Eric Trump was talking up his father on Fox News on Wednesday morning when he was lobbed a friendly prompt from one of the network’s anchors.
During a segment that touched on Democrats’ calls for impeachment as well as the current success of the economy, “Fox & Friends” host Steve Doocy brought up the perception created by both Bob Woodward’s new book and the New York Times’s anonymous op-ed last week that the Trump administration is in chaos.
“Although if the administration is in chaos, they sure are getting a lot done,” Doocy quipped, ceding the floor to Trump.
Trump then launched into an attack in the second person about someone who writes a “sensational nonsense book” and is rewarded with a CNN appearance, before making a remark that many interpreted as a racist dog whistle.
“It will mean you sell three extra books, you make three extra shekels,” he said. “I think people read through this. I know people read through this.”
His use of the word “shekels” set off a round of accusations, questions and head-scratching among political commentators, drawing a spate of media coverage. Although it is the word for the currency in Israel and an occasionally used slang term for money in the United States, it is also a common anti-Semitic trope on white-supremacist sites and in message boards threads about Jewish conspiracies, greed and supposed control of industries such as Hollywood, finance, media and publishing.
“It’s generally used sarcastically (usually with the /r/conspiracy crowd) to refer to money, often with the connotation that Jews are greedy and try to control the market,” a commenter on the site Reddit explained in a thread about the use of the term two years ago. A cursory glance at the neo-Nazi site the Daily Stormer and the Internet message board 4chan yielded a flurry of recent posts with the word, nearly all of the uses offensive.
“Love when the Jews prove Goebbels was right,” one anonymous poster wrote on 4chan. “Call them Jews, and call their shekels ‘shekles,’ and they lose their . . . minds.”
The New York Times’s deputy Washington editor, Jonathan Weisman, was one of many who said he was taken aback by Trump’s use of the word.
“Outrageous,” he wrote on Twitter. “If you want to see how the neo-Nazis use the term ‘shekels’ take a quick glance at The Daily Stormer.”
Conservative voices, too, joined in in frustration.
Commentator S.E. Cupp tweeted: “Waiting to see if Fox will even bother denouncing this garbage ...”
“What in the everloving crap,” wrote the New York Post editor Seth Mandel.
“Is Eric too stupid to know he’s being anti-Semitic?” the conservative pundit Bill Kristol asked in a poll.
“The only people who refer to being paid off as wanting ‘extra shekels’ are Israelis speaking Hebrew and anti-Semites speaking English outside Israel,” said Yair Rosenberg, a writer at Tablet magazine.
One writer shared screenshots of 4chan posters writing that they interpreted the word choice as a sign that “Donald Trump & his sons lurk” on the site daily.
Many interpreted Trump’s comments to be about Woodward, who is not Jewish.
When asked about the comments during an interview with CNN’s Anderson Cooper on Wednesday night, Woodward, who is an associate editor at The Washington Post, said he didn’t understand Trump’s intent.
“I just hope no one that would talk like that, frankly. I think that that just doesn’t fit,” he said. “And I’m sorry anyone talks like that, whether it’s a dog whistle or whatever the intent is. Part of the point of this book is we need to have a serious debate about serious issue and to use invective or this attack rhetoric or whatever it might be, it sets us back.”
In a brief phone call on Wednesday, Eric Trump declined to comment on his use of the term.
“Oh, stop, it’s nonsense,” he said. Trump is currently an executive vice president at the Trump Organization.
Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and Eric Trump’s sister, converted to Judaism after marrying Jared Kushner.
The incident was a reminder of numerous other episodes connected to President Trump that have included remarks or symbolism interpreted by many as bigoted, such as the time he tweeted an image of the Star of David, a Jewish symbol, over a pile of money and a picture of Hillary Clinton to wide outcry during his campaign. (He later said the shape could have been a sheriff’s badge.) Or the time Trump, again as a candidate, declined to disavow support from notorious white supremacist David Duke before relenting days later. Trump also adopted the term “globalist” this year as a label for his outgoing economic adviser Gary Cohn, despite the term’s popularity in far-right and conspiracy theory circles as a Jewish slur.
Here is a transcript of the exchange on “Fox & Friends”:
DOOCY: Sure but you know, the other side from you, what they’re talking about is look between the Bob Woodward book and this anonymous person, the administration is in chaos. Although if the administration is in chaos, they sure are getting a lot done.
TRUMP: But don’t you think people look through the fact that you can write a sensational nonsense book, CNN will definitely have you on there, because they love to trash the president. It will mean you sell three extra books, you make three extra shekels. I mean, at the behest of the American people, at the behest of our country, and a president that’s doing a phenomenal job by every quantifiable metric. I mean, is that really where we are? I think people read through this. I know people read through this.