Donald Trump's closing campaign ad paints a distinct picture of the way he sees America and the world: powerful men and women in suits, media magnates, financiers and politicians like Hillary Clinton, conspiring to concentrate power in their own hands.
But Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) suggested on CNN's “State of the Union” that Trump's “Argument for America” ad plays on an insidious chord that has been a rallying point for politicians for decades: anti-Semitism.
Franken joined a chorus of people who have criticized the ad's undertones since it was released on Friday.
The Anti-Defamation League, a nongovernmental organization that seeks to fight anti-Semitism, also seized on the ad, saying it conjured “painful stereotypes and baseless conspiracy theories.”
Trump released the two-minute ad on Friday. It focuses heavily on what he calls the political and economic machine of the world, and the people he suggests operate it. “People that don't have your good interest in mind,” the ad says.
Among those people, judging from the grainy images flashed in the ad, are prominent American Jews: Janet Yellen, the chair of the Federal Reserve, business magnate George Soros and Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO and chairman of Goldman Sachs.
“It’s a global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities,” the ad says as it shows an image of Blankfein speaking at a Clinton Foundation event.
Franken, who is Jewish, said on “State of the Union” that the ad speaks “to a certain part of [Trump's] alt-right base.”
“When I saw the ad I thought that this was something of German Shepherd whistle, a dog whistle, to a certain group in the United States,” Franken told Jake Tapper. “I’m Jewish, so maybe I’m sensitive to it. It had an Elders of Zion feeling to it, an international banking conspiracy to it and then a number of Jews” are pictured.
“It’s an appeal to some of the worst elements of our country. Some who are not sensitive to that may not see that, but that’s the conclusion I draw.”
The text Franken alludes to — “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion” — is a document, later shown to be fabricated, that describes a Jewish plan for global domination, according to the U.S. Holocaust Museum. Originally written in Russian, the protocols purport to be the minutes of a late-19th-century meeting where Jewish leaders talked about controlling the media and global economies and fostering religious conflict.
Henry Ford funded printing of 500,000 copies that were distributed throughout the United States. As Adolf Hitler rose to power, schoolchildren in Nazi Germany were required to study the text, even after it was shown to be fraudulent.
On Sunday, Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Trump's campaign to be more responsible with its messages.
“Whether intentional or not, the images and rhetoric in this ad touch on subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages,” Greenblatt said in a statement tweeted by the organization. “This needs to stop . . . . It's a time when all candidates need to be especially responsible and bid for votes by offering sincere ideas and policy proposals.”
Jason Greenblatt, who co-chair's Trump's Israel Advisory Committee, accused the ADL of engaging in partisan politics in a message to The Huffington Post.
"The ADL should focus on real anti-Semitism and hatred, and not try to find any where none exist," the statement said. "I am offended and concerned that an institution such as the ADL would involve itself in partisan politics instead of focusing on its important mission.
"Mr. Trump and his campaign have laid out important ideas, a vision and critical policies for our country. The suggestion that the ad is anything else is completely false and uncalled for. Mr. Trump's message and all of the behavior that I have witnessed over the two decades that I have known him have consistently been pro-Jewish and pro-Israel and accusations otherwise are completely off-base."
Franken's comments aren't the first time Trump has been called anti-Semitic this campaign season.
In July, Trump repeatedly defended himself for retweeting an image describing Clinton as “crooked” and the “most corrupt candidate ever” that included a red Star of David shape slapped onto a bed of $100 bills. The image, widely condemned as anti-Semitic, had its roots in the online white supremacist movement, but Trump dismissed it as “just a star.”
Last week, Trump’s campaign manager disavowed a supporter as “deplorable” for chanting “Jew-S-A!” at an earlier rally, according to The Washington Post.
The man's “conduct is completely unacceptable and does not reflect our campaign or our candidate. Wow,” Kellyanne Conway said during an interview on CNN’s “State of the Union.” “That man’s conduct was deplorable. And had I been there, I would have asked security to remove him immediately.”