Politico, Trump, Chabad and the new anti-Semitism
Not every day do you wake up to find you run the world. That’s what I discovered reading Politico the day before Passover. According the long article, the key link between Putin and Trump is Chabad. You see, those Chassidim tentacles reach out everywhere. They are the cabal that binds Washington and Moscow. According to Politico, Jewish Russian oligarchs are buddies with Chabad rabbis in Russia who are connected in some convoluted fashion to Jared Kushner and others in the Trump orbit.
For centuries Jews would tremble before Passover, fearing a new blood libel that they were using Christian blood to bake matzahs. This went out style after the Mendel Beilis trial in 1914 in Czarist Russia. Next the Protocols of the Elders of Zion declared the Jews run the world. This too fell out a favor after the Holocaust. Now Politico has created a new version of the old story, only this time it’s not all Jews. The new kind of anti-Semitism is only against those guys in the black hats and the beards, the ultras, or Chassidim. And it’s not just Politico, CNN took a shot at the “ultra-orthodox” in hour long special a day before Passover. The production was so off base that even Israeli’s ultra-left publication, the anti-orthodox Haaretz, lampooned CNN for its bizarre depiction of orthodox Jews.
Politico’s theory is if you follow the connections — built over an abundance of lox and bagels served at a bris in New York, weddings in Mar-a-Lago and meetings in Trump Tower—they all lead to Chabad. To make these connections, Politico creates its own facts, distorting the development of the Jewish communal structure in Russia after the fall of Communism as having been orchestrated by Putin. It fails to reveal that Chabad sustained Judaism during the anti-religious Soviet Regime. Many of its rabbis sent off to Siberia and even death for keeping Judaism alive. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, Chabad emerged from the underground to continue its leadership. It wasn’t “brought in” by Putin. It was there, serving at a time of great danger, all along.
Politico claims it’s the Chabad connections that cement the bond between Putin and Trump. But why stop there? The article could have revealed the true depth of the Chassidic conspiracy. It didn’t mention the links between Chabad and the Democrats. Former Obama Chief of Staff Jack Lew, an observant Jew, attended the same synagogue that the Kushners do. Bernie Sanders’ closest friend and college roommate is a Chabad Chassid, beard and all. And what about Hollywood? Steven Spielberg dedicated a Chabad synagogue in LA , Beis Bezalel, in memory of his stepfather. His late mother was a member there. Mark Zuckerberg was caught dancing with the Chabad Rabbi at Purim party in Harvard. It’s even the New York Times! Tom Friedman recently attended the wedding of his niece in the Chassidic bastion of Crown Heights in Brooklyn.
If Politico had done the most basic fact checking it would have discovered that Chabad is unique amongst major Jewish groups — it never gets involved in politics. While others are busy with press releases on everything from immigration to who should be the US Ambassador to Israel, Chabad never says a word. Not in the US and not in the 90 countries around the world where it has centers. Chabad’s mission is Jewish education, outreach and social service. Its stays out of politics. It does not endorse anyone for any political position, even if it’s just for dog catcher in Iowa.
As a Chabad rabbi, I find Politico’s contentions bittersweet. Over forty years ago when I started as a young campus rabbi, we were viewed as a quaint cultural relic. Liberal Judaism was triumphant, those Chassidim from Brooklyn a bit like a gaggle of Tevyes from Fiddler on the Roof. However, Chabad taught as its central tenet the love of all mankind, the responsibility for Jewish destiny, the return of Jewish scholarship and spirituality as the foundation of Jewish life. Slowly Jews around the world were receptive to that message, and today Chabad is a global phenomenon. With size comes the lies and distortions. This Passover we have learned that not only are we popular, we are the secret cabal between the world powers.
Politico’s article is indicative of the new kind acceptable anti-Semitism. As long as the prejudice is directed at Jews who look very Jewish, live and love Jewish tradition to its fullest, it’s okay to mimic, mock and distort. If Politico has any journalistic integrity it will pull the article and make a public apology. Finally it needs to contact the HR department at the National Inquirer. The writers and editors responsible for this piece of fantasy journalism will fit right in there.
Rabbi David Eliezrie is the author of “The Secret of Chabad-inside the world’s most successful Jewish movement”