James Baldwin Was Right: Being A Jew In The Age of Trump, Jared Kushner, Neoliberal & Republican Jews | Blog#42
Growing up in the greater DC metro area during various stages of my childhood, my mom had an unspoken rule for me: never freely divulge your heritage to strangers, don’t stand out, and keep your Star of David below the neckline. For me, the first two parts of this directive applied to both sides of my heritage, though the first was intended to always remain hidden. The directive also applied, though, with a modified context, to our many overseas stays in various parts of the world.
I remember turns of the phrase that are distinctly French or English and denote a baked-in anti-Semitism. “C’est bien juif, ça!” “He tried to Jew me out of my…” “Go back to Arabia!” More common in today’s American parlance are “America first!” “Cosmopolitan bias!” and, quite sadly, this weekend, “Jew will not replace us” and “blood and soil.” Jew, used as a verb, was uttered at an office meeting I attended. The first expression is one of dozens of French expressions that are steeped in age-old racism, though political correctness is alive in France as well as it is here.
“C’est très juif, ça! (That’s very Jewish!)” is a not uncommon exclamation that may be used when a distasteful act or behavior is the topic of discussion. Another example that sticks out is what some still call an injury to the funny bone: “se cogner le petit juif.” Quite literally translated, this expression is “to knock one’s little Jew.” This expression owes its existence to Jews who, for centuries, dominated the garment industry and, consequently, suffered from a particular type of repetitive upper limb injury, The English language as it is spoken in America is no less rich in examples like these. While they may not be quite as overt, their continued use in present-day circles is rooted in the same anti-Semitic sentiment.
In “Embarrassed to be Israeli or Jewish?” Rabbi Jeremy Rosen begins his blog of the day with this familiar reminder:
“This week, I met someone who had just returned from a trip to the Greek islands. He told me that he kept meeting Israelis who confided that they were embarrassed to be identified as Israelis, and preferred to hide it. I have heard similar stories many times over the years — of Israelis who try to hide their identities, or avoid wearing any outward signs that might give them away, because to be identified as Israeli is uncomfortable.
At the same time, I have also heard more and more stories of Jews trying to hide the fact that they are Jews.
I was brought up in era where one was expected to be a Jew at home, and a good citizen in public — not to stand out in a crowd; to hide rather than expose. It was an era of excessive conformity. I was always instructed not to wear a yarmulke in public, but a hat or school cap. Religion was a private affair — like sex. You did not speak about it in polite company.”
I remember, vividly, the unspoken pressure to control how Jewish I sounded when outside the home. With the 1990’s came a relaxation of this social pressure. It was felt in American culture through the movies and TV series of the time. I relaxed a little, until at a dinner out, a North African uncle of mine remarked “you sound too… Jewish!” He mistakenly connected Jewish with my (northern) mid-Atlantic American accent. His exclamation was far more diplomatic than the one I would later be relayed through a cousin. Following a reunion, after years without contact, it was said that I sounded “too Jewish” a meeting of members on the paternal side of my family. Again, mid-Atlantic was confounded, most likely intentionally, for New York-Jewish. This sort of response is exactly what my mother sought to counter in instilling neutral behavior and appearance. Be the part, but don’t look or sound it for your own safety.
Rabbi Rosen’s recollection of why one didn’t openly display the outward signs of one’s Judaism is faulty. As one who grew up on both sides of Washington, D.C., I know we didn’t speak “about it in polite company,” not because it was akin to speaking about sex, but out of fear and self-preservation. Along with not looking Jewish, many of us who had careers in government and private industry didn’t dare just take a high holiday off for fear of giving away our Jewishness. Who among us doesn’t know a Jew who would take an entire week off around a holiday so as not to appear to be off for Yom Kippur or Tisha B’ Av? I knew quite a few who didn’t dare take just the Yom Tov well into the 1990’s. Alongside those of us who didn’t dare, there were quite a few who could do as they wished, without a second thought or worry. As for walking around in a yarmulke, Rabbi Rosen seems to have forgotten the terrible beatings of Jews around London four years ago. Perhaps Rosen was safely walking around his small, safe community in New York while anti-Semitism was undergoing its resurgence in the U.K.? Maybe the differences between his recollection and mine are due to the difference between the American and British experiences? But then, how does one explain the difference in interpretation of the reasons behind what he imagines explains the shame some Israelis experience when traveling overseas? Entebbe and other incidents are still in the consciousness of many Jews traveling abroad. That memory alone is enough to make one use greater care when outside of one’s home turf. Then, the animus the Israeli occupation has caused and one’s moral compass are good enough reasons to be ashamed. Using the Lebanon war as a historical marker for the deep shame many Israelis feel, these statistics on yerida, the permanent departure of Jews from Israel, give the reader the clearest sense of the deep moral divisions Israel’s rightward trajectory caused increasingly starting with the Lebanon war and since:
“In the past several decades, emigration (yerida) has seen a considerable increase. From 1990 to 2005, 230,000 Israelis left the country; a large proportion of these departures included people who initially immigrated to Israel and then reversed their course (48% of all post-1990 departures and even 60% of 2003 and 2004 departures were former immigrants to Israel). 8% of Jewish immigrants in the post-1990 period left Israel, while 15% of non-Jewish immigrants did. In 2005 alone, 21,500 Israelis left the country and had not yet returned at the end of 2006; among them 73% were Jews, 5% Arabs, and 22% “Others” (mostly non-Jewish immigrants, with Jewish ancestry, from USSR). At the same time, 10,500 Israelis came back to Israel after over one year abroad; 84% were Jews, 9% Others, and 7% Arabs.“
Jewish Republicans In The Age Of Trump
The Los Angeles Times reminds us of the anti-Semitic roots of the phrase “America First,” that President Trump is so fond of using:
“While the America First Committee attracted a wide array of support, the movement was marred by anti-Semitic and pro-fascist rhetoric. Its highest profile spokesman, Charles Lindbergh, blamed American Jews for pushing the country into war.
“The British and the Jewish races,” he said at a rally in September 1941, “for reasons which are not American, wish to involve us in the war.””
Our president is the son of a first generation German American who was arrested with a group of Klansmen in 1927 New York:
“In Queens, 1,000 white-robed Klansmen marched through the Jamaica neighborhood, eventually spurring an all-out brawl in which seven men were arrested.
One of those arrested was Fred Trump of 175-24 Devonshire Rd. in Jamaica.”
Jared Kushner is both the grandson of Holocaust survivors and the son-in-law of our president. He is his most senior adviser and an Orthodox Jew who remains faithful to a man who has unflinchingly courted the most extreme right elements of this nation, and refuses to explicitly and unequivocally repudiate the support lavished upon him by former Grand Dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke and his followers. Kushner has remained loyal to his father in law throughout a myriad of faux-pas and intentionally racist policy decisions. He and other wealthy Jews have turned a blind eye and deaf ears to Trump’s refusal to even acknowledge, much less disavow, the white supremacist elements within his inner circle. Kushner works alongside reputed anti-Semites, Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. Gorka proudly wears a Nazi emblem on his lapel, and as reported widely in the media, has a very long history of associating with neo-Nazi organizations in his father’s native Hungary. Gorka was born in the U.K., as his exiled parents fled Hungary after the 1956 uprising against the communist regime. Gorka emigrated to the United States in 2008. He currently serves in some sort of anti-terrorism advisory capacity in the White House and, as such, is privy to this nation’s most sensitive secrets. Gorka’s views have been deemed fringe and is known to have had extreme right wing associations for decades.
If Ivanka Trump isn’t familiar with the history of Hungarian anti-Semitism or if Gorka hasn’t shown his virulent side, it might be excused. Might.
Ordinarily, just breathing the same air as Gorka would be repulsive to any Jew, and that applies even more so to someone like Jared Kushner, who has both had a privileged education, and grew up among Holocaust survivors. Kushner knows better but chooses not to act accordingly.
Kushner, the pious Orthodox Jew, tolerates the presence of Stephen Miller in the Trump White House. If Gorka isn’t repugnant to him, wouldn’t a Jew who has adopted racist right wing views be objectionable to someone with a religious bent? Shouldn’t the likes of Miller be offensive to every fiber of Kushner’s Judaism, nationalism, and whatever moral compass he goes by?
But these odd moral compromises of Kushner’s aren’t even the most egregious. The very people Trump enjoys the support of have been resentful about Trump adding Kushner to his family by allowing him to marry Ivanka. I was wondering when this sentiment would finally bubble up to the surface. It finally did during the joint Ku Klux Klan/neo-Nazi rally in Charlottesville, Virginia:
Then, there is the New York Times expose on Kushner’s real estate dealings uncovers a sordid tale of real estate dealings that are dubious in nature, exploitative in practice, and racist both in where his business operates and how they treat those who are in its clutches:
“But amid the high-profile Manhattan and Brooklyn purchases, in 2011, Kushner Companies, with Jared now more firmly in command, pulled together a deal that looked much more like something from the firm’s humble past than from its high-rolling present. That June, the company and its equity partners bought 4,681 units of what are known in real estate jargon as “distress-ridden, Class B” apartment complexes: units whose prices fell somewhere in the middle of the market, typically of a certain age and wear, whose owners were in financial difficulty. The properties were spread across 12 sites in Toledo, Ohio; Pittsburgh; and other Rust Belt cities still reeling from the Great Recession. Kushner had to settle more than 200 debts held against the complexes before the deal could go through; at one complex, in Pittsburgh, circumstances had become so dire that some residents had been left without heat and power because the previous owner couldn’t pay the bills. Prudential, which was foreclosing on the portfolio, sold it for only $72 million — half the value of the mortgages on the properties.”
As I read and reread the Times’ expose on Kushner’s practices as a landlord, I couldn’t help but be reminded of James Baldwin’s most controversial and most misunderstood essay, “Negroes Are Anti-Semitic Because They’re Anti-White.” It’s as if Jared Kushner did his level best to embody the kind of landlord Baldwin described, and practice the kind of capitalism that runs completely afoul of any modicum of Jewish values, whether the Jew is Orthodox or secular.
“When we were growing up in Harlem our demoralizing series of landlords were Jewish, and we hated them. We hated them because they were terrible landlords, and did not take care of the building. A coat of paint, a broken window, a stopped sink, a stopped toilet, a sagging floor, a broken ceiling, a dangerous stairwell, the question of garbage disposal, the question of heat and cold, of roaches and rats–all questions of life and death for the poor, and especially for those with children–we had to cope with all of these as best we could. Our parents were lashed to futureless jobs, in order to pay the outrageous rent. We knew that the landlord treated us this way only because we were colored, and he knew that we could not move out.”
Jared Kushner makes a point not only of profiting from people just like James Baldwin’s family, but his business practices are calculated to extract maximum income while inflicting maximum pain and discomfort of renters, by design. Kushner is hardly alone in this behavior, but he and contemporaries like Sheldon Adelson, disgraced former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling, and many more Jewish real estate owners, prominent and obscure, from the time the very first Jew set foot in our nation. These behaviors aren’t limited to wealthy Jews. Intellectuals, religious leaders, and even Alan Dershowitz who still claims to be a Democrat, all have been engaging in twisted defenses of the morally indefensible, both by secular and Jewish standards. Just as in the Old World, the Jew has had to fulfill his destiny in the space allotted by the society in which he has lived. America, in colonial times, was no different than the nations from which the Jew came. His place in the new world, at least for several hundred years to come, would be no different than the place he held in his former land’s pecking order. Yes, gone were the Shtetl walls, but not the restrictions that came with being a Jew. Jared Kushner, Sheldon Adelson, Wall Street’s Jews all share in common the choice to exercise their power in ways that are indistinguishable from those the traditional white Anglo-Saxon elites have always exercised in this nation. They do so in the belief that their wealth and the distance of time have afforded them a permanent coat of whiteness, and the erasure of the otherness that is being a Jew. 70 years of distance from the Holocaust, riches, and the illusion of progress have erased from their collective memories, the historical realities about our history on this earth , from the chapters on Jeremiah, in Nevi’im Aharonim and going all the way to the present day.
“For My people are foolish, They know Me not; They are stupid children And have no understanding. They are shrewd to do evil, But to do good they do not know.””
Amassing of riches has distracted these men and women from the pursuit of righteousness and the keeping of Jewish tradition, whether secular or religious. Their greed and hunger in their haste to become the WASP’s equal has made them forget an important lesson: absolute power corrupts absolutely. It has also made them forget that hatred for the Jew is still as deep and rampant as ever and, in times of trouble, that hatred rises like mercury. In America – in the world – no matter how white you look, how many riches you’ve earned and praise received, at the end of the day, you’re still Black, still a Jew, and they still hate both. Respectability has never afforded salvation in the face of racism.
Wealthy Jews have infected Israeli politics as well as American politics. Gone are the days when Jews, rich, poor, and anywhere along the middle, were united in agreement. As Israel has sunk lower into colonialist behavior at the egging of wealthy American Jews, American Jewry has been ripped apart. Statements from Bibi Netanyahu have reverberated here ever since his public falling out with President Obama. After Charlottesville, to hear this from Netanyahu’s son is, quite frankly, as shocking as it is disgusting:
“”The thugs of Antifa and BLM who hate my country (and America too in my view) just as much are getting stronger and stronger and becoming super dominant in American universities and public life.””
Jewish Liberals In The Age Of Trump
Wealthy Jews are hardly alone in forgetting the corruptive dangers of money; so have Jews with far less financial power. Over the Election 2016 cycle, prominent Jews lent their names in tearing down one of their own, as he rose in American politics. They didn’t merely pick the opposing side. Doing so would have been their legitimate right. What some did was to participate in acts of anti-Semitic propagandizing, using their prominence to engage in the use of known racial whistling tactics against one of their own. Some reached back to the 1950’s and intersected, anew, ideology and race, dredging up ghostly memories of the socialist Jew. Others used conjured the atheist menace in order to accomplish their dirty work. When neither was decisive enough, the racist card was played. Jew against Jew, in dirty power plays.
Those dirty power plays were a part of a wider, subtle, and disastrous racial strategy to divide and conquer the left. Its effect has been a deepening of divisions the likes of which we’ve not seen in nearly a century, with no leader coming forward to heal and unify. Each faction within the left remains angry and bitter months after a loss that should never have been possible, given the candidate on the other side. Each is now blaming the other, with no end to the rancor in sight.
The racial politics of the election season have continued all these months, with raging debates on white progressive racism, blue collar white racism, and the whiteness of Ashkenazi Jews and their ascent to the same status as other former marginalized Europeans (Irish and Italians). It doesn’t matter that, historically-speaking, Italians never held the same status as Jews or the Irish, or that in the European pecking order, excluding new immigrant minorities, the Jew has always been and still is dead-last. These debates resonate with minorities whose suffering has gone without recognition for centuries, to this very day.
On one side, stand those who willingly fool themselves in the belief that their material success affords them full ascent to a whiteness they hadn’t had access to before. On the other side, stand those who in grief over discrimination that has no end in sight, are willing to take this claim to whiteness as a wish that is generalized throughout Ashkenazi Jewry, when a mere two years ago Jews were engaging in a debate about whiteness. In “Ashkenazi Jews Are Not White,” Hila Hershkowitz writes:
“Ashkenazi Jews who identify as “white”, please understand the following:
1. History and identity – As late as 1987 the US legally defined Jews as non-white. To the best of my knowledge, 50 years ago Jews had the same skin color as they do today. I deduce that white is not skin color, it is first and foremost an issue history and identity. The “white people world” is represented by its European (often colonial) history, it’s culture, heroes, it’s Kings, ethos, faith etc. – and Ashkenazi Jews are not part of that world. Their heroes are the Maccabees and not the Vikings or Joan of Arc, their Kings are David King of Israel and Hezekiah King of Judah (both archeologically confirmed historical figures) and not Kings Edward and George.
Secondly, Jews are not a “religion”. While in the Western world identities fall under the categories of religion or race, Middle Eastern people have tribal identities that are based neither the former nor the latter.””
Genetically, Ashkenazi Jews are distinct in some ways from other populations. Genetically, Mizrahi Jews are distinct from other populations and from Ashenazim. Neither Mizrahi nor Ashkenazi is distinct enough to be entirely different – just different enough to be identified. That doesn’t make Jews white, in the sense white Americans see themselves. For that to be true, the racial construct that is unique to America would have to be a scientific fact. There is no such science. There is only one race: the human race. But in the American construct that is race, the Jew remains a minority, neither Anglo-Saxon nor some other kind of European strain. In Europe, Jews are still considered as separate from the populations of the nations they inhabit, even after centuries of existence in European societies, and in spite of the influx of millions of immigrants from other parts of the world. That some American Jews have social privileges that other groups do not is undeniable, but that doesn’t make the Jew white, any more than the same level of material and social privilege makes a person of color white.
The incredible wealth, privilege, and corruption of the same Jews who figure prominently among the donor and ruling class of the Republican party, has corrupted Israel in the same ways they have helped corrupt America, isolating her even more from the rest of the world, by encouraging racist and colonial behaviors. The same can be said of the Jewish donor and ruling class of the left, though to an infinitesimally lesser extent. Rabbi Rosen critiques Israeli secularism and the socialist ideals of its early secular settlers. When compared to the corruption in today’s reality, which values are desirable and good?
In times of trouble, the Jew gets demoted from the pedestal he and others placed him on. Incidences of anti-Semitic attacks on synagogues and other Jewish organizations went up sharply at the start of the Great Recession. Anti-Semitic incidents rose sharply with the rise of Donald J. Trump’s candidacy and again, with his ascent to the U.S. presidency.
America’s descent into oligarchy and the racial tactics used by both candidates in a highly divisive election cycle, puts the vast majority of American Jews in a very precarious position, regardless of party. On the right, the normalization of the racist right and the prominence of certain Jews in the Trump administration, eventually, will become a point of friction. On the left, the racial tactics used by the Clinton campaign have deepened divisions that were already in the making, and those divisions are now taking on lives of their own and festering, out of the control of those who started them and out of the sphere of interest of possible leaders in upcoming election cycles. How will the participation in the corrupt Trump government by Jared Kushner and other Jews reflect on and affect the lot of American Jewry as a whole in the best and worst of political and economic circumstances? I fear for the worst in the absence of a morally-centered opposing leadership and the continuing struggle on the left, of an establishment that will neither share power, nor relent on highly popular policies among the grassroots. I fear for the worst in the face of a continuing opposition by the Democratic leadership to concede any ground on issues relating to social justice and racial equality, giving rise to those already inclined to believe that Jews have an outsized and undue influence on all aspects of American life, and their share of participation in public discourse, policy and power-sharing.
For anyone who is given to only look superficially, that kind of interpretation of the Jew’s place in America may well be solidly in the right, ignoring that millions of American Jews live no differently than the rest of their peers and assigning guilt by association. At no time have prominent Jews exerted as much political power as they do now and, quite sadly and ironically, that power isn’t represented by the best among us.
Back to James Baldwin’s essay:
“In the American context, the most ironical thing about Negro anti-Semitism is that the Negro is really condemning the Jew for having become an American white man–for having become, in effect, a Christian. The Jew profits from his status in America, and he must expect Negroes to distrust him for it. The Jew does not realize that the credential he offers, the fact that he has been despised and slaughtered, does not increase the Negro’s understanding. It increases the Negro’s rage.
For it is not here, and not now, that the Jew is being slaughtered, and he is never despised, here, as the Negro is, because he is an American. The Jewish travail occurred across the sea and America rescued him from the house of bondage. But America is the house of bondage for the Negro, and no country can rescue him. What happens to the Negro here happens to him because he is an American.”
Jewish opposition to Donald Trump and all he represents must be expressed through a more vocal and unified opposition to all of what Jared Kushner does and represents in his White House role as adviser, and as the most powerful Jew in America today. The best way to approach such an opposition would be to take James Baldwin’s words to heart by rebuilding a bridge back to the warmth and kinship of 1960’s participation in the unfinished struggle for civil rights. Jews’ rise in social and economic standing has put an intolerable distance between them and the African American community. There is no reason for relations to continue to deteriorate. In the age of Trump, Jews must choose whose values they will be judged by: Jared Kushner, Donald Trump, and Rabbi Rosen‘s morally-distorted morality or Rabbi Michael Lerner and Tikkun Olam?
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Why Won’t Orthodox Condemn Trump’s Ties to White Supremacists After Charlottesville?
“The Orthodox Union took two days to put out a statement in response to the weekend’s events. And when they finally got around to it, the statement danced around any mention of the Trump administration itself, calling instead on “ local, state and federal officials” to ensure justice is served. The Rabbinical Council of America mourned “violence and bigotry”, but not our leader’s failure to condemn it. Agudath Israel, the organization that represents America’s ultra-Orthodox community, has been totally silent on Charlottesville. Asked for comment, spokesperson Rabbi Avi Shafran wrote that the fact that the Agudah doesn’t issue official statements about hate crimes should itself be seen as “a function of the tragic frequency of hate crimes in our country.”
Then there are the smaller, politically conservative Orthodox rabbinic coalitions. Both TORA, which found time to welcome the appointment of Ambassador David Friedman, and Coalition for Jewish Values, which “advocates for classical Jewish ideas and standards in matters of American public policy,” ignored the weekend’s events entirely.
All of these groups have weighed in on controversies over the last year – just not this one.”
Read the rest at The Jewish Daily Forward
How Paul Gottfried—willing or reluctant—became the mentor of Richard Spencer and a philosophical lodestone for white nationalists
By Jacob Siegel
“Gottfried doesn’t resolve the alt-right’s contradictions so much as he embodies them. He’s a sniffy traditionalist, a self-described “Robert Taft Republican,” with a classical liberal bent, and a Nietzschean American nationalist who goes out of his way to exaggerate his European affect. He opposes both the Civil Rights Act and white nationalism. He’s a bone-deep elitist and the oracle of what’s billed as a populist revolt. “If someone were to ask me what distinguishes the right from the left,” Gottfried wrote in 2008, “the difference that comes to mind most readily centers on equality. The left favors that principle, while the right regards it as an unhealthy obsession.”
Inequality is the alt-right’s foundational belief. In this view, there are inherent, irreducible differences not only between individuals but between groups of people—races, genders, religions, nations; all of the above. These groups each have their own distinctive characteristics and competitive advantages; accordingly, inequality is natural and good, while equality is unnatural and therefore bad and can only be imposed by force. In practice, it is typically a belief in white supremacy and a rejection of universalism.
To the ancient idea that the world is ordered by natural hierarchies the alt-right adds new wrinkles. It shows a nerdish enthusiasm for data-driven attempts to classify group cognitive abilities, an update on the social Darwinist “race science” popular before WWII that often resolves into a genes-are-destiny outlook. It also embraces concepts from the controversial field of evolutionary psychology, which attempts to explain the behavior of groups in terms of Darwinian natural selection. Because equality is both impossible and a kind of civic religion as Gottfried sees it, government attempts to enforce it are only pretexts for the state to increase its power and reach.
Railing against meddling bureaucracies and the threats they pose to liberty is a staple of conservative politics, but Gottfried’s arguments are more esoteric and more radical than anything you’d hear at a tea-party convention. Condensed, Gottfried’s theory holds that America is no longer a republic or a liberal democracy—categories that lost their meaning after the postindustrial explosion of bureaucratic apparatuses transformed the country into a “therapeutic managerial state.” Today, we are ruled by a class of managers who dress like bureaucrats but act like priests. This technocratic clerisy justifies its status by enforcing Progressive precepts like multiculturalism and political correctness, which pit different groups against each other as if they were religious edicts. As Gottfried tells it he was banished from the mainstream of political discourse for rejecting this liberal catechism. Now, versions of the same ideas that Gottfried says got him banished will be gospel in Trump’s White House.
“I view it as a partial vindication,” he told me just over a month before the presidential election, about the rise of the alt-right. “Much would depend on what Trump would do if he became president.””
Read the rest at Tablet Magazine