So, let’s start at the beginning. Barak Ravid, an Israeli journalist and Axios contributor, has been teasing excerpts of interviews he conducted with Donald Trump for a new book on the former president’s efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East. During his time in office, Trump was a stalwart ally with Israel on just about every important geopolitical issue, and had a chummy personal relationship with former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But last Friday, we learned that Trump has cut ties to Netanyahu for his decision to congratulate Joe Biden on winning the presidency, which is the sort of thing a normal world leader is supposed to do. “He was very early—like, earlier than most. I haven’t spoken to him since. Fuck him,” Trump said.
An F-bomb! Amazing. He also suggested Netanyahu never really wanted to make a peace deal with the Palestinians—“I think he just tapped us along. Just tap, tap, tap, you know?”—and that he had expected Israel to be more involved in the U.S. assassination of Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani (though how is a bit unclear).
All of this has unsurprisingly caused a bit of a stir among Israelis and U.S. conservatives, many of whom still feel a deep loyalty to Netanyahu. But let’s leave all that aside—because it turns out that Trump also shared some thoughts about America’s Jews and their relationship to Israel during his chats with Ravid. Among them: He argues that American Jews “no longer love Israel” as much as evangelical voters, that Israel “used to have absolute power over Congress” but now it’s “the exact opposite,” and that the New York Times, which he incorrectly suggests is owned by Jews, “hates” Israel. (The Sulzberger family famously has Jewish lineage, but the paper’s last publisher, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Jr., was raised Presbyterian. His son now runs the paper.)
Here’s the complete quote:
I grew up where my father was very close to many Jewish people because it was Brooklyn real estate, Brooklyn and Queens. Many Jewish friends. A great love of Israel, which has dissipated over the years for many people in the United States. I must be honest, it’s a dangerous thing that’s happening. I told Avi, I told others, people in this country that are Jewish no longer love Israel. I’ll tell you the evangelical Christians love Israel more than the Jews in this country. It used to be that Israel used to have absolute power over Congress. And today it’s the exact opposite. And I think Obama and Biden did that. And in the election, they still get a lot of votes from Jewish people, which tells you that the Jewish people, and I’ve said this for a long time—the Jewish people in the United States either don’t like Israel or don’t care about Israel. I mean you look at the New York Times—the New York Times hates Israel. Hates it. And they’re Jewish people that run the New York Times, the Sulzbergers.
I guess we should just be happy he didn’t come out and call it the “Jew York Times.”
Anyway, there are a few important things to note. First, these are not actually new ideas, coming from Trump: You may recall that back in the summer of 2019, he accused American Jews of being “disloyal” to Israel. And if his comments about the Jewish state and Congress sound familiar, that’s because they are: In October he told a talk show host that Israel “literally owned Congress” a decade ago and now it’s “almost the opposite,” thanks to the influence of liberal Democrats.
The joke (well, “joke”) about Trump’s relationship to the Jews is that he repeats classic antisemitic stereotypes—Jews run the media and real estate; Congress is controlled by Israel; American Jews are loyal to Israel—but treats them as positive things, and is upset when he learns that, actually, they may not be true. In a way, it’s almost past the point of being offensive and has just become a sort of grimly funny fact of American life: Our former president is the kind of unwitting antisemite who would absolutely demand that his company exclusively hire Jewish accountants.
Emphasis on almost. When Trump says American Jews “no longer love Israel,” he’s essentially saying to conservative Christians that Jews who vote Democratic are not just the political enemy, but traitors to their own kind. Back in reality, actual polling shows that the majority of American Jews, including ones who vote Democrat, do in fact say they have an emotional attachment to Israel, though their views have become increasingly conflicted thanks to its treatment of Palestinians (which many younger Jews see as tantamount to apartheid). But surveys don’t have much influence over the American right compared with the former president, and while I don’t really know whether this sentiment is growing within the evangelical community, it’s easy to imagine the argument becoming a pillar of conservative antisemitism: Jews are good, until they vote Democrat or congratulate Biden on the phone. If they do, fuck ’em.