It is with some regret that I conclude that Donald Trump is not an anti-Semite. Otherwise, he would be the complete demagogue, a historic caricature who could add Jew hatred to his other repellent qualities — racism, xenophobia, nativism, misogyny and a truly ugly appreciation for the thugs of yesteryear. Saddam Hussein comes to mind.
But anti-Semitism is where Trump falls short. As he himself has pointed out numerous times, his son-in-law is Jewish and his daughter is a convert — and they are both observant. (Their rabbi is known to me, and he does not do conversion lite.) More to the point, many of Trump’s friends are Jews. Maybe he couldn’t choose his son-in-law, but he could choose his friends.
Is he anti-Semitic? Not a whisper. And yet what is now becoming clear is that Trump has a shocking appreciation for the anti-Semitism of others. The six-pointed star that Trump tweeted, then withdrew and now has embraced, may or may not be a Star of David (it can look like the star of Wyatt Earp), but it did originate with a white supremacist website and has been accepted as anti-Semitic. Trump defends it.
Beginning in 1897 the mayor of Vienna was Karl Lueger, who had run for the office as an explicit anti-Semite. When it was pointed out to Lueger that some of his friends were Jews, he famously replied, “I decide who’s a Jew.” With the same arrogance, Trump now declares he will decide who is an anti-Semite. Since it is not him, he is capable of making the decision about everyone else.
Anti-Semites are by and large as dumb as a pile of bricks, but even they must know that in an us-against-them world, Trump has chosen to stand with them. He is standing up to the Jews, the Anti-Defamation League and all of that, and insisting on the good name of his daughter and his son-in-law and above all on the purity of his own soul, that what many perceive as an anti-Semitic tweet is anything but. This is part of his anti-PC stance, in which he thinks he turns ugly into admirable. It is childish.
Deborah E. Lipstadt, the Dorot professor of modern Jewish history and Holocaust studies at Emory University and an expert in these matters, compares Trump in the Forward to a drug dealer who doesn’t use the stuff himself but encourages others to. This is an apt metaphor. Instead of denouncing the use of the star by its originators and wondering who in his staff thought it deserved a tweet, Trump has come out in vigorous defense of it. As I said, he is not a Jew-hater. He just plays one to certain people on television.