Musings on the dangers of ‘the new new anti-Semitism’ and America’s current preoccupation with ‘all things Russian’
As an aging historian of anti-Semitism, I am always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Indeed, my friends sometimes caution me that I see a centipede with ever-trod shoe leather when there may be none! Even so, I am not exactly alone in my concerns.
According to a new Rasmussen poll, around two thirds of American voters consider anti-Semitism “at least a somewhat serious problem” including one fourth who believe it’s “a very serious problem.” It could just be that, in the current climate of national hyper-political polarization, ordinary Americans are on to something here!
The last time that our national angst spilled over into a spike of anti-Semitism was during and after the 2007-2008 Financial Meltdown. This was an echo of prior episodes in which Americans, both right and left, became wildly fearful over the Rothschild banking family taking over the world and America. In 2008, high-profile members of Goldman Sachs but extending to others including financier George Soros were equated with a Jewish to conspiracy to engineer a global economic collapse. Readership on line and off reached unprecedented levels of that hoary anti-Semitic hoax, propagated a century ago by the Russian secret police: The Protocols of the Elders of Zion.
Currently in 2017, no new playbook has yet emerged to galvanize a new wave of politically-inspired anti-Semitism in America. But this is not for the lack of trying by the likes former Grand Wizard David Duke and Neo-Nazi web sites like the Daily Stormer.
The first time in American history when a combined political-economic crisis sparked a national wave of political anti-Jewish conspiracy mongering was just before 1900. In 1896, during a depressed decade also marked by global economic anxieties and Middle American job losses, the Democrats nominated for the presidency William Jennings Bryan who promised to save the nation from being “crucified on a cross of gold.” Bryan and his party were by no means motivated by anti-Semitism, but Jew haters ran as fast and far as they could toward the political goal line with fiery anti-Semitic cross-of-hate imagery. The presidential election of 1896 (which Democrat Bryan lost) occurred exactly 120 years before the 2016 presidential election which Republican Donald Trump won.
Let’s look at the latest revelations about alleged collusion between the Russians and the Trump Campaign to influence the 2016 presidential election. One eye of a potentially anti-Semitic new political firestorm storm centered around British-born, Jewish tabloid journalist turned music promoter Rob Goldstone. Goldstone’s clients include Emin Agalarov, the son Aras Agalarov, a Russian-Azerbaijani oligarch closely connected to Vladimir Putin who in 2013 helped Donald Trump promote that year’s Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow. Goldstone wrote the emails to Donald Trump Jr. resulting in the invitation to the 25th Floor of Trump Tower extended to the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya last June 2016 in the heat of the presidential campaign. The lure offered Trump Jr. to make the invitation was damaging information about Hillary Clinton from “the Russian government” that (according to Goldstone) meant to show its “support for Mr. Trump.” Responding in an email to this proffer that “I love it,” Donald Trump Jr. attended the meeting with his brother-in-law, Jared Kushner, and then campaign manager, Paul Manafort, in tow.
It will now be up to Congressional Committees and Special Counsel Robert Mueller to sort through conflicting accounts to decide what exactly happened around that ill-advised meeting and what comes of it. But David Duke and the Daily Stormer are already hawking anti-Semitic conspiracy theories featuring the flamboyant Goldstone.
As reported in the Forward, Goldstone says that he is ‘not defined’ by Judaism. ‘My mum was from a religious family, my dad less so. . . . I like the traditions and spirituality of my religion, but I am not defined by it’.”
Potentially more troubling and explosive is the Jew haters’ increasing focus on Jared Kushner, son-in-law of President Donald Trump. We can see the beginnings of a grotesque caricature of Kushner as an Arch-Jewish Conspiriarch or a modern-day Svengali (a famous fictional Jewish villain who bewitched good Christian girls) or Goldstein (the political villain manipulated by Big Brother in George Orwell’s 1984).
It is hard to imagine anti-Semites even trying to resist the temptation to accuse Kushner of “setting up” his brother-in-law Trump Jr. to also bring down his father-in-law Trump Sr. in some sort of Elders of Zion-style conspiracy. Indeed, in a bizarre Freudian twist, Jared Kushner is already being pictured as repeating at the expense of his brother-in-law, Donald Trump Jr., the Kushners’ own family tragedy. Jared Kushner’s father, Charles Kushner, went to jail for attempting to blackmail his own brother-in-law, William Schulder.
David Duke is already pillorying Jared Kushner for giving “large sums of money to Chabad Lubavich”—“a Zionist hate organization.” The Daily Stormer blames the Trumps’ woes on the “fat Jew” Goldstone and Kushner as “the ‘Missing Link’ in the Russian Kookspiracy” illustrated with this cartoon:
The danger to be feared—and guarded against—is that warped minds will merge the odd Rob Goldstone with the controversial Jared Kushner into some sort of twenty-first century Judas stereotype. The Lord protect us if a brilliant anti-Semitic rabble rouser starts peddling an image combining Iago in Shakespeare’s Othello and Shylock in Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice into the core image of a new Jewish global conspiracy theory!
Unintentionally, President Trump made matters worse by offering these paternal apologetics to a gaggle of reporters on Air Force One: “When they say ‘treason’— you know what treason is? That’s Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for giving the atomic bomb, okay?” (See Gabriela Geselowitz’s recent essay in the Tablet.) Trump apologist Jeffrey Lord has also chimed in on CNN with the reminder that, in 1980, Jimmy Carter allegedly unleashed Armin Hammer to convince Soviet Ambassador Anatoly Dobrynin to get the Kremlin to release Refuseniks to emigrate to Israel in order to influence the Jewish vote in key states. The Kremlin did nothing.
The “new new anti-Semitism” meme is also being advanced, no doubt also unintentionally, by some on the left. On MSNBC, Lawrence O’Donnell devoted most of one program to what, filtered through an anti-Semitic lens not shared by O’Donnell, could be viewed as an inverted Purim narrative. King Ahasuerus figures as President Trump. His evil viceroy Haman figures as Jared Kushner. Haman’s antagonist Mordecai figures as Donald Junior—who refuses to bow down to him. All we need to complete this perverted inversion is an anti-Jewish Esther: perhaps a divorced Ivanka wising up her Dad to the nefarious ways of the Jared’s tribe!
Maybe my fears of a new-new anti-Semitic revival may seem overdrawn, but stranger things have happened in the history of anti-Semitism. It is incumbent among decent Americans of all political persuasions to unite now to make sure that current national polarization about Trump Era political scandals does not escalate into a new American tragedy scapegoating Jews.