feed age-old and ugly stereotypes. Let’s stay off that mine-infested road.
— American Jewish Committee (@AJCGlobal) December 8, 2019
Perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Trump frequently uses his support for Israel, not to mention his Jewish daughter and son-in-law/adviser, as a cudgel against criticism for his white nationalist supporters and advisers as well as his general history of anti-Semitic remarks.
For example, in 2017, hate groups from all over the country converged on Charlottesville, Virginia, for the Unite The Right rally, during which they marched through the city’s streets chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Trump, in response, claimed there were “very nice people” on “both sides.” In 2018, a white supremacist killed 11 people at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, and Trump, sidestepping questions of a rise in white nationalism across the country, suggested that all houses of worship have armed guards.
Megan Flynn, writing in The Washington Post, points out Trump also used Jewish stereotypes during his presidential campaign. In 2015, he told the Republican Jewish Coalition “You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians – that’s fine.” One campaign ad, Flynn adds, “featured Hillary Clinton superimposed over mounds of cash along with the Star of David and the phrase, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!”
The speech to the Israeli American Council wasn’t Trump’s only run-in with anti-Semitism for the week. Three days after the Saturday event, The New York Times reported Trump planned to sign an executive order claiming to target anti-Semitism on college campuses.
He planned to do so, Times reporters Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker explain, by “threatening to withhold federal money from educational institutions that fail to combat discrimination.”
Haberman and Baker also wrote on Tuesday night that “The order will effectively interpret Judaism as a race or nationality, not just a religion, to prompt a federal law penalizing colleges and universities deemed to be shirking their responsibility to foster an open climate for minority students.” However, as Jewish Insider, which obtained a copy of the order, reports, “The draft text of the order obtained by JI makes no such reference” to Jews as a nationality.”
Whether the order names Jews as a nationality, it still raises free speech concerns. Leftist Jewish groups, the Times reports, are concerned the order “could be used to stifle free speech and legitimate opposition to Israel’s policies toward Palestinians in the name of fighting anti-Semitism.”
Stosh Cotler, chief executive officer of Bend the Arc, a Jewish social justice advocacy organization, summed up many progressive Jews’ fears, telling the Post, “This president continues to endanger Jews through his embrace of white nationalism, his antisemitic comments and his spreading of conspiracy theories that incite violence.” Trump will continue to hide his anti-Semitism behind a cloak of his support for Israel.