One has to wonder if Trump realizes that the neo-Nazis he was so reluctant to condemn by name would include among their targets his precious daughter Ivanka and her children, his grandchildren.
For all of them are Jews and Jews are the target of the neo-Nazis who marched in Charlottesville, every bit as much as they were the target of the Nazis who rallied in Nuremberg.
Just as the Nazis did in Germany, so the neo-Nazis in Virginia marched with their arms raised giving the Nazi salute, carried flags adorned with the swastika, shouted anti-Semitic slogans like “blood and soil,” (an English rendering of the Nazi “blut und boden”) and “Jews will not replace us” — casting Jews as foreign interlopers who need to be eliminated. They wore shirts featuring quotes from Adolf Hitler. One of their banners read, “Jews are Satan’s children.” One of their leaders told them that “The truth is the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause,” echoing the words of Josef Goebbels. Another leader mocked Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer. “Little Mayor Signer — ‘See-ner’ — how do you pronounce this little creep’s name?” he asked. The crowd responded by chanting, “Jew, Jew, Jew.”
There is a teaching in the Talmud that “shtika k’hoda dummi,” which means staying silent is like giving approval. For two days, Trump was silent, would not by name condemn the neo-Nazis, those who admire what was done to the Jews of Europe, those who would do the same to the Jews of America.
It is tiresome and beyond the point anymore to point out Trump’s nonstop hypocrisy. For years, he condemned President Obama for failing to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism,” accusing him of being one of them because he refused to call them what they were. But there Trump stood on the day of the obscene display at the University of Virginia and could not bring himself to condemn neo-Nazis by name, instead pinning blame for the violence on “many sides,” in effect saying both the Nazis and the Jews who fought back in the Warsaw Ghetto were equally at blame for the violence that took place there.
One has to wonder what it will take for the rabbis of this country’s most prestigious yeshivas to denounce this man. They after all very publicly announced during the campaign their intention to vote for him, their instructions to their students to vote for him. No matter that he had been a womanizer, cheated on his wives, used vile language, attacked anyone and everyone he didn’t like, no matter that he said he was entitled to grab any woman he wished by her private parts, stiffed thousands of people. The reason justifying their support is that he would be good for Israel, which evidently trumped his lack of morality or character, which I had always thought were things the Torah valued. Indeed, Judaism has always taught that “derech eretz kudmah l’Torah,” that being a mensch is the first and most important priority, coming even before the study of Torah. Trump showed over and over during the campaign that he had no derech eretz, slamming war hero John McCain, name calling a gold star family, mocking a disabled reporter, belittling Megyn Kelly, and yet despite all that, the heads of this country’s yeshivas were all all for him.
And they have been silent since Trump’s silence about the neo-Nazis. Not one of them has said he was wrong to endorse him, that righteous Jews simply cannot support such a man. No, now they hide and say they don’t get involved in politics, yet before the election, they very publicly supported him.
I got a chill when I saw what happened in Charlottesville not only because I am the child of Holocaust survivors, but because for some reason, and I really don’t know why, I have spent the last few weeks on YouTube searching out old Holocaust TV shows. I have watched all seven parts of the mini-series “Winds of War,’ watched all four parts of the mini-series “Holocaust,’ watched all eight episodes of ‘Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years,’ both parts of ‘The Gathering Storm.’ What struck me most in watching them is how the Nazis began, as a small rag tag group spouting hate, holding rallies, saying vile things about Jews, a fringe almost comic element that no one took seriously. But they were deadly serious.
And so it’s dangerous to dismiss the nuts who gathered in Charlottesville, proclaim them not really a threat. And no, I’m not saying another Holocaust is around the corner or that what is happening here is going to end like what happened in Germany. It won’t. America is not Germany. What I am saying is that we can’t take things for granted, can’t assume these neo- Nazis don’t have supporters far beyond the numbers who marched in Charlottesville, that there aren’t a lot of Americans who find their message appealing, whose words about Jews resonate. What I am saying most of all is that the leader of this country must immediately and forcefully call them out for who they are, for what they stand for. Trump did not do that.
There is a reason they all voted for Trump, a reason many wore ‘Make America Great Again’ caps in Charlottesville, a reason they feel emboldened by Trump, were very pleased by how Trump responded to Charlottesville. They feel that because Trump did not condemn them by name, he was signaling he doesn’t have a problem with them.
And his actions against immigration, both illegal and legal, show them that his actions are backing up his non-words. And yes, I know that two days later, in four minutes, reading from a teleprompter, he did finally call out the neo-Nazis by name. But you could see he was doing it as if he were making a hostage tape, clearly doing it only because he was forced to do it. And, of course, the very next day, he totally undid even that, once again blaming “all sides.”
Watch any of his rallies, read any of his tweets and you see how quickly how savagely he can attack someone or something he doesn’t like. When the head of Merck resigned from one of Trump’s commissions in protest of his lack of response to Charlottesville, it took Trump all of one hour to attack. When neo-Nazis march in Virginia holding torches and signaling ‘sieg heil,” it took him more than two days to insincerely call them out. As comedian Jimmy Kimmel put it, “the one thing Trump decides to be quiet about is Nazis.”
Jews need not to overreact to this, but we do need to react to this. I am still waiting to hear right wing Jewish groups, Trump loving Jewish groups like the Zionist Organization of America or Agudath Israel of America issue statements condemning Trump’s failure to immediately and forcefully single out for condemnation the neo-Nazis who rallied in Virginia. I am still waiting for the Republican Jewish Coalition to do the same. I am still waiting for Sheldon Adelson, the king of the Jews, the billionaire casino mogul who has the ear of Trump and the ear of Bibi, to publicly say Trump was wrong not to use his considerable skills to attack and mock and belittle against the neo-Nazis. Did you know, by the way, that Adelson, who is the most powerful Jew in this country, is one of the most ardent supporters of Steve Bannon, Trump’s senior advisor and the godfather of the alt right movement, of the white nationalist movement.
What to me is so scary about Trump is that in what he does, and what he doesn’t do, he is a role model to so many in this country and around the world. What the president of the United States does, what the president of the United States says matters a whole lot. People look to him for leadership, for moral guidance, for an example of what is right and wrong, good and bad, what is acceptable and what is not. The bully pulpit, as Theodore Roosevelt called it, is perhaps the president’s greatest power.
Which is why what Trump didn’t say after Charlottesville is so damaging and gives the signal to so many evil haters that they can keep doing what they are doing, without fear. And which is why what he does say about the media, about the judicial system is so frightening and gives the signal to others who lack morality, who behave badly, what playbook to follow.
I found it chilling recently when the prime minister of Israel, who at the moment is under investigation for very serious crimes, reacted in a way that mimicked Trump’s tactics. Netanyahu is currently the subject of two corruption investigations. In the first, called Case 1000, Netanyahu is accused of receiving expensive gifts from billionaires and then taking action on their behalf. In the second, called Case 2000, he is accused of striking a deal with a newspaper publisher in order to receive favorable coverage at the expense of a competitor, Israel Hayom, owned by Sheldon Adelson. Yes, that Sheldon Adelson, meaning Netanyahu is being accused of having stabbed in the back one of his major supporters. Betraying someone who has been totally in your corner. Sound like anyone you know?
Two other corruption scandals target close associates of Netanyahu, including his cousin and his personal attorney, and both Netanyahu’s wife and older son also are targets of investigations. His oldest son Yair, who uses his Facebook page to smear others, name call and post obscene gestures. Kind of like Trump’s oldest son Don Jr. who lied about never meeting any Russians, then admitted yes he did but they only talked about adoption, then admitted no the meeting was actually about dirt on Hillary. Yair and Don Jr., two chips off two old blocks.
Netanyahu responded to being under investigation by Israel’s version of the FBI by holding a large rally for his adoring supporters, a rally in which he came out swinging, calling the multiple investigations “an obsessive witch hunt against me and my family” and attacking the “fake news media” for trying to drive him from office. “Witch hunt,” “fake news.” Sound familiar? And so, instead of responding as a Jewish leader should, Netanyahu chose to respond as Trump does. Oh, and Netanyahu showed he can be just as much in denial as Trump who keeps telling us there is nothing to the Russian investigation. Said Netanyahu of his investigations, “I don’t think I have a problem.”
Neither does Trump. And that, my friends, is the problem.