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‘Israel’ and ‘elites’: The Republican convention sends mixed messages to Jews

Donald Trump gives his acceptance speech at the Republican National Convention on the South Lawn of the White House on Aug. 27, 2020. Source: Screenshot.

NEW YORK CITY (JTA) – Israel came up every one of the four nights of the Republican convention. So did “elites.”

Speakers as diverse as Vice President Mike Pence and a lobsterman from Maine cited moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem as evidence that Donald Trump is a man of his word.

Who Are The Elites?
Just as reliable were the invocations of “elites,” an amorphous class of people who at best ignored the average American’s needs and at worst sought to control an individual’s thinking.

The mention of the Jewish national homeland and a mythical centralized control-wielding power tied together the two strands woven through the fraught story of Donald Trump’s administration and America’s Jewish community: its tight embrace of right-wing pro-Israel orthodoxies and its perceived bigotry.

Mixed Messages
Trump at times has denounced anti-Semitism and the extreme right. But he’s also questioned the loyalties of this country’s Jewish voters, equivocated after a deadly neo-Nazi and white supremacist march in 2017, embraced unfounded conspiracy theories about billionaire philanthropist George Soros and deployed the term “globalist,” a word often used to accuse Jews of having no natural loyalties.

It didn’t help that one of the scheduled speakers, hours before her appearance, amplified an anti-Semitic screed on Twitter, or that another cheerfully admitted to likening abortion to the Holocaust — a comparison that Jewish groups have called a softer form of Holocaust denial. Or that a congressional nominee who has peddled anti-Semitic theories scored an invitation to Trump’s speech on Thursday night, Aug. 27, accepting the nomination.

Veiled Comments?
Asked for comment, the Trump campaign referred the Jewish Telegraphic Agency to an interview given by communications director Tim Murtaugh on Wednesday morning to MSNBC.

“Anti-Semitism is foul and repulsive in all of its forms, and we denounce it fully,” Murtaugh said.

An MSNBC anchor had asked Murtaugh about a convention speaker, Mary Ann Mendoza, who posted the screed that included references to The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, a notorious forgery. The convention pulled her speech before it was broadcast.

Yet there were Jewish listeners who inferred similar if less blatant tropes throughout the convention.

At least twice on the first night, “elites” was modified by adjectives that raised Jewish eyebrows. Kimberly Guilfoyle, the girlfriend of the president’s son, Donald Jr., referred to “cosmopolitan elites” and Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina coupled “Manhattan elites” with “Hollywood moguls.”

“That’s one of their solutions for the pandemic,” Scott said. “They want to take more money from your pocket and give it to Manhattan elites, and Hollywood moguls, so they get a tax break.”

Jason Stanley, a Jewish professor of the philosophy of language at Yale University, was among many who criticized Scott’s comments.

“I am disgusted by the basically open anti-Semitism of Senator Tim Scott’s speech,” Stanley said on Twitter. “He said Biden wanted to enrich ‘Manhattan elites and Hollywood moguls’ (dog whistles for Jews) and that this was part of a plan for ‘a cultural revolution’ to bring about ‘socialist utopia.’”

However, Scott has close ties with  several Jewish groups; he was one the authors last year of a bill, the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, that earned plaudits from the Anti-Defamation League. His first years in Washington he made time for Bible study with an Orthodox Jewish aide, Nick Muzin.

Guilfoyle, whose decibel level got much more media attention, placed “cosmopolitan elites” on the wrong side of the battle for the “soul of America.”

“We stand for our flag,” she said. “This election is a battle for the soul of America. Your choice is clear. Do you support that cancel culture that cosmopolitan elites of Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and Joe Biden, who blame America first?” (Schumer, the Senate minority leader, is Jewish; Biden and Pelosi, the House speaker, are not.)

Alexander Nazaryan, a national correspondent for Yahoo! News, who is Jewish and whose family emigrated from the former Soviet Union, heard an unpleasant echo.

“Kim Guilfoyle rails against ‘cosmopolitan elites,’ which is suspiciously close to Soviet ‘rootless cosmopolitans,’ i.e., Jews,” he said on Twitter.

Mythical Working Folks
Last year, Sen. Josh Hawley, a Missouri Republican, became embroiled in controversy for invoking “cosmopolitan elites.” His critics noted the Soviet-era associations, while Hawley’s defenders said the term was commonplace. The Anti-Defamation League said the term was not necessarily anti-Semitic but called on Hawley to exercise greater care in the future.

“Our president refuses to surrender his beliefs to score points with the big political elite,” Ivanka Trump said on Thursday, introducing her father. “To my father, you are the elite.”

For years, Republicans have derided “coastal elites” and extolled mythical simple working men and women who occupy the country’s center, to the extent that HBO is set to launch its first pandemic-era production, “Coastal Elites.”  The title appears to be an ironic reference to the Republican insult; the production team and cast are packed with Jews, including Paul Rudnick and Bette Midler, who found herself facing criticism recently after she mocked Melania Trump’s accent.

Trump during the 2016 campaign was faulted for using the term, “America First,” which echoes the anti-Semitic movement led by Charles Lindbergh during World War II. The Anti-Defamation League asked him to drop the term; he ignored them and others and used it again in his acceptance speech Thursday night.

“Together, we have ended the rule of the failed political class — and they are desperate to get their power back by any means necessary,” he said. “They are angry at me because instead of putting them first I put America first!”

In some cases the speakers themselves were problematic. There was Mendoza, the mother of a hit-and-run victim who on the day of her speech urged Twitter followers to read a thread from an anti-Semitic conspiracy theorist. The convention uninvited her.

“Soft Denial”
There was Abby Johnson, an anti-abortion activist who in 2017 said on Twitter, “I have a hard time understanding how people can’t see the connection between abortion and the Jewish holocaust.”(“Yes I am!” she said on Twitter on the day of the speech in response to Russel Neiss, a Jewish activist who drew attention to her earlier tweet and said “This woman is speaking at the Republican Convention tonight.” She blew him an emoji kiss.) Groups combating anti-Semitism call promiscuous Holocaust comparisons “soft denial,” arguing that they diminish the significance of the Holocaust.

Then there was the invitation to Marjorie Taylor Greene, who won a primary in a heavily Republican Georgia district, to attend Trump’s acceptance speech, to be broadcast from the White House. Greene has long subscribed to QAnon, the conspiracy cult that traffics in anti-Semitic tropes, although she insists she has quit the habit.

Murtaugh, pressed on the Greene invitation in the MSNBC interview, seemed to suggest that anti-Semitism needed to be obvious to be called out.

“We hear from the media all the time about this QAnon business, and we have a lot of things we work on in the campaign, and chasing down conspiracy theories is not one of them,” he said. “Anti-Semitism is something that is clear and everyone understands.”

He pivoted to the Democrats, noting that the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, whom he called an “anti-Semite,” spoke at a forum for Muslim voters at the Democratic conference. (The campaign of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden denounced Sarsour, then appeared to walk back the denunciation before apparently walking back the walk-back.)

“They gave her a slot at the DNC, and we reacted in real time during the day,” Murtaugh said.

Mendoza’s anti-Semitism has long been in evidence, and Greene has trafficked in precisely the same tropes that have gotten Sarsour into trouble, insinuating that Jews hold to a supremacist worldview.

Love Of Israel
When it comes to Israel, there was less to parse: The convention clearly made the case that Republicans love Israel with mentions of Trump’s moving of the embassy to Jerusalem by Trump and his daughter on Thursday, Pence on Wednesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo  (with a Jerusalem backdrop) on Tuesday and former ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley on Monday.

“Unlike many presidents before me, I kept my promise, recognized Israel’s true capital, and moved our embassy to Jerusalem,” Trump said.

Speakers hailed Trump’s decision to pull out of what they view as the deeply flawed Iran nuclear deal, negotiated by the Obama administration and adamantly opposed by Israel.

On Wednesday night, Pence cheered Trump’s ordering of the assassination of Qasem Soleimani, the leader of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps — believed to be behind the killing of hundreds of U.S. troops in Iraq and attacks on Israel and other American allies across the region. Pence contrasted Trump’s decision to take out Soleimani with Biden’s public skepticism of the move.

The crowd Thursday night gave a standing ovation when White House adviser Ivanka Trump celebrated her father’s success in setting up the launch of a normalization process between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.

Israel even cropped up as an addendum to Trump’s pledges to make Maine lobster great again. Jason Joyce, lobsterman, told Republicans on Tuesday.

“He keeps his word, like eliminating the European tariffs and moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.”

Other News:
Elizabeth Neumann, until recently the assistant secretary for threat prevention and security policy, loves Jesus, her family and defending the homeland from the threat of far-right extremists.

Her passions led her to record a commercial for Republican Voters Against Trump saying Trump’s “actions and language are in fact racist.” She said the president “gave permission to white supremacists to think that what they were doing was permissible, and I do think that the president’s divisive language is indirectly tied to some of the attacks that we have seen.”

Neumann also spoke to Politico at length in an article that quoted an unnamed state law enforcement official who said that the Anti-Defamation League, and not the Feds, is his preferred go-to when he’s seeking information on right-wing extremists:

“They only have a handful of analysts at the ADL, and their handful of analysts put together a better product than the entire DHS,” the official said.

The Disenchanted
Trump’s elections led to the establishment of a notable cadre of conservative “Never Trumpers,” many of them Jewish, including thinker Bill Kristol, columnists Jennifer Rubin and Max Boot, and top former George W. Bush officials Eliot Cohen and David Frum.

Back atcha, says the Republican Jewish Coalition, rolling out a recent ad featuring Democrats who say they back Trump. They include a cantor, a physician, a rabbi and a Democratic congressional candidate in 2014. A little Google searching confirms that the four have indeed been Democrats, although some of them seem to have crossed over before the last presidential election.

It’s not a new tactic. The RJC ran “Buyer’s Remorse” ads in 2012, the year President Barack Obama won a second term — although Mitt Romney, the Republican nominee, scored better with Jewish voters than any GOP nominee since the late 1980s.

Zeldin Zoom-in
Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of just two Jewish Republicans in Congress, is facing an unexpectedly tough challenge from a Long Island chemistry professor, Nancy Goroff. Zeldin spoke at the convention and praised Trump. “For our nation to emerge even stronger, more prosperous. freer and more secure than ever, to make our country, greater than ever before, we must re-elect President Trump,” he said.

Pat Buchanan’s Rabbi
Conventions feature an array of clergy launching (and sometimes closing) each night with a blessing. Doing the Jewish honors recently was Rabbi Aryeh Spero. You may remember him as a co-chairman of one of Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaigns.

In nomination acceptance speech, Trump highlights his pro-Israel accomplishments

(JNS) – In his acceptance speech of the Republican presidential nomination on Thursday, Aug. 27, the final night of the four-day Republican National Convention Donald Trump touted his pro-Israel accomplishments. At the same time, he railed against his Democratic rival, former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden.

Trump Lists Accomplishments
“When I took office, the Middle East was in total chaos. ISIS was rampaging, Iran was on the rise, and the war in Afghanistan had no end in sight,” said Trump on the South Lawn of the White House. “I withdrew from the terrible, one-sided Iran nuclear deal.”

The United States withdrew in May 2018 from the 2015 accord and reimposed sanctions lifted under it, along with enacting new penalties against the regime.

He also spoke about keeping promises.

“Unlike many presidents before me, I kept my promise, recognized Israel’s true capital and moved our embassy to Jerusalem. But not only did we talk about it as a future site, we got it built,” said Trump. “Rather than spending $1 billion on a new building as planned, we took an already owned existing building in a better location … and opened it at a cost of less than $500,000.”

That recognition was in December 2017, followed by the embassy move five months later. The current location of the embassy, in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood, served as the U.S. Consulate, which merged with the embassy a year later. A permanent location has yet to be picked, though the Jerusalem municipality has approved the construction of a new embassy, which is expected to take years to complete.

However, certain criticisms revolved around these announcements—namely, that partisan speeches took place at the White House, which historically has been off-limits for campaign-related business. Additionally, the live audience of about 1,500 sat close together without masks as cases of the coronvirus continue to spread throughout the United States and the total number of deaths hit 180,000.

Takes Credit
Trump continued, “We also recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, and this month we achieved the first Middle East peace deal in 25 years,” referring to the March 2019 recognition and U.S.-brokered Aug. 13 normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, the first between Israel and a Gulf state.

“In addition, we obliterated 100 percent of the ISIS Caliphate, and killed its founder and leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi,” continued the president. “Then, in a separate operation, we eliminated the world’s number-one terrorist, by far, Qassem Soleimani.”

Al-Baghdadi was killed by U.S. forces in northwest Syria in October 2019, while Soleimani, general of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was targeted in a U.S. airstrike on Jan. 3 at Baghdad International Airport.

Slams Biden
Trump slammed Biden for having “voted for the Iraq war; he opposed the mission to take out Osama bin Laden; he opposed killing Soleimani; he oversaw the rise of ISIS, and cheered the rise of China as ‘a positive development’ for America and the world. That’s why China supports Joe Biden and desperately wants him to win.”

Finally, Trump rebuked Biden for accepting the endorsement of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has perpetuated anti-Semitic tropes on social media that has been criticized by Jewish, pro-Israel and other organizations, as well as members of Congress, and has introduced a resolution that promotes financial and other boycotts of Israel.

In July, Omar, whose anti-Semitic conduct wasn’t mentioned by Trump in his speech, endorsed the Democratic presidential nominee in a letter spearheaded and recently released by the Muslim group Emgage USA, Omar—along with Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.) and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, and 41 other elected Muslim officials. Biden accepted the endorsement during an Emgage event that month.

The RNC ended on Thursday night.



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