DONALD TRUMP: A lot of you are in the real estate business, because I know you very well. You’re brutal killers. Not nice people at all. But you have to vote for me. You have no choice. You’re not going to vote for Pocahontas, I can tell you that. You’re not going to vote for the wealth tax. Yeah, let’s take 100% of your wealth away. No, no. Even if you don’t like me, some of you don’t. Some of you, I don’t like at all, actually. And you’re going to be my biggest supporters because you’ll be out of business in about fifteen minutes if they get it.
MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you here with us today.
Now, those are the lines that most of America heard. They were shocking, not only because Trump hit the darkest antisemitic tropes, trying to deliver them like some washed-up Borscht Belt comedian, but because his audience–mostly Jewish leaders–ate it up. Imagine telling racist stories to a Black audience and then having that audience cheering at being ridiculed. Think about who he was talking to at that moment: The Israel-American Council, one of the most right-wing Jewish groupings in our country, that supports Republican candidates and was founded and funded by Sheldon Adelson, who gave $30 million to the Trump campaign. And this group gave over $200 million to that campaign.
It took a while for the Jewish establishment to confront these antisemitic statements. Let’s think about this very strange moment, when anti-Semites support Israel, where a right-wing regime controls Israel, a nation once loved and lauded by most Americans, and Jews viewed it as a source of pride. Now the lines seem twisted and almost unfathomable.
We’re going to try to untangle those with Richard Silverstein, who tackles those very issues in his blog, Tikun Olam, where he covers Israel national security of state. He has written books and contributed to the essay collections A Time to Speak Out: Independent Jewish Voices on Israel, Zionism and Jewish Identity and Israel and Palestine: Alternative Perspectives on Statehood. Richard, welcome. Good to have you with us.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Thanks. I’m pleased to be here.
MARC STEINER: I guess the first thing most people saw was that moment when Trump made this horrendous, I mean, ancient trope about Jews and money and it was shocking, but not as shocking as a response from a mostly Jewish audience.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, we’ve become inured to Trump’s antisemitism. It goes back to Charlottesville, when he called the right-wingers who ended up killing one of their protesters there “fine people.” He’s really used these tropes regularly before. Hearing it again, it barely made a ripple in the media; was covered maybe by the Jewish media and by Israeli media, but the non-Jewish media saw it as a more of the same.
It’s really shocking that a U.S. president would use these kinds of tropes and not be called out for it. But you heard also barely a whimper from even the major national Jewish organizations about it. There were two tweets, from the American-Jewish Committee and from the Anti-Defamation league. Even those tweets began with praise for Trump before they said that “perhaps you went over the line,” and perhaps he should reconsider his views on this subject and what he says about it. It’s really shocking that we have a president that does this and that we’ve really inoculated ourselves to it, unfortunately.
MARC STEINER: I mean, when I think about it, even people like Richard Nixon and Johnson, others who have made racist and antisemitic statements behind closed doors, wouldn’t even fathom doing this in public.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Right. When we heard the Nixon tapes, we knew that he was an anti-Semite, but he was very careful in his public utterances not to go there. He was smart enough to know that. But Trump really is unfiltered, and he doesn’t have a filter like the rest to know how to speak in public.
MARC STEINER: I want to take a look at this one clip here from the speech. This is where, and I think goes to the heart in some ways of the contradictions I alluded to in the opening, which talks about Jews who don’t love Israel. Let’s watch Trump.
DONALD TRUMP: The Jewish State has never had a better friend in the White House than your President, Donald J. Trump, I can tell you. We have to get the people of our country, of this country, to love Israel more. I have to tell you that. We have to do it. We have to get them to love Israel more because you have people that are Jewish people that are great people; they don’t love Israel enough. You know that. You know that.
MARC STEINER: Let’s talk about this. There’s another piece I wanted to talk about in a moment as well. But here we have Trump saying these outlandish things, and this what people love. Talk to us about who this audience is. To me, this is emblematic of this split inside the Jewish world that’s also emblematic about the split in our own country.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, you have Israel-America Council that’s funded by Sheldon Adelson. It’s really oriented towards the one million or so Israelis that have emigrated here from Israel and made their homes in the United States. It’s meant to be a farther right version of APAC. It’s meant to really instill inside of American politics the right-wing nature of Israeli politics, the Likud government, and this sort of what I call the Judeo-fascist government that’s running Israel. They’re trying to really enforce a speech regime in the United States among American Jews, where we can have a very limited set of things that we can talk about and say about Israel.
And that we have to hone to the talking points that are put forward by Israel lobby organizations like IAC and APAC. The notion though that you will only love Israel if you support this Likud government; you’ll only love Israel if you support making Jerusalem the capital of the Israeli state or recognizing the Golan is just really sovereign territory, or–as we’re going to see soon; perhaps the next thing–the Jordan Valley. This is not love. Really, this is like a slavish obedience to a narrow-minded perspective on what Zionism is and what Israel is.
We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that only 29% of American Jews actually support Trump. So, you’re only seeing in that audience the 29%. You’re not seeing this over 60% of American Jews that absolutely reject everything that Trump stands for, including his views about Israel. That’s where people like me and others in the progressive Jewish community really have to speak out more, and make our voices heard more, and react against this, and really put it in the proper perspective like we’re doing right now.
MARC STEINER: I mean, one of the things you said in your article, you talked about the tweets that leaders of establishment Jewish groups put out, a day late. The tweets–let’s describe these for a minute. Because this is where the contradictions, I think, come to rise, and where it’s really hard. It was clearly very difficult for them because they knew these were antisemitic statements were made, deeply antisemitic, but that wasn’t as important as the political forces they’re trying to push.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, I think what we have to remember is that there are wealthy Jewish–I call them oligarchs–billionaires like Adelson and Ron Lauder and Bernie Marcus, and others like that who are the major donors to these organizations. So these are Republican, hardy Republican, Jewish donors; support the Republican candidates with lots and lots of money. They also support these Jewish organizations. They’re really compromised. They can’t… Even if they do speak out as the tweets did, they have to really temper what they’re saying very carefully and praise Trump before they enter into any criticism of him.
The content of the tweets were what I call milk toast. They didn’t really get to the heart of what’s wrong with what Trump was doing. It’s like they tapped him on the wrist, they gave him a little slap on the wrist and said, “You know, no, no, no. Don’t do that. That’s bad, what you’re doing.” But they’re not speaking out with the full weight of the denunciation that these kinds of statements deserve. That’s a problem, because the leadership of the American Jewish community is completely attenuated and compromised and can’t defend and represent American Jewry the way that they should.
MARC STEINER: Well, let’s take a couple of things here real quick before we conclude. One of the things that he said–it was quoted in Times of Israel that he made a joke about his having 12 years as President, that he was going to go on. When he did that, people laughed and applauded.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Right. I think that people in the audience were even saying 12 more years.
MARC STEINER: Yes, exactly. They did. They chanted 12 more years.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, you have to also keep in mind, this is a largely Israeli audience. Even though they may be here in America, they don’t understand the nuances of American politics. I mean, nuances for them, but for us it’s the U.S. Constitution. The fact that we only allow a president to have eight years; maybe a nicety for them. It’s like it was happy talk for them, and they wanted to make Trump happy. Trump clearly doesn’t really care or know much about our own Constitution either. So, in a way, it was a match made in heaven between the audience and Trump.
MARC STEINER: Let’s put this final clip here we’re going to show today, which is Trump talking about how he views Jews in a very strange monologue.
DONALD TRUMP: For over 20 years, every previous president promised to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and they never acted. They never did it. They never had any intention of doing it, in my opinion. Two years ago this week, I officially recognized Israel’s true and eternal capital, and we opened the American Embassy in Jerusalem, finally. Many, many presidents said they were going to move the embassy to Jerusalem, and they never did it, and I understand why they never did it.
They never did it because when they thought I was going to do it, and when they heard that I was going to make an announcement in two weeks, I started getting calls from everyone. I got calls from presidents. I got calls from prime ministers. I got calls from kings and queens. I got calls from everyone: “Don’t do it. Don’t do it. Please, don’t do it. It will be terrible if you do it. It will be horrible if you do it.” Then and there, for that two week period, I was inundated. I learned why other presidents, in all fairness to them, why they made the campaign promise but why they never got it off. You wouldn’t believe how many… Some countries you never even heard of were calling.
MARC STEINER: Richard, if my grandfather was watching that with me right now, my grandfather would say, “Oy vey. What a putz.”
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Yeah.
MARC STEINER: Let’s talk a minute about what he said here, what he did in this at this moment. But I’m curious your thoughts on what the response is, especially what the response will be in this 2020 year by progressive Jews and Jews in America when you see this kind of behavior and these kinds of lines, and the contradictions that are arising everywhere. What do you think? How do progressive Jews respond to this? How does the entire Jewish community respond to this?
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Well, I think that Jews that have some awareness of what’s going on in Israel, and the Middle East, and understand that the reason why the U.S. embassy was moved to Jerusalem, was that we held out hope that there could be a compromise solution, and a peace negotiation that resolved the conflict between Israel and Palestine. Most Americans, and most Jews understood that recognizing Jerusalem as the capital really completely sabotaged any possibility of there being a peace agreement.
Trump, of course, he’s so… I don’t know if stupid is the right word or whatever the right word is to use, but he only looks and sees what’s right in front of his face. He thinks that it’s a good idea to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, and doesn’t see farther into the trees to understand that there’s no chance of being, of a peace agreement. The peace agreement is what everybody wanted to keep their eyes on; that prize. Whereas, Trump really doesn’t understand the complexity of this situation. So, the fact that he thinks that recognizing Jerusalem is the sine qua non of the way America should deal with Israel, is really the tragedy of this administration. One of the many tragedies of this administration.
Because it will take years after Trump leaves the scene to recover from this. And it’s really the government that has been emboldened and gotten everything that they’ve ever wanted from the United States, but not been able to get before. I think that we’ve lost the chance for peace for perhaps another decade or two, if we ever had one before. The stupidity and the inanity and the ignorance of the Trump administration, and the ill-fated Middle East peace plan that he and Kushner have been promising to unveil, which I don’t think will ever see the light of day, these are really deep and great tragedies, that will take us a long time to come out from under
MARC STEINER: Richard Silverstein, thanks so much for joining us today. And folks, check his column out at Tikun Olam. Good to have you with us. Look forward to more conversations.
RICHARD SILVERSTEIN: Thanks a lot, Marc. Been a pleasure.
MARC STEINER: Mine too. I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Please let us know what you think. Take care.