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President Donald Trump arrives to attend a lunch on "digital transformation", during the G7 summit in Biarritz, southwestern France, August 26 2019 Image Credit: AP

Are avowed, vociferous Philo-Semites, who never miss an opportunity to profess their undying love for Israel and admiration of Jews, repressed, closet anti-Semites? Looks like it.

In the public discourse in the US, anti-Semitic wolves masquerading in sheep’s clothing as Philo-Semites, come in different shapes and forms. So let’s take it from the top. In recent months, and certainly in recent weeks, President Trump has said several indiscreet things about the Jewish community that left its members reeling at the brazenness of it all — or just scratching their heads.

Last week, for example, he claimed that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal”. Earlier this year, he told a Jewish group at the White House, assembled there for a Hanuka party, that Israel was “your country”, and later, at a gathering of the Republican Jewish Coalition, he referred to Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister”. He made similar anti-Semitic utterances on other occasions, suggesting that Jews used their wealth to control, manipulate and exploit, donating their money to candidates they could “buy”.

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Yair Rosenberg, a senior writer at Tablet magazine, who addressed the issue in an Op-Ed piece in Washington Post last Sunday, quotes from a 1991 book by the chief manager of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino, in which he wrote that Trump had once told him this: “Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys who wear Yarmulkes every day”.

Trump’s contradictory outlook

“So is Trump a Philo-Semite or an anti-Semite?”, asks Rosenberg in his piece. “The answer is both. The explanation for his seemingly contradictory outlook toward Jews is simple: Trump believes all the anti-Semitic stereotypes about Jews. But he sees those traits as admirable. To Trump, the belief that Jews are foreign interlopers who use their wealth to serve their own clannish interests is not a negative, but rather a positive. He wants Jews to be his attorneys to manage his money so that he too can be rich ...” That, I say, is a facile take.

At its core, the public discourse, in the US as elsewhere, is a rough draft of intellectual history, as it were. It triggers the flow and synthesis of ideas in society, with slow transformations taking place as these ideas move from person to another, place to place, period to period. But since not all persons, shall we say, are created equal, what a president says becomes amplified on a massive scale. In time it weaves itself, if only subliminally, into the mainstream of our social consciousness.

How could a man, who cavalierly harbours, and so openly verbalises, racist thoughts against blacks, and against Mexican, Muslim and other immigrants from “ ‘ ... hole’ countries”, be let off the hook that easy?

Obsessive adulation

But there’s another kind of anti-Semite floating around — the groupie politician whose professed concern for the welfare and security of Israel goes to lunatic extremes, but is too clueless to realise how transparently racist his pronouncements are. One example is Representative Tom Emmer, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee, who recently sent out a fund-raising letter on behalf of the Republican Party in which he accused a trio of “deep-pocketed, far-left billionaires” of having “essentially bought control of Congress”. The trio? George Soros, Michael Bloomberg and Tom Steyer — all Jewish folks.

And recall the abuse hurled at members of the Squad, the administration’s consistent foil, because “they hate Israel” — a mantra, by now — and thus should “go back to the crime-infested places from which they came”. There has never been anything like it before: A politician told to leave America because he or she does not evince sufficient devotion to a foreign country.

America’s racial character

So how to explain the strange contradiction of anti-Semitic politicians expressing such obsessive adulation for Israel?

The explanation is not altogether obtuse: These ethnic purists, determined to preserve America’s racial character and fearful of it becoming less Anglo and more Muslim, Hispanic, South Asian, Oriental (how un-American!) see Israel as a model they can — indeed, should — emulate, including its Basic Law. Ann Coulter, an intellectual lightweight not worthy of being quoted here, but a popular commentator whose views expressed a segment of the national mood, wrote in her recent book, Adios America (note the unsubtle choice of Spanish here): “Israel says, quite correctly, that changing Israel’s ethnicity would change the idea of Israel. Well, changing America’s ethnicity would change the idea of America too.”

Meanwhile, the holy alliance between Semite and anti-Semite thrives, not just in the United States but in Britain as well. For consider the unsettling spectacle in the latter country, where members of the notoriously racist English Defence League now make a habit of waving Israeli flags at demonstrations. Strange populist world we live in!

— Fawaz Turki is a journalist, lecturer and author based in Washington. He is the author of The Disinherited: Journal of a Palestinian Exile.