Jews Will Not Be Pawns
Until recently, I had forgotten that the word “Jew” can sound ugly. But then, the phrase “Jewish disloyalty” made headlines, and I was reminded that the ability to forget is a privilege. When the president opens his mouth, I remember how prevalent oppression still is. It’s more difficult than ever to stay on top of news cycles that move so quickly they can give you whiplash, but to ignore the bigotry spewing from the White House is to normalize it. Hate is more than a sound bite.
At the end of August, America’s commander-in-chief unleashed his latest attack on the Jewish community, accusing any Jewish person who votes for a Democrat of ignorance or “great disloyalty.” Initially, I didn’t feel that surprised by his words. The president has alienated minority groups across the country since his time on the campaign trail (and before starting his political career), including people of color, religious minorities, immigrants, the LGBTQ+ community, and women. In Trump’s America, nobody is safe. It comes as no shock that Jewish people aren’t exempt.
Trump’s comments about Jewish voters came soon after a tweet berating Democratic Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-Minnesota) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Michigan). The U.S. Congresswomen had planned to visit Israel, but were then barred by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after Trump claimed that the pair “hate Israel and all Jewish people,” and that Israel would “show great weakness” by allowing the visit. Trump’s influence on an American ally to silence our congresswomen should be alarming to all, no matter your political affiliation.
Many organizations spoke up in defense of the barred congresswomen. “This is yet another example of Donald Trump continuing to weaponize and politicize antisemitism at a time when antisemitic incidents have increased due to the president’s emboldening of white nationalism,” said Haile Soifer, the Jewish Democratic Council of America’s Executive Director. Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) tweeted against the decision, insisting that every member of Congress should have the opportunity to experience Israel firsthand.
Later, when American Jewish loyalty was called into question, Jewish leaders circulated the hashtag #DisloyalToTrump. Jon Cooper, chairman of the Democratic Coalition tweeted, “I’m an American Jew and an American patriot, and I’m proudly disloyal to Trump.” However, other groups supported the president’s statement. The Republican Jewish Coalition tweeted: “Trump is right, it shows a great deal of disloyalty to oneself to defend a party that protects/emboldens people that hate you for your religion.”
Trump’s accusation that American Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal” suggests that most Jews support his presidency or vote Republican, but the proof is in the gefilte fish: The Jewish voting record has always floated around 70% Democrat, with a high of 79% of Jews voting Democrat in the 2018 midterm elections.
So why does Trump continue to go after a Jewish vote that he doesn’t have, attacking progressive congresswomen and attempting to guilt Jewish Democratic voters? Trump needs to lock in his second term, and to do that he needs to ensure that his base is tight and that the left is disjointed. He can’t win left-leaning districts, but he can rock the boat.
For decades, American Jews have faced scrutiny when they show concern for or interest in Israel; Trump is using a decades-old, fear-driven tactic to cast doubt on the Americanness of American Jews. To Jews, he’s essentially saying: “You are not really American, you are something else.” This is what antisemitism looks like. Absurdly, Trump is simultaneously pushing antisemitic tropes while professing to be “good for the Jews” in both America and Israel. Furthermore, he’s falsely holding the Jewish people accountable for a future Republican loss. If Trump doesn’t win the election in 2020, his base knows just who to blame. That’s what makes these comments so dangerous.
Jewish people won’t secure Trump’s stay in the White House, but using this community as a political pawn might. Just as Trump targets progressive Muslim congresswomen, just as he targets Mexican immigrants and pleads with Congress to “build the wall,” just as he bans Muslim people from entering the country, just as he attacks women, so too does he attack Jews. Trump targets minority groups to strengthen his base. These attacks of bigotry, sexism, and hatred are fueled by an insatiable need for power. Everyone else is collateral damage or, worse, intentional damage.
In 2020, the American people have the opportunity to change course or affirm that this is who we are as a nation. We have the opportunity to insist that minority communities are not expendable, and that an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. It’s easy to feel powerless, but acting, even when it’s hard, is necessary. If we have any political responsibility as American Jews, I believe it’s to own our identities to the fullest extent. Every day we have the choice to use our voices when any community is attacked—that is our power. Donald Trump asks his base to react with hate, but we always have the option to respond with integrity. We aren't political pawns or tropes. Let's act.
How to cite this page
Pinkus, Dani. "Jews Will Not Be Pawns." 10 September 2019. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on March 28, 2020) <https://jwa.org/blog/jews-are-more-pawns>.