Last Sunday was the Jewish New Year and High Holy Day of Rosh Hashanah. As a public figure, in his role as ex-president and now Republican 2024 frontrunner, Donald Trump could have chosen many ways to honor Rosh Hashanah. He could have issued an obligatory statement acknowledging Rosh Hashanah and its significance for the Jewish people. Of course, Trump could have simply decided to be quiet instead of being a gum beater. Instead, Trump celebrated Rosh Hashanah by threatening Jewish Americans who do not support him in a post he shared via his Truth Social disinformation platform last Sunday night:
“Just a quick reminder for liberal Jews who voted to destroy America & Israel because you believed in false narratives! Let’s hope you learned from your mistake & make better choices moving forward! Happy New Year!”
Trump’s threats and the distinction he makes between “good Jews” and “bad Jews”, the supporters of him and his neofascist MAGA movement and those who dare to oppose him and it, are centuries-old antisemitic tropes.
Trump’s threats against Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah are but one example of many where throughout his decades of public life – and especially during his time as president and after – where the ex-president has proven himself to be a white supremacist and an antisemite.
During his 2016 campaign, for example, Trump spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition and said, “You’re not gonna support me because I don’t want your money. You want to control your politicians.” He added, “I’m a negotiator — like you folks.”
Several months later, in the runup to Election Day, the Republican promoted antisemitic imagery through social media. In the closing days of the 2016 campaign, Trump again faced accusations of antisemitism, claiming Hillary Clinton met “in secret with international banks to plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty in order to enrich these global financial powers.”
While in office, the then-president used some highly provocative rhetoric about Jews and what he expected about their “loyalties.” Soon after, Trump spoke at the Israeli American Council’s national summit, where he suggested Jewish people are primarily focused on wealth, which is why he expected them to support his re-election campaign.
In an interview in 2021, Trump also said, “The Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel.”
“I’ll tell you, the evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country,” said Trump, who won strong support from white evangelical voters in 2016 and 2020, according to the Pew Research Center.
Trump also came under fire for his remarks in response to the 2017 violence in Charlottesville, Virginia. At the Unite the Right rally in August 2017, white nationalists and neo-Nazis carried tiki torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us,” among other slogans.
Trump has a long history of criticizing Jewish American voters who do not support him and of playing into antisemitic tropes.
More recently, ahead of the 2022 midterm elections, he criticized American Jews for what he argued was their insufficient praise of his policies toward Israel, including moving the US Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
In 2021, Trump claimed Jewish Americans “either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel,” while also suggesting that evangelical Christians “love Israel more than the Jews in this country.” In 2019, he accused Democrats of being part of an “anti-Israel” and “anti-Jewish party.” And during his first campaign for president, Trump delivered a speech to the Republican Jewish Coalition in which he repeatedly referred to the audience of Jewish donors as “negotiators.” He is scheduled to address the group’s annual leadership summit next month in Las Vegas.
America’s democracy crisis and ascendant neofascism are a state of malignant normality where antisocial and other antihuman and antidemocratic behavior becomes increasingly common as elites and the general public grow numb to it.
To that point, Trump’s latest example of antisemitic behavior and the evil it represents should have been the focus of much media coverage, condemnation by the country’s political leaders, and public outrage. Instead, with few exceptions, Trump’s vile behavior was largely ignored, except as the latest controversy of the day in a political environment driven by the 24/7 news cycle, hyper politics, and the culture of distraction. Such is how democracy dies.
Via email, I asked antiracism activist and author Tim Wise for his thoughts about Trump’s threats against Jewish people on Rosh Hashanah and how it fits into a larger context of racial authoritarianism:
This is just more of the same: “othering” distinct numerical minorities for the problems of the country. Whether brown-skinned immigrants, Black folks in cities, trans persons in schools, or Jews at the ballot box, Trumpism and MAGA ideology is all about scapegoating those deemed as somehow deviant from the white, Christian, straight norm. And 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. If this kind of signaling isn’t confronted, immediately, and forcefully by all Jews, and the Christians who constantly tell us how much they love us, anti-Jewish bigotry will likely grow even stronger. And with it, all the other bigotries that are part of Trumpism.
I also asked philosopher and Holocaust scholar John Roth for his thoughts about Trump’s threats against Jewish people who he is targeting because of their “disloyalty.” Roth connects Trump’s antisemitic threats to the ex-president’s recent interview on NBC’s “Meet the Press”:
His reflection deficient, his repentance nonexistent, Donald Trump demonstrated how little he knows and appreciates about Judaism and Jews when his insulting New Year’s jibe to Jewish Americans desecrated Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe by thoughtlessly accusing “liberal Jews” of voting to “destroy America & Israel.”
Earlier that same day, September 17, Kristen Welker’s inaugural “Meet the Press” program featured her fraught interview with the indicted former president. She questioned Trump about his often-repeated vow to take retribution against his political enemies. “When you launched your campaign in March,” she said to him, ” you told the crowd, quote, ‘I am your retribution.’ What does that mean? What does that look like?” With more candor than usual, Trump replied that “I have to protect people,” making clear that he meant his staunch, anti-democratic, and often violence-prone allies. “When I talk about retribution,” he insisted, “I’m talking about fairness.”
That comment was cunning and deceitful at once. Trump divides the world into those who support him and those who don’t. In his calculations, fairness for his supporters means—it requires—payback and revenge against his opposition. That’s how his protection scheme works. In his words and calculations, in his retribution racket, Trump’s transactional antisemitism is writ large.
In an email to Salon, Ethan Katz, who is Associate Professor of History and Jewish Studies at UC-Berkeley, and co-founder of the Antisemitism Education Initiative at Berkeley, historicized Trump’s most recent antisemitic screed in the following way:
The idea that many Jews are “unpatriotic” and working against the interests of the nation, unless they pass a certain purity test, goes back to longstanding antisemitic notions about Jewish dual loyalty, Jewish conspiracy, and Jewish power and control behind the scenes. Speaking here of “liberal Jews” sounds to many like it is code for the likes of George Soros, which for the extreme right is very clearly code for Jewish bankers, for Jews who allegedly control the world financial system, have enormous power, and exploit the masses. And the notion is present here also that Jews should be grateful for all that the government is doing for them — as if they are a monolith separate from everyone else, defined solely by their ethnicity or religion in how they vote, and see the world, and identify.
In reality, of course, for most American Jews, Israel is only one of a number of important issues shaping their voting behavior, and views of Israel for a majority of American Jews are far more nuanced than the views President Trump represents here. Moreover, deciding to target Jews on one of their holiest days in this way also comes uncomfortably close to medieval images of Jews as religiously impure due to their alleged opposition to Christianity, and the persistent (if clearly false and discredited claim) that they had murdered Jesus Christ.
Trump’s antisemitic and white supremacist threats are both contributing to and reflect a larger societal environment where hate crimes and right-wing terrorism have been escalating during his time in office and now almost 3 years since he was defeated by President Biden.
Law enforcement and other experts are continuing to warn that white supremacists and other right-wing extremists and malign actors represent the greatest threat to the country’s domestic safety and security. Neo-Nazis and other white supremacists and neofascists have engaged in mass shootings and other such lethal violence targeting Jewish people, Muslims, African-Americans, the LGBTQI community, and other marginalized groups and “enemies” throughout the Trumpocene.
In Florida, neo-Nazis have become increasingly emboldened by Gov. Ron DeSantis, a man who they correctly see as their leader. Ron DeSantis, Donald Trump, and other leading Republican fascists and their forces are enacting an Orwellian Thought Crime regime in Florida and other parts of the country, where “un-American” and “un-patriotic” books and other materials deemed too “woke” or otherwise contaminated with the “Critical Race Theory Mind Virus”, i.e. they are not right-wing indoctrination and propaganda mind killers, are being banned. These banned books (and courses) include those that focus on the Holocaust.
“Disloyal” and “dangerous” teachers and other educators are also being threatened with violence, harassed, and even fired from their jobs.
19th-century German poet Heinrich Heine’s warning that “those who burn books will in the end burn people” most certainly applies to the Age of Trump.
In his email to Salon, Katz also emphasized how America’s rising tide of antisemitism, white supremacy, neofascism, and other attacks on multiracial pluralistic democracy and society in the Age of Trump and beyond are part of a much larger revolutionary project by the global right:
In some respects, Trump’s relationship to Jews echoes that of a leader like Viktor Orban in Hungary, who is openly autocratic, and has embraced Far Right conspiracy theories about George Soros that seem unmistakably antisemitic, but also has built alliances with more conservative elements in the Hungarian Jewish community. Like the supporters of Orban and a growing number of autocrats in Europe and beyond, many in the MAGA movement appear skeptical of the importance of democratic institutions, and a significant number of these voters are openly hostile to the achievements of the Civil Rights movement and ongoing efforts to make America a more fulsome multiracial democracy. Here I’m speaking of those who really embrace white nationalism, which fixates obsessively on Jews in well-documented and terribly dangerous ways. The American Jewish community, as I mentioned, is diverse in its politics, even as more than 70% of Jewish voters supported Joe Biden, as they have every Democratic nominee for president for decades. But the role that conspiratorial thinking about Jews plays for many of Trump’s most right-wing supporters is very worrisome. And Trump’s willingness to single out Jews for critique about their voting behavior, on one of their holiest days, will surely be read by many of those voters as a symbol of a shared preoccupation with Jews and alleged Jewish power and influence. Whatever your politics, this should be a cause of grave concern.
Trump’s antisemitic threats are not part of a separate and distinct “culture war” by the right-wing as too many among the mainstream news media and political class (especially “centrists” and “liberals” and “progressives”) have reflexively and lazily suggested in their attempts to create some false distinction between “real politics” such as voting, elections, and “the economy” vs. “silly” and “dumb” and “distracting” “culture war” issues.
There is no “culture war”: in reality, the so-called culture war is a fascist war where the neofascists, white right, and other illiberal and antidemocracy forces know that culture and “real politics” are closely linked as spaces where power (and the future) are contested and won (or lost).
Ultimately, those people who mock and dismiss Trump and the Republican fascist’s antisemitism and larger “culture war” behavior are speaking from a lofty perch of imagined security and false safety.
For those who are being targeted, this is all very deadly serious business.
I conclude this essay with a warning from John Roth:
Attacks on some Jews don’t stop there. The contagion spreads. 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 and resolved to hold him accountable.
You have been warned again. We, who are the miner’s canary, keep telling you to wake up. Unfortunately, too many people in America insist on not listening.
about Trump’s antisemitism