On the eve of Rosh Hashana, Politico Magazine published a widely-shared feature titled “In a Time of Trump, Millennial Jews Awaken to Anti-Semitism.” For its first few paragraphs, author Ben Wofford explored how many young American Jews were encountering naked anti-Jewish prejudice for the first time during this election season, thanks to Trump’s neo-Nazi-boosted presidential campaign.
But unfortunately, despite this worthwhile premise, the piece soon took a fantastical turn. “Progressive young Jews [are] learning to form the words ‘anti-Semitism,’ often for the first time,” it asserted, “even while they take umbrage at their right-leaning scolds who, now into October, have kept up a deafening silence on the topic of Trump.”
This damning claim was presaged by the article’s subtitle: “Why has the Jewish right looked away?” It is also demonstrably false.
Remarkably, despite clocking in at 4,500 words, the piece did not interview a single Jewish conservative, even as it accused them of the worst possible political malfeasance. This extraordinary omission is necessary for the writer’s argument, however, because if he had spoken to any of the objects of his ire, he would have had to explain statements like these:
• “The candidacy of Donald Trump is the open sewer of American conservatism,” wrote Pulitzer Prize-winning Wall Street Journal columnist Bret Stephens back in February. And that was just the beginning. After Trump slandered the parents of fallen Muslim soldier Humayun Khan, Stephens brutally slammed his own party’s political class for continuing to back the nominee. “There is no redemption in saying you went along with it, but only halfway; that with Mr. Trump you maintained technical virginity,” Stephens declared. “To lie down with him is to wake up with him.” As he put it in the same column, Trump’s “problem isn’t a lack of normal propriety but the absence of basic human decency. He is morally unfit for any office, high or low.” For his trouble, Stephens has been subject to anti-Semitic abuse.
• Commentary editor-in-chief John Podhoretz, along with the entire editorial staff of that flagship conservative Jewish magazine, has stridently opposed Trump at every turn. Podhoretz has even become a something of a Twitter phenomenon for his profane anti-Trump rants. “My Twitter enemies are the anti-Semites of the alt-right,” he told an interviewer, “a congeries of monsters and would-be monsters who seem to have been living under a gigantic rock overturned by the Trump campaign.”
• Bill Kristol, neoconservative luminary and editor-in-chief of the movement’s magazine The Weekly Standard, led the ultimately successful NeverTrump bid to draft a third party conservative challenger to Trump. “Trump discredits everything,” Kristol told one of the candidate’s surrogates on CNN. “That’s why to my friends in the conservative media, like Hugh Hewitt, they should not be giving him lifelines, it’s pathetic at this point… You’re taking the responsibility of supporting a man who is utterly unfit to be president of the United States.” (For his part, Trump has slammed Kristol repeatedly on Twitter; Kristol was also subject to a personal anti-Semitic attack from Trump mouthpiece Breitbart News.)
• National Review Senior Editor and Los Angeles Times columnist Jonah Goldberg has unstintingly opposed Trump, from his Muslim ban to his mockery of a disabled reporter. In May, after Trump secured the nomination, Goldberg wrote to his email list that “I still won’t ever vote for Donald Trump,” citing, among other things, Trump’s anti-Semitic backers. Following last week’s leak of Trump’s misogynistic remarks on the set of Access Hollywood, Goldberg observed, “Donald Trump is a fundamentally dishonorable and dishonest person—and has been his whole adult life. The evidence has been in front of those willing to see it all along… and he will humiliate and debase his defenders so long as they feel the need to defend this indefensible man.”
• After watching his outlet Breitbart News transform into an arm of the Trump campaign, star columnist Ben Shapiro quit the site. “I was wrong,” Shapiro, an Orthodox Jew, wrote in National Review. “I’ve spent most of my career arguing that anti-Semitism in the United States is almost entirely a product of the political Left… The anti-Semitism I’d heard about from my grandparents—the country-club anti-Semitism, the alleged white-supremacist leanings of rednecks from the backwoods—was a figment of the imagination, I figured. I figured wrong. Donald Trump’s nomination has drawn anti-Semites from the woodwork.” For his anti-Trump stance, Shapiro has been subject to vituperative anti-Semitism online and in person.
• Mitt Romney’s top Jewish advisor in 2012 has become one of Trump’s more vocal detractors in 2016. On television and online, Dan Senor has repeatedly attacked his own party’s nominee and his fitness for office. The co-author of the bestseller Start-Up Nation has offered advice to media outlets on how to interrogate Trump’s surrogates. Senor’s activism has even led pro-Trump conspiracy theorists to spread the claim that he personally leaked the damning 2005 tape of Trump’s lewd comments about women.
• Top-10 conservative talk radio host and Orthodox Jew Michael Medved has proudly touted his opposition to Trump throughout the election, as has his wife Diane, herself a bestselling author. “I actually believe that Trump represents the very, very worst elements of our politics and would be very threatening and damaging for the future for my kids, the republic, our economy and our national security—and really, more than any other candidate in my lifetime he represents a threat to the viability of the United States of America,” the radio host said in May.
And the list goes on and on, from the husband and wife team of New York Post op-ed editor Seth Mandel and his wife Bethany—who bought a gun after Trump supporters circulated their phone number and address online—to Tablet’s own James Kirchick.
In fact, because they began opposing Trump in the GOP primary, conservative Jews were some of the earliest and most vociferous critics of his candidacy, alongside the party’s Mormons. (To anyone who has been paying attention to Republican anti-Trump resistance this election, it should not surprise that the third party anti-Trump conservative ticket consists of a Mormon and a Jew.)
But instead of talking to any of these very public and accessible Jewish conservatives, Wofford opted to talk to a single liberal Jewish professor about Jewish conservatives, who happily affirmed his premise. Needless to say, it is not standard journalistic practice to vilify an entire group without bothering to ask even a single member for their response, precisely because this tends to result in bad journalism.
To be sure, the Republican Jewish Coalition has not repudiated Trump. But as The Wall Street Journal reported in May, while “Republican Jewish Coalition board members gave $16.5 million to Romney in 2012… They gave $5400 to Trump through May.” A broader analysis last month at Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight found that while 70 percent of Jewish donor money went to Obama in 2012, 95 percent went to Clinton in 2016, thanks to Republican Jewish donors abandoning Trump. (In this regard, Sheldon Adelson, who has only given $5 million of the $100 million he pledged to Trump, is the exception to the rule.)
It would be revealing to press anti-Trump Jewish conservatives on whether they are satisfied with the RJC’s approach to Trump. But asking that question would require knowing more about the Jewish right than Politico does.
Why bother relitigating this now? Because Jewish conservatives deserve credit for their courage, not disingenuous disparagement. I take pride in my vocal anti-Trump stance this election, but I also know that it comes at little cost. As an independent journalist, the most I have had to deal with in response has been a brigade of laughable online trolls. Professional Jewish conservatives who oppose Trump, on the other hand, have lost friends, colleagues, readers, and sources of income, all while being subject to horrific abuse while many in the media looked away.
Jonathan Weisman, the New York Times editor who served as one of the most high profile targets of Trump’s anti-Jewish trolls, put it well to me:
I was always aware that alt-right Trump backers had gone after Jewish conservatives first. People like Bill Kristol and Robert Kagan were among the first to speak out against Trump, naturally, since they were taking sides during the Republican primary. And for their stands, they were attacked not just as “neocons”—always something of a code word—and “cucks” but simply as Jews.
But it really wasn’t until the alt-right came after folks like me, squarely in the the mainstream media, that non-ideological media outlets took notice of the rise in antisemitic hate. I always tried to make that clear—Bethany Mandel got her gun long before I was told to jump into an oven—but I probably wasn’t loud enough about recognizing the first targets of Trump-aligned antisemites. NeverTrump has had some of its firmest stalwarts among Jewish conservatives.
The people who stood up first to Trump’s bigotry, and too often suffered in silence for doing so, deserve respect, not potshots from poorly-reported pieces in Politico. Whatever one’s political inclinations, as Yom Kippur approaches, one can only hope that we would demonstrate the same moral mettle if faced with similar circumstances.
Related: Trump Watch [Tablet series]