How much more proof do we need?
When is enough really enough?
I asked myself that question as I began to write this week’s column.
I had wanted to write about Chanukah and the concept of freedom of religion it brought into the world 2,160 years ago. Instead, for yet another column, I felt compelled to focus on the mainstreaming of antisemitism in this country and the man who the ever-mounting evidence says gave license to the haters to climb out of their dark holes — Donald Trump. I concluded that there is no such thing as enough when it comes to warning of the dangers we face because of him, his Jew-hating white supremacist following, and the stranglehold they have on the Republican Party.
The question I asked myself, therefore, needed to be refocused. When is enough really enough for all of those among us who cling to Trumpism despite all the evidence?
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The Talmud teaches us that once a person commits a transgression and repeats it, it becomes something he or she considers acceptable to repeat. (See the Babylonian Talmud tractate Sota 22a.) That repetition tells us who that person really is. Trump’s record of antisemitic behavior and statements tell us who he really is. He does not just pander to his racist and antisemitic base, he is himself a racist and an antisemite, and he is its enabler-in-chief.
For one Jewish organization, at least, Trump’s November 22 dinner with two virulent antisemites — the rapper Kanye West and Nick Fuentes, who is arguably this country’s leading Holocaust-denier and antisemite — did cause a somewhat dramatic reassessment, judging by the timeline of the turnaround.
On October 9, West tweeted his now infamous threat to go “death con 3 on Jewish people.”
On October 14, the Zionist Organization of America announced that Trump, “the greatest friend Israel has ever had in the White House,” would receive its highest honor, the Theodor Herzl Medallion, at its upcoming dinner on November 13.
On October 18, Trump defended Kanye West during an interview on the Salem News Network. Almost immediately, a torrent of criticism began to flow from many Jewish groups.
On November 2, the ZOA’s national president, Mort Klein, lashed out against those who criticized Trump’s defense of West. In an op-ed published on Newsweek’s website, he acknowledged that “real Jew-hatred is a serious problem,” but said that problem is made “even more disturbing” when people accuse Trump of being antisemitic.
On November 22, just nine days after the ZOA dinner, Trump doubled down on his defense of West by dining with him for all the world to see. When pressed to apologize for dining with West and Fuentes, Trump refused. He also has refused to criticize either West or Fuentes for their antisemitic rants.
On November 27, Klein came close to doing a complete about-face. In a press release, he called on Trump to “condemn in the strongest possible terms Jew-hater Kanye West and avowed Holocaust-denying, white supremacist Jew-hater Nick Fuentes.” He added that the “ZOA deplores the fact that President Trump had a friendly dinner with such vile anti-Semites,” which “helps legitimize and mainstream anti-Semitism.”
Even Benjamin Netanyahu felt compelled to lash out at Trump, whom he otherwise considers an ally. Said Bibi last week after one of West’s most recent outrages (more about that below), “It’s not merely unacceptable” that “Trump has trouble condemning antisemitic rhetoric.”
For some, apparently, albeit much too few, there does come a point when enough is enough.
Others in the Trump Jewish orbit are having a tougher time reaching that point. Among them, perhaps most notably, is the Republican Jewish Coalition, which could not bring itself to go as far as Mort Klein and the ZOA. In a statement, the RJC said, “We strongly condemn the virulent anti-Semitism of Kanye West and Nick Fuentes and call on all political leaders to reject their messages of hate and refuse to meet with them.” It did not directly mention the dinner, however, and it did not condemn Trump for hosting it.
That same head-in-the-sand approach is one so many in the Republican leadership have taken, and that, to my mind, poses an even greater danger to us.
Let me be clear. These dangers are coming at us from the Democratic left as well, but the greater danger comes from the Republican right.
What more than what we have seen and heard these last few weeks is needed to convince all of us of that?
Most disturbing, though, are the mostly tepid and timid reactions to that dinner that emanated from the leadership of the Republican Party itself.
Trump, of course, insists that he did not know who Nick Fuentes was, but that is laughable on several levels. His Secret Service detail certainly knew who Fuentes was, and it is hard to imagine that his Secret Service protectors failed to point that out to him. His staff also knew who Fuentes was.
In fact, the only way Trump could not have heard of Fuentes is if he never read a newspaper or watched a news program on any station other than Fox News. Fuentes probably is this country’s leading Holocaust-denier and antisemite, and he is often in the news because of it.
For sure, there were Republicans who spoke out harshly against the Mar-a-Lago dinner. Most, however, had sharp words for West and Fuentes, but never mentioned Trump’s hosting of them. After nine days of silence, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell finally issued a stinging rebuke of Trump himself, although he too never mentioned Trump’s name.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy also finally criticized the dinner, but he tempered his comments by saying that “the president will have meetings with who he wants.”
It is easy to understand why McCarthy felt the need to take a step back, albeit not much of one. He wants to be the next Speaker of the House, but he is opposed by his incoming majority’s so-called Freedom Caucus. Last week, former GOP chair Michael Steele warned that if McCarthy does become speaker, it will be the virulently antisemitic Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) who will be pulling his strings. Greene “will be the most powerful Speaker of the House because she will have the opportunity to control what comes out of Kevin’s mouth around the things that matter” to the Freedom Caucus, Steele said.
Greene somewhat incoherently said as much on Steve Bannon’s program on Sunday. Said she, “[Our House] majority is America First starting in January, it is pro-Trump and…the ones who don’t want to [go along], we’re going to be lighting them on fire….”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), the incoming House Judiciary Committee chair, is a leader of the Freedom Caucus. Weeks before the Trump dinner, he already made clear where he and the caucus stood when it comes to West’s Jew-hatred. After West’s “death con 3” tweet in October and Trump’s defense of him, Jordan had this posted on the Twitter account used by the committee’s Republican members, which he controls: “Kanye. Elon. Trump.” It was his — and by extension, their — way of offering praise to West and Trump, and also Twitter’s new owner, Elon Musk.
Adding Musk to that tweet is telling in itself. According to data from the Center for Countering Digital Hate, the Anti-Defamation League, and other groups, antisemitic posts soared more than 61 percent in just the first two weeks after Musk took over ownership of the social media platform.
That “Kanye. Elon. Trump” tweet disappeared a week ago Thursday. Jordan resisted explaining why it was removed, but a spokesman did explain. It was the “repulsive comments” the rapper made the day before. In other words, West had gone off the deep end in a way even Jordan and Company did not want to be associated with.
What was not explained was why that tweet had been posted at all, or why it stayed there for weeks after West made bigoted statements about Jews in a televised interview with Fox News host Tucker Carlson.
West’s “repulsive comments,” for those who have not yet heard, were made on the hate-mongering conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ Infowars show. West argued that Adolf Hitler gets a bad rap. “I see good things about Hitler,” he said, adding, “I like Hitler.” After that appearance, West posted a picture of a Jewish star with a swastika in the center.
This provided another opportunity for the Republican Jewish Committee to do what Mort Klein and Bibi Netanyahu had already done: Condemn Trump for hosting and defending Jew-haters. The best it could come up with, though, was this: “Conservatives who have mistakenly indulged Kanye West must make it clear that he is a pariah. Enough is enough.”
When is enough really enough, though? We have to speak with one united and forceful voice to make it clear that Donald Trump is the enabler-in-chief and that we cannot support anyone who supports him.
The longer it takes for that to happen, the more mainstream antisemitism will become here in the United States. We ignore the dangers in that at our own peril.
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.