Behind the Recent Rise in Antisemitism You’ll Find Donald Trump
A reminder that there’s no Zoom call this Friday.
Sources Cited in this Video:
Kanye West’s antisemitic statements.
University of Virginia historian David Austin Walsh’s twitter thread on Kanye West and the recent history of Black class resentment of Jews.
James Baldwin’s 1967 essay, “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They're Anti-White.”
Rebecca Mastriano, the wife of the Republican nominee for Pennsylvania governor, claims “We probably love Israel more than a lot of Jews do.”
Donald Trump says American Jews must “get their act together” and love Israel.
In Haaretz, Mira Sucharov shows that American Jews’ commitment to Zionism varies dramatically depending on how you define it.
This Friday, I’ll be participating in an online symposium entitled, “Israel, Palestine, and the First Amendment.”
Last week, for the Foundation for Middle East Peace’s “Occupied Thoughts” podcast, I spoke with Orly Noy, Natasha Roth-Rowland, and Sarah Anne Minkin about the term “Jewish supremacy.”
If you didn’t get your fill of Meir Kahane debates in last week’s newsletter, here’s another, featuring subscriber Jerome Segal.
Hi. We do not have a call this Friday. I’m gonna be doing some traveling, and I’m also gonna be speaking at a pretty interesting event on Friday—usually about the time I do the Zoom call—about Israel-Palestine and the First Amendment with a lot of really interesting scholars and activists. So, I’ll put the link in the chat if folks are interested in signing on to that.
I wanted to just say something quickly about these incidents of antisemitism that have gotten a lot of attention recently, of course around Kanye West and then, even more recently, around this gubernatorial candidate in Pennsylvania, Mastriano and his wife, kind of saying that their family loves Israel more than Jews. Whenever these incidents of antisemitism seem to kind of come up a lot—there’s this kind of flurry of them—I think there’s a tendency for people to respond by saying, well, you know, antisemitism is just always there, it’s mysterious, it returns in so many different guises. But I think it’s worth noting that there are particular threads here. This isn’t just completely random stuff. And I think the common thread between these two, more than people have recognized, has to do with the way that Donald Trump has changed American discourse. So, I think it’s not saying that by any means that all antisemitism in the United States today can be attributed to Donald Trump, but I think it’s really important to remember that there are things that Donald Trump has really injected and amplified into the American political bloodstream that have had wide-ranging effects. And one of those is to legitimize forms of antisemitism in ways that they wouldn’t have been legitimized before.
So, first on the Kanye West story. So, Kanye West is talking about Jews exploiting Black people in the media industry, Jews controlling the media. There’s an interesting thread that I’ll put in the email by a historian at UVA named David Austin Walsh, who starts by noticing that these kinds of tropes are nothing new. Kanye has talked about this for a while. There have been a series of Black public figures who kind of talked this way in the past, even going back to James Baldwin’s famous essay where he writes that, “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” Walsh notes that there’s a kind of an economic basis for certain class conflict between Black Americans and Jews, and that, tragically, that class conflict can get turned into antisemitism, kind of like what Karl Marx famously called “The Socialism of Fools,” when essentially you’re trying to express a hostility to a certain capitalist structure, but instead of focusing on the structure, you focus on the fact that Jews are in a particular moment in time playing a certain role in that structure. And so, you focus on Jews as rapacious, as exploiters, as money-grubbing, and money obsessed. And that’s what Kanye West is doing. Louis Farrakhan would do that for years. In some ways, it’s not that new. What I think is new is the fact that it now crosses this ideological boundary. Because Kanye West is a Trump supporter, because he—although being a Black public figure—is now someone who’s embraced by parts of the far White Nationalist right, these tropes now are being exploited on the right as well. You see the kind of neo-Nazis putting up these “Kanye was right” signs over highways. And it is because, I think, Trump emboldened the far right, that he created the possibility for this kind of cross-over effect between someone like Kanye West, who is saying things that sadly have been said by, you know, Black celebrities before. But now, they actually have this base of support on the White Nationalist far right, which also has an interest in propagating these tropes. And that’s partly because Trump himself has spoken very similarly to Kanye, right? I mean the things that Kanye is saying—associating Jews with money—are things that Trump has said many, many times. He’s told Jewish audiences that they won’t support him because he doesn’t want their campaign contributions. He said that everyone in this room are dealmakers. He said that you will vote for me because what you care about is your pocketbooks. He’s repeatedly associated Jews with money in, you know, in a kind of way that Kanye is doing, and I think he’s also emboldened others among these political supporters to feel like that’s a legitimate discourse. And that has created, I would say, a kind of market for Kanye’s antisemitic speech that would not have been there before.
The second incident—that I think it’s important to understand Trump’s role in—is this event that just happened a couple of days ago, where the Republican gubernatorial candidate, Mastriano, in Pennsylvania was confronted about his attack on his Jewish opponent, Josh Shapiro’s having gone to a Jewish school, his ties to some far-right figures. And Mastriano’s wife takes the podium, and she says, you know, we actually love, in our family, we love Israel more than many Jews. This is again, you’ve noticed, this doesn’t come out of the blue. This has been Trump’s line, right. This Trump has said now repeatedly that basically there’s something wrong with American Jews because they don’t love Israel as much as he does. And again, I think you see the way that Trump has changed American discourse in ways that make antisemitism more legitimate. Right-wing American support, evangelical Christian support for Israel is really nothing new. It goes back certainly to the 1980s. But I think what is more new is this use of the Christian right support for Israel as a weapon to attack Jews in the United States. And what that is about, I think, is the increasing role that Israel plays as a model on the American right for what the United States should be, which is that Israel is an ethno-state. It has democratic features, certainly for Jews, but it is basically built on protecting the privilege of one dominant ethno-religious group, which is what many on the White Christian Nationalist right want in the United States: a set of policies that, even though they may have some democratic features, will ultimately maintain White Christian male power. And Trump has really, I think, made that much more dominant in the Republican party than it was before, which is part of the reason now that I think you see that people on the right are not just saying they like Israel, but because they’re using Israel as a model of what they want in the United States—and they’re seeing that most American Jews oppose that model often quite publicly and vocally—they’re then turning the Israel issue on American Jews by saying: you don’t really love Israel. And part of that is a way of saying: you don’t really support the United States in becoming a country that is more like Israel. You can see this even in the more extreme forms, right, in the way that the shooter in Pittsburgh in the Tree of Life massacre, he attacked a synagogue because he felt that Jews were supporting immigrant caravans from Central America, and undermining America’s demographic character.
So, the point that I’m trying to make about both of these cases—Kanye and Mastriano—is that there were things in the culture that were already there: a certain Black class resentment that expressed itself in antisemitism, a Christian support for Israel. But the way that Trump has talked by associating Jews with money, by creating a far-right base for antisemitism from someone like Kanye West, and by making Israel a kind of model for the ethno-state that Trump wants to support in the United States, and therefore using that to turn that against Jews, I think these are all ways in which Trump has actually made these various strands of antisemitism much more mainstream, has amplified them. And so, if one wants to think about how to battle against antisemitism, I don’t think that one can divorce that from the struggle against what Donald Trump has done to American politics, and what Donald Trump’s followers in the Republican party are doing to American politics. Not to say that all antisemitism in the United States comes from Trump and the right. Obviously, it doesn’t. But, if you look carefully, you can see the role that I think he’s playing in these changes in the discourse—changes in the discourse that are frightening for Jews, but I think also frightening for just making America the kind of country that we’d like it to be. Take care. Again, no call this Friday, but we’ll be back on a week from Friday.