In mid-July, a politician called Jews of European descent “whores” who should “burn in hell.” He did not stop there, however. “I am proud of the six million that were burned,” he said. “I wish that another six million will be burned.” He also called on God to “take the lives of ten million more.”
Even though this politician has close ties to many in the leadership of his party and even among its allies, there naturally were calls for him to be expelled from his party’s ranks, but a party oversight body last Friday ruled otherwise. Although his remarks “crossed red lines in a manner that cannot be accepted”—an understatement if ever there was one — all that mattered, said the ruling, was that he was a “devoted and committed” party member.
Despite this second outrage, too many American Jews who support that party have remained silent, just as they were silent in July when the politician made those disgusting remarks.
This is not so surprising, however. We often hear such repugnant things these days coming from the extreme right of the Republican Party and its fascist-minded allies, and these same Jews ignore the fact that many Republicans, from the top down, continue to court such Jew-hating cretins.
Imagine, though, if it was a Progressive Democrat — Minnesota’s Rep. Ilhan Omar comes to mind — who cheered the murders of our martyred Six Million and prayed for another Holocaust to finish the job Adolf Hitler had begun. The condemnations would be quick in coming, and they would be unceasing.
Making this case even worse, however, is the politician who made these hateful remarks: He is a Moroccan-born Israeli, Itzik Zarka, a Mizrachi, and a member of Israel’s Likud Party. He unleashed this repulsive tirade against Ashkenazim, whom he also called “traitors” and “the cancer of the country,” because Ashkenazim overwhelmingly oppose the Netanyahu government’s attempts to overhaul the country’s judiciary in a way that would make it irrelevant.
The oversight body that ruled to keep Zarka in Likud was the party’s internal court. In so doing, it overruled an order from no less than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to expel Zarka, with whom he has close political ties, because “such disgraceful actions will not be tolerated.”
Zarka, however, is not the only Likudnik to whom the party’s internal court gave a pass last Friday for hateful speech. The tribunal also rejected calls to dismiss two other Likudniks — Rami Ben-Yehuda and Moshe Meron — because, it said, they “are lovers of their people and country” and because they were “incited [by] zombies,” the Likud court’s way of characterizing the anti-overhaul protesters. Among other things, the two are accused of an incident that occurred during a recent gathering of Yom Kippur War veterans at the Western Wall. The two held up signs calling these veterans “traitors” for opposing the judicial overhaul and hurled vicious epithets at them.
Ben-Yehuda has a violent history when it comes to anyone who disagrees with Likud’s agenda. A year ago, on September 25, when he was on Likud’s election campaign payroll, he punched a former Israel Defense Forces colonel who was protesting Netanyahu’s desire to return to office. He also struck another anti-Netanyahu protester over the head with a megaphone. In 2021, he was placed under a restraining order for verbally abusing the wife of a Likud defector, Ze’ev Elkin, who is now a National Unity Party member of Knesset.
Moshe Meron, for his part, was a follower of the late Meir Kahane, whose Kach Party was banned by the Knesset because it incited racism. He later joined the Likud and served briefly in the Knesset, including for a while as a deputy speaker of the legislative body. Last year, he was hired by the Likud to work on its election campaign.
These are the kinds of people Likud attracts these days. That their outrageous behavior is tolerated by the party is not shocking considering that Likud brought two avowed racists into its governing coalition — National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. (Ben-Gvir recently sent a happy birthday message to Zarka.)
What is shocking is that American Jews who vote Republican also tolerate these people, Zarka especially, given his obscene Holocaust rhetoric. (Zarka did apologize, I must note, but only after the condemnations of him were overwhelming.)
Then again, perhaps it is not so shocking, considering the love affair many Jewish Republicans have with a proven antisemite, Donald Trump. I do understand why they support Trump. He moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and recognized Jewish sovereignty over the Golan Heights, among other things. What I do not understand is why they fail to recognize why Trump took those actions. He did so to satisfy his Evangelical Christian supporters, not his Jewish ones, but that makes no difference to Trump’s American Jewish supporters.
Also making no difference, it seems, is Trump’s Rosh Hashanah “greeting” to American Jewry that he posted on his Truth Social platform two weeks ago:
“Just a quick reminder for liberal Jews who voted to destroy America & Israel because you believed false narratives,” he wrote. “Let’s hope you learned from your mistake, and make better choices going forward!”
Trump also repeated some of the statements he has made in the past, such as that Jews who vote for Democrats need “to get their act together” and “appreciate Israel before it’s too late!” which is another way of saying such Jews are disloyal to Israel.
Jewish disloyalty to Israel is an issue with Trump because, on too many occasions, he has made it clear that American Jews are Israelis, not Americans. Netanyahu is “your prime minister,” and Israel is “your country,” he has said in the past.
Even the conservative writer Philip Klein, writing in the National Review, found Trump’s latest tirade to be “disgusting,” as he put it:
“Defenders of Trump will no doubt try to argue that he wasn’t addressing all Jews but just ‘liberal’ ones and also that he was merely posting a flyer that bore the name of ‘Jexit’ — the name adopted by a group of pro-Trump Jews. But the flyer in question…was an old flyer, and…[yet] Trump felt the need to share it this year on Rosh Hashanah, one of the holiest days of the year for Jews.”
Klein then wondered whether “Trump’s defenders would be so understanding if Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer were to post a Merry Christmas message from a left-wing Evangelical group blaming Christian conservatives for destroying America because they didn’t vote for Democrats…. Trump has pushed this message before and will no doubt do so again. But it’s still disgusting.”
Earlier this week, Tim Wise, one of America’s most prominent anti-racist writers and educators, characterized Trump’s message this way in an interview on Salon:
“[By] dividing Jews between the ‘good’ conservative ones and the ‘bad’ liberal ones, Trump is engaging a trope that has always been utilized by anti-Semites. From the ‘good’ Jews who were willing to convert, or at least hide their Jewishness, during the Inquisition to the ‘good’ Jews who served as Kapos to the Nazis, anti-Jewish bigots have always found examples of Jews they like — but only as a cudgel to use against the rest.”
John Roth is a former U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum fellow, Edward J. Sexton professor emeritus of philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, and founder and first director of its Center for the Study of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Human Rights. His credentials are unassailable. In that same Salon interview, he warned that “Trumpism imperils all Jewish Americans, especially to the extent that they defend the highest traditions of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, which resist the corruption and venality that characterize the American fascism of Trump and his MAGA stalwarts. Trump’s hatred of Jewish opposition to him is rooted in his disrespect — and perhaps in some fear — of commitments to justice and truth embedded in the Days of Awe….”
A conservative columnist and two prominent anti-racism educators said those things, yet the Jexit crowd is silent, as is the Republican Jewish Coalition. Apparently, it is okay if the once-and-wannabe future president — who constantly plays up to vicious Jew-haters on the right — says hateful things about Jews. Just as apparently, it is equally okay when an extremist Israeli politician wishes that God would send someone to finish the job Adolf Hitler began.
“If this kind of signaling isn’t confronted, immediately, and forcefully by all Jews…,” Tim Wise said in the Salon interview, “anti-Jewish bigotry will likely grow even stronger.”
To this, I add the words of the Lutheran German theologian Martin Niemöller, spoken in the wake of the Shoah:
“First, they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Make no mistake. When “they” come for “us,” God forbid, they will be coming for all of us, not just the ones who do not vote Republican.
Shammai Engelmayer is a rabbi-emeritus of Congregation Beth Israel of the Palisades and an adult education teacher in Bergen County. He is the author of eight books and the winner of 10 awards for his commentaries. His website is www.shammai.org.