In a campaign stained by insults and innuendo, has anyone been more smeared than conservative Republicans supporting Donald Trump?
More than a few Orthodox Zionists among them complained to us that in a dangerous, uncertain world, their fears are dismissed as phobias: xenophobia, homophobia, Islamophobia; they’re called racist, nativist, fascist. Their candidate, Trump, is routinely compared to “Hitler” by professors, comedians, even Anne Frank’s half-sister, Eva.
(Despite the oft-repeated charges that Trump hates Muslims, a March 1 poll conducted by CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, found that 18 percent of American Muslims are now Republican and Trump is their favored nominee.)
Last week, Trump asked those at a rally to “raise your hand,” like a juror at a swearing-in, in a pledge to vote for Trump in the primary. To the people at the rally, an innocent gesture, surely, but it was “Heil Hitler” in the eyes of Abe Foxman, formerly of the Anti-Defamation League, signaling “obedience to their leader.”
Foxman, for decades, scolded those who made Holocaust comparisons to petty politics. Americans are routinely scolded against comparing the nuclear deal with Iran to the 1938 Hitler appeasement. “We can’t even compare Islamic terrorists to Nazis — or even to Islam,” said one Trump supporter, “and suddenly we’re told that a Trump rally is a Nuremberg rally on the eve of the Holocaust.” Incivility is contagious; Trump’s campaign, drizzled with impolitic insults, is being mirrored on the left by intemperate critiques as incendiary as Trump’s own.
J.J. Gross, a New York writer now living in Jerusalem, e-mailed: “I am not for Trump; I am against Hillary [Clinton] and [Bernie] Sanders. Hence I will vote for Trump, absent any other opponent to those two.”
Gross was one of several who pointed to Sidney Blumenthal as an example why “Hillary can’t be trusted.” Blumenthal’s son, Max, is a fierce critic of Israel; The Nation called “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel” by Max Blumenthal, “the ‘I Hate Israel’ handbook.” The elder Blumenthal suggested Clinton read Max’s articles, some of which Clinton distributed to her staff.
Gross continued, “Bernie Sanders’ Jewishness is the most dangerous kind. … My worry with Sanders is not what he would do ‘for’ Israel but what he would do ‘to’ Israel. Yes, Trump is a bombastic, bloviating egomaniac, in the American tradition of Teddy Roosevelt and P.T. Barnum; such ego demands greatness for America, and by extension its allies, of which Israel is certainly one, if not the only one.”
In Brooklyn, one rabbi, familiar with back-room conversations in Borough Park and chasidic Williamsburg, said Trump’s supporters were “not the sophisticated people.” But even unsophisticated people can have good reasons, said the rabbi, who asked not to be named because of his political ties. “There’s great anger at the Democratic Party,” and “here comes a man who speaks his mind, telling everyone off. He’s not really a nice guy. The Yiddish word is prust,” crude, coarse.
Nevertheless, in Florida, Sid Dinerstein, former Palm Beach County Republican chair, said, “The Republican Jews I speak to seem very solid for Trump.”
Larry Spiewak, chairman of the Flatbush Council of Jewish Organizations, was cited last summer in Hamodia and Haaretz as a Trump supporter. (In the American Jewish Committee poll of Jewish attitudes released last fall, Trump polled higher than any other GOP hopeful.) Spiewak told Haaretz that Trump was like Howard Stern. “Only Trump has the guts to say what others are afraid to say out loud. … Is he abrasive sometimes? Yeah, but that’s what people like…”
Six months later, Spiewak is not so sure. He senses that Trump supporters may be less apt to express their support. “Look,” Spiewak told us, “I listen to Howard Stern every morning, but I don’t go around telling everybody. I still agree with what Trump’s saying on the issues, but I’m not agreeing with how it is said — the way he puts people down. He’s losing respect from the community. My respect level is less than it was.
“You know,” said Spiewak, “I always say to my friends, ‘anybody but Hillary.’ But I really don’t know what I’m going to do now. Hey, it’s early. My father used to say, an hour before Shabbos isn’t Shabbos. A lot can happen.”
What about him being neutral on Israel? (Trump has said that in negotiations between Israelis and Palestinians he would be “evenhanded,” an honest broker.) “I don’t think he’s neutral on Israel,” said Spiewak.
Dr. Alan Rosenthal, a professor of surgery at New York University, said he had no problem with Trump’s “neutral” comment regarding Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. “He is correct in ‘not showing his cards’ at this time. I would not want to play poker with Donald Trump. I don’t think Trump would hesitate to treat Arab leaders as condescendingly as he did Chris Christie.”
Rosenthal continued, “From an Israel/Jewish perspective, a priority to me, I trust Trump to be a very strong, positive candidate. People I know who have had dealings with Trump, both business and personal, never heard him intimate even the most subtle anti-Jewish or anti-Israel comments.” His Jewish daughter, son-in-law and grandchildren, “all of whom he loves dearly,” are all shomer Shabbat, “making an anti-Israel/Jewish position very unlikely.”
There hasn’t been much polling on the race in Israel, but the Jewish Journal cited an Israeli Democracy Institute monthly Peace Index poll saying that 60 percent of Israelis say that Trump is good for Israel, while 51 percent say the same for Hillary Clinton. Seventeen percent of Israelis say Trump would be bad for Israel; 32 percent say Clinton would be bad for the Jewish state.
Rather than Establishment and anti-Establishment, which is how the Trump phenomenon has been largely framed, Peggy Noonan writes in The Wall Street Journal, in a column that sets out to explain Trump’s appeal, that this is an election between “the protected and the unpredicted.” The protected are those who are isolated from the roughness of the world, be it the roughness in the Middle East or the results of open borders.
“You know the Democrats won’t protect you and the Republicans won’t help you. Both parties refused to control the border. … Many Americans suffered from illegal immigration — its impact on labor markets, financial costs, crime, the sense that the rule of law was collapsing. But the protected did fine.” In Germany, on New Year’s Eve, “Packs of men, said to be recent migrants, groped and molested [more than 300] young women. … And it was not the protected who were the victims. … It was middle- and working-class girls, the unprotected, who didn’t even immediately protest,” some fearing they’d be dismissed as Islamophobic. The girls, writes Noonan, “must have understood that in the general scheme of things they’re nobodies.”
As Rosenthal said, “Humans have an innate drive to connect with a protector.”
Trump supporters sense that he’ll protect them — and an Israel increasingly unprotected in Washington and Europe. Lawrence Stern, a Los Angeles attorney and Democrat, told JTA, “I have seen the Democratic Party move away from … its roots and its core foundation to a closer relationship to those who are both anti-Semitic and anti-Israel.
“This is to me more about who I don’t like than who I like."
Stern said he won’t vote for Clinton because of her support for the Iran nuclear deal, her 1999 embrace of Yasir Arafat’s wife, and the support given to the Clinton Foundation from Arab donors.”
Michael Koplen, an attorney, president of the Washington Online Learning Institute, and a former Republican legislator in the Rockland County legislature, told us that if Trump is the nominee, “I will support him, and hope for the best. The Democratic Party has shifted far to the left, and the left, for its own peculiar reasons, is hostile to Israel,” while expanding government and welfare. “I would never vote for Hillary or Bernie.”
Which, at this point, leaves Trump.