Don’t be silly. His daughter is an Orthodox Jew. She and her husband are his closest advisers. He appointed Jews to top economic positions. He couldn’t be an anti-Semite.
How many times have you heard that argument about Donald Trump? Probably after each incident of what surely sounds like anti-Jewish speech by Trump—as candidate and then as president—and quite a few times in between. Ivanka and Jared are his magic amulets, purportedly protecting him from any charges of bigotry against Jews. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and a few other appointees are the beads hanging from the amulet, supposedly increasing its power.
And yet the Ivanka argument is worth about as much as other magic amulets: nothing at all. In general, “Some of my best friends are…” is never proof that a person isn’t a bigot. The slightly more thoughtful haters can explain why their best friend is different from all the other Jews, or blacks, or Muslims, or women. There’s no reason to think Trump is thoughtful enough for the contradiction to bother him.
But that’s not the whole story. The not-at-all-unusual character of Trump’s anti-Semitic thinking, combined with his very particular bundle of resentment and insecurity, make sense of his words and actions toward Jews. He believes classic anti-Semitic canards, shares paranoid fantasies about Jews—and wants a few around him.
Let’s look at several of Trump’s better-known statements relating to Jews.
In the midst of a racist rant about “lazy” black accountants, Trump once told the head of one of his hotels, “The only kind of people I want counting my money are short guys that wear yarmulkes every day.” Trump, size-obsessed, obviously meant “short” as disparaging. In translation, “Jews are fixated on and good with money. I’d like some working for me, as long as they know who’s in charge and that I’m better-looking.”
That comment was reported in a 1991 book. Trump first acknowledged that it was “probably true,” then later denied it. You can judge between the affirmation and the denial with the help of his widely reported speech in December 2015 to the Republican Jewish Coalition.
“Is there anyone in this room who doesn’t negotiate deals? Probably more than any room I’ve ever spoken [in],” Trump said, adding, “And I know why you’re not going to support me. You’re not going to support me because I don’t want your money. Isn’t it crazy? You want to control your own politician.”
Pretty straightforward. For Donald, Jews are people who make deals and have lots of money, which is good. But they control people and politics, which is bad.
Half a year later, candidate Trump tweeted a graphic borrowed from a white supremacist site, showing Hillary Clinton against a backdrop of $100 bills. Inside a six-pointed red star blared the words, “Most Corrupt Candidate Ever!” Trump denied that the message was anti-Semitic. Really, how could you think so, just because it stated that Clinton was in fact controlled by Jewish money?
Trump’s final campaign video was a denial of his denial. He warned of “those who control the levers of power in Washington, and of “global special interests,” while pictures flashed of Clinton and three Jews involved, in different ways, in finance: Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, philanthropist George Soros and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein. The choice was outsider Trump, or Clinton, puppet of the multi-tentacled cabal of Jewish money.
So what explains the court Jews?
Pay attention to Trump’s personality, as constantly on display. Despite his claimed billions, he does seem to think he’s an outsider. He hates the insiders and still wants to belong to their club, and for them to respect him, even be subservient to him.
A Jewish daughter makes him a member of the club. A rich deal-making Jewish son-in-law as his lackey, along with an ex-Goldman Sachs exec as his underling at Treasury—wow. He has power over the powerful. They have to make deals for him. Anytime he wants, he could fire a member of the cabal.
His sympathies, however, remain with those who are convinced there is a cabal. Trump showed that very quickly after his inauguration with his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement leaving out any mention of Jews. As historian Deborah Lipstadt aptly wrote, “The de-Judaization of the Holocaust” is “softcore Holocaust denial.” Okay, something bad happened during that war, but war is hell and it wasn’t about anti-Semitism. So goes the thinking.
After all, there are “very fine people” among people who march with Nazi flags. Trump said so after Charlottesville.
The contradiction between Protocols of the Elders of Zion thinking and wanting Jews around you, Jews who fawn on you, is smaller than it looks. And as I said, Trump is the last person to be bothered by a contradiction.
Forget the amulet called Ivanka. The president of the United States is an anti-Semite.
Gershom Gorenberg lives in Israel. He is the author most recently of The Unmaking of Israel.