As with pretty much everything else he touches, Donald Trump has created chaos among the Jewish right. Quite a few neoconservatives took hard-line anti-Trump positions, though in most cases this did not extend so far as endorsing Hillary Clinton. Weekly Standard founder William Kristol was especially energetic in his pursuit of a chimerical third-party conservative candidate, who never materialized and wouldn’t have mattered anyway. But a few of the neocons stuck strongly with Trump. Commentary’s Norman Podhoretz and FrontPage’s David Horowitz were 100 percent in. So was the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein’s extreme right-wing group.
Others hedged their bets. Actual war criminal, convicted liar to Congress, and disbarred lawyer Elliott Abrams—Podhoretz’s stepson-in-law—kept a low profile during the election and then tried desperately to get hired as Rex Tillerson’s number two at the State Department. Owing to just how crazy this administration is, Abrams was treated as a sensible foreign-policy mandarin by the mainstream media, though he still came up short. A few of his comrades appeared ready to jump on board when Trump bombed Syria, in the mistaken hope that he could or would sustain any policy at all, much less one that upset Vladimir Putin—but of course, this didn’t last. Still sounding like he was auditioning for a role he would never get, Abrams took to the pages of the formerly “Never Trump” Weekly Standard to proclaim that Trump had now “acted also as Commander in Chief. And more: He finally accepted the role of Leader of the Free World.” Kristol called it a “must read.” Still, no job offer.
Yes, one would think that a willingness to distance oneself from modern-day Nazis and Holocaust deniers would be the lowest imaginable bar for any sentient human being, much less the president of the country that helped defeat Hitler in World War II. And one might expect Jews to have precious little sympathy for any politician who has frequently trafficked in nakedly anti-Semitic symbols and memes. In a recent post-Charlottesville op-ed in The New York Times, neocon Bret Stephens lorded over those Jewish conservatives (neo- and otherwise) who had held their collective noses and thrown in their lot with Trump. Stephens allowed that while Trump’s “bigotries aligned, in some sense, with our political views,” his lack of character undermined the likelihood that he would follow through on the policies these bigotries implied.
Trump’s fondness for Third Reich fantasy re-enactors aside, Stephens’s case for the anti-Trump side rests almost exclusively on what’s best for Israel. He laments that the Iranian nuclear deal remains in place, that the US embassy in Israel hasn’t been moved to Jerusalem, that Syria’s Bashar al-Assad is still in power, and that “the Israeli government is outraged by the deals the administration has cut with Russia at Israel’s strategic expense.” Speaking to a gathering organized by the Tikvah Fund, a right-wing Jewish charity, Stephens argued that it was a “scandal…if we fail to live up to the promise of our American citizenship to do all we can to assure the survival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people.”
Stephens fails to understand that what matters to the far-right Jews for Trump is less the issues—even when it comes to what they understand to be the survival of the Jewish state—than the hatreds they share with the president’s supporters. As Irving Kristol, the late “godfather” of neoconservatism and father to William, explained back in 1993, while he had professed to be motivated by traditional Cold War concerns in the days of the US-Soviet rivalry, those alleged life-and-death questions were always secondary—at best—to his true ambition: the defeat and destruction of American liberalism. “There is no ‘after the Cold War’ for me,” Kristol wrote. “[M]y cold war has increased in intensity, as sector after sector of American life has been ruthlessly corrupted by the liberal ethos…. Now that the other ‘Cold War’ is over, the real cold war has begun.”
This hatred of liberals—which animated so many white working-class voters to ignore their own self-interest and vote their animosities in 2016—is no less powerful among the pointy-heads. It’s why Podhoretz still hasn’t said a word against Trump. Neither has billionaire Sheldon Adelson or Klein (whose organization Adelson generously funds). New York’s Lee Zeldin, the only Jewish GOP congressman, also endorsed Trump’s remarks that “there is evidence that the violence came from multiple groups and multiple sides.” It’s why Horowitz’s FrontPage is excommunicating the hapless Ron Radosh, insisting that by criticizing ex–Trump adviser Steve Bannon, he has returned to his “Communist…roots.”
This personalized, political cold war is no doubt also why it took three days for Benjamin Netanyahu—a pretender to the crown of “leader of the Jews” if ever there was one—to say anything about Charlottesville. And even then, it wasn’t much: a single tweet that never once mentioned Trump. Netanyahu didn’t even bother to use up all 140 characters. Nor did he respond to the enormous wave of criticism that he received in Israel from all sides when the even more right-wing Naftali Bennett complained of Trump, saying: “The leaders of the U.S. must condemn and denounce the displays of anti-Semitism.” Instead—and forgive me if this sounds familiar—he left it to his son to do the dirty work of signaling his true calculations and reassuring what remains of his political base. Young Yair Netanyahu explained that the Nazis shouting “Jews will not replace us” in Charlottesville “belong to the past. Their breed is dying out. However 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.”
Just as Moses said of God, “He visits the iniquity of the fathers on the children” (Exodus 34:7), so too shall we suffer for the sins and misjudgments of pro-Trump Jewish conservatives for generations to come.