Those who regard the push to impeach and remove Pres. Donald Trump from office as a righteous cause see themselves in the front ranks of the fight against hate. But in one of the many ironies that have become so commonplace in politics in the age of Trump, the same people who believe they are attempting to save the republic if not civilization itself from the scourge of the 45th president are becoming unwitting impediments to the actual struggle against anti-Semitism.
That was made clear during the course of the two weeks preceding the House of Representatives vote to impeach Trump when many liberal or left-wing Jews seized upon the president’s actions and statements as further proof of the justice of the “resistance” to him. Trump’s speech to the Israeli-American Council (IAC) in which he both invoked old and dangerous tropes about Jews and money while urging Jews to be more supportive of Israel sparked fresh outrage among his critics.
Days later, his signing of an executive order seeking to extend protections of Title VI of the 1964 Civil Rights Act to Jewish students who are being intimidated by anti-Semitic Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) propaganda on college campuses was interpreted by many on the left as a dog whistle to Jew haters on the far right and an attack on free speech. To his detractors, this seemed to sum up the threat he supposedly poses to American freedom in one bold stroke.
But however much the majority of Jews may despise Trump, it’s time for even those most obsessed with what they consider to be his awfulness to pause and consider whether their instinct to resist him is really more important than combating anti-Semitism.
Part of the problem here is the way the “everyone I can’t stand is Hitler” paradigm has reached absurd levels with respect to attitudes toward the president. It’s all well and good to oppose his conduct or his policies and even to support impeaching him if you are willing to countenance what turned out to be a partisan show.
Yet the last weeks seem to crystallize the way the discussions about anti-Semitism have not so much been influenced by partisan politics as they have completely taken them over. We already knew that many on the left have become blind to Jew hatred coming from their end of the spectrum and many conservatives seem equally unwilling to confront hate on the right.
But the discussion of Trump’s executive order showed that we’ve gone far beyond the hyper-partisanship that is the essence of public debate in contemporary America. The willingness of so many on the left to not merely ignore the fact that Trump was taking action against anti-Semitism but to claim his executive order was either an attack on free speech (a consideration that no one thinks applies to federal restrictions on colleges promoting racism against blacks or Hispanics) or a racist redefinition of Jewish identity that was inspired by white supremacist attitudes demonstrated that rational debate is no longer possible about the subject.
Trump is responsible for helping to undermine civil debate on this and most other issues. The president’s comments to a supportive IAC audience provided ammunition for his critics. By saying that Jews should be especially opposed to Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s wealth tax and making a passing remark about Jewish real estate brokers in New York being “brutal,” he seemed to be invoking traditional anti-Semitic tropes about Jews and money.
His words were inappropriate but were also delivered in the context of a speech in which he criticized Jews for not being supportive enough of Israel and in which he gave a ringing and unqualified condemnation of anti-Semitism from both the left and the right. That makes it hard to argue that he’s actually encouraging Jew hatred. Or at least it would be if so many of us weren’t driven off the deep end by him.
However it would be foolish to assume that we’ll go back to normal once Trump leaves office either in 2021 or 2025. The politicization of anti-Semitism and the lack of restraint and good sense as well as the refusal to credit political foes with good intentions under any circumstances in the discussion of the issue have become normalized.
Trump bears some of the blame for that but the same is true of his detractors whose impulse is to demonize both the president and his defenders. If the “resistance” isn’t willing to recognize that Trump is not only NOT an anti-Semite but actually someone who has done a great deal to fight it, then it has become part of the problem rather than its solution.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS.org and a columnist for the New York Post. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.