That Trump ad: Is it anti-Semitic? An analysis.
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Election 2016

That Trump ad: Is it anti-Semitic? An analysis.

George Soros

George Soros speaking in Berlin, Sept. 10, 2012. (Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (JTA) – Last Friday, Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, and Hillary Clinton, the Democrat, each posted their final video ad, summing up their campaigns.

Clinton’s, a minute long, was set to Katy Perry’s joyous “Roar” and featured gobs of sunshine and a diverse assortment of happy people, superimposed with “I’m voting for” titles (“courage, equality, community.”)

Trump’s was twice as long, set to a piano score of rapid-fire, nervous explorations of minor chords wracked by cymbal crashes.

Clouding the skies in Trump’s ad are three well-known Jews, and in the final days of a campaign that has flirted with bias against Muslims, blacks and Hispanics, Trump’s ad now has a good portion of the established Jewish community crying foul, and his campaign and its defenders angrily rejoining that allegations of anti-Semitism are smears.

Is the ad anti-Semitic? Not declaratively. But in its insinuations, it’s hard to deny it traffics in conspiracies of control and destruction identified with classical anti-Semitism.

Trump’s ad features a portion of his Oct. 13 speech in West Palm Beach, Fla. outlining what he said were “the global special interests” that “don’t have your good in mind.”

That speech, as we noted at the time, was a curious replay of themes and language familiar to those of us who are steeped in the monitoring of anti-Semitism. There were precise echoes of the notorious Russian anti-Semitic forgery, “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” which I explored here.

What there wasn’t, in the speech, was any mention of Jews. The phenomenon of anti-Semitism absent of Jews is not novel.

Now, in this ad, Trump has introduced Jews — three of them: Janet Yellen, the chairwoman of the Federal reserve; George Soros, the hedge funder and global philanthropist, and Lloyd Blankfein, the CEO of Goldman Sachs (the later two are Clinton backers).

Trump’s ad plays out in a good guys-bad guys montage. The bad guys are Hillary CLinton, former President Bill Clinton and President Barack Obama. There are also several shots of Clinton appearing with a broad array of foreign officials, and two shots of Clinton meeting with Mexican and Chinese officials. (Trump, in the ad, as in his campaign, singles out those countries as sucking away American jobs.)

The good guys are the ordinary folks and, at the end of the ad, Trump, delivering the speech.

The recurrence of Bill Clinton, Obama and Hillary Clinton make perfect sense in a pro-Trump ad.

But aside from a single image pairing FBI chief James Comey with Hillary Clinton (Comey cleared Clinton of any criminal intent in the scandal involving her use of a private email server while secretary of state), only three other “villains” get close-ups, and they’re all Jewish.

That’s led at least five Jewish groups – including the Reform movement and the Anti-Defamation League– to condemn the ad.

“Whether intentional or not, the images and rhetoric in this ad touch on subjects that anti-Semites have used for ages,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said.

The condemnations in turn have sparked a roar of disapproval, from Trump’s Jewish advisers, but also on social media. Here are some of the objections to the objections to the ad:

Trump never names Jews as Jews

Attacking Jews without naming them is not new, and has proliferated since the enormity of the Holocaust finally drove (for a while at least) explicit anti-Semitism to the margins of polite society.

Soviets favored the euphemism “rootless cosmopolitan.” “Zionist” or “Zios” for short has become a pejorative on the anti-Israel left, and has been applied to Jews who identify as well, Jewish.

Other code words? “International bankers,” “global financial powers”, “special interests.” All three appeared in Trump’s speech.

But there are international bankers, and global financial powers and special interests. What’s wrong with naming them?

There are indeed. And they’re a diverse bunch. The bosses at Morgan Stanley,  Wells Fargo and an array of financial institutions are involved in scandal. None is Jewish, none appears in the ad. Major, and controversial, donors to Clinton related causes? The Waltons. The government of Qatar. James Blair. Frank Giustra. None of them Jewish.

Yet in the Trump ad, Soros’s face is matched with the phrase “levers of power in Washington” and Yellen’s with “global special interests.” Blankfein’s is coupled with a “global power structure that is responsible for the economic decisions that have robbed our working class, stripped our country of its wealth and put that money into the pockets of a handful of large corporations and political entities.”

Yellen, particularly, is a bizarre choice for “global special interests.” The Fed handles domestic economic policy, and Trump’s beef with her is that she’s kept interest rates artificially low to make the economy look good for Obama and by extension, Clinton. (Trump has previously praised her.) The notion that the Fed is in the pocket of political interests is, in of itself, novel.

Hey, Bernie Sanders singled out banks and bankers. Does that make him an anti-Semite?

Sanders, it’s true, likes to name Goldman Sachs. Also, JPMorgan Chase. Also Morgan Stanley. Also Citigroup. Also Wells Fargo. In fact, in indicting banks for bad behavior, Sanders is well, catholic. Small C. In the sense that he doesn’t focus on a single class – like, say, Jews – when singling out malefactors.

Also, Sanders’ issue is with the structure of the economy. His problem is with what goes on in the light of day. He doesn’t allege a secret cabal is conspiring in secret to “plot the destruction of U.S. sovereignty.”

Whoever heard of these guys? Who even knows Soros and Yellen are Jewish?

Anti-Semites. The alt-right, brought into sunshine by Trump’s campaign, understands these signals very well.

So a handful of nutjobs would recognize these names as Jewish. What good does it do Trump to signal them on the eve of voting?

Good question, and one for the Trump campaign.

What’s true is that campaigns, in their final days, send signals to even small constituencies to get them out and voting. George W. Bush, in a debate in 2000, signaled to Muslim and Arab Americans that he would quash the practice of using secret evidence to detain suspects indefinitely – he got majorities in those constituencies. (The trend among Muslims and Arab Americans to vote GOP flipped after Bush pushed through sweeping police powers in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks.) Trump on Monday, speaking in Florida, made his case to Jewish voters in the state, bashing the Obama administration’s Israel policies, in an appeal to a minority in a swing state that could flip the election.

So he’s pro-Israel? How does that make sense?

Pro-Israel is not incompatible with peddling negative Jewish stereotypes. See under, Nixon, Richard.

Look, Soros really is a hedge funder, right? And Blankfein is a banker.

Also philanthropists, and Soros is credited with guiding post-Soviet Eastern Europe to free markets but…

Let’s not litigate their characters. What’s true enough is that unfairly or not, Soros and Blankfein are among the poster boys for big money bad behavior.

But using malefactors to besmirch a class is a time-honored device. Anti-Semites wanting to keep Jews out of the United States in the 1920s cited Jewish gangsters who truly were gangsters, Jewish communists who truly were communists.

When white supremacists want to smear blacks, they don’t post photos of Martin Luther King Jr. or John Lewis, or of Ben Vereen for that matter. They post photos of folks who resemble Willie Horton, rapist and murderer.

Trump’s Mexican examples are rapists and killers, not Cesar Chavez or Jim Plunkett. His emblematic Muslims are not Muhammad Ali or Mehmet Oz, but Omar Mateen and the Farooks.

Aha! Exactly! Trump has an array of Jews with whom he is close, starting with his daughter and son-in-law! And he mentions them, often!

Yes. And they don’t appear in this ad.

Trump’s campaign is chaired by a man, Stephen Bannon, who when he’s not politicking is CEO of a site, Breitbart, that has become a clearinghouse for the “alt-right,” where these themes are immediately recognizable as attached to conspiracies that indict Jews.

This is a candidate who has tweeted and retweeted themes originating among anti-Semites, and who has questioned why public Jewish figures like Jon Stewart, the comedian, or Ben Smith, the journalist, don’t use Jewish names. Who has mocked Jewish Republicans as wanting to “control” their politicians, and who has highlighted Jewish names as negative influences on Clinton in his speeches and in debates.

And who now has ended his campaign insinuating that a secret cabal is controlling the global economy for nefarious purposes – and who has identified the cabal with three Jewish figures.

Does Donald Trump peddle anti-Jewish stereotypes and conspiracy theories? The likelihood favoring “maybe not” has shrunk to almost nothing.