The era of Trump, and with it four years of living dangerously, are finally over. Unlike any American politician before him, Trump created a massive rift in the Jewish community along political, religious, and cultural lines.
On one side, there was the Jewish right, composed of secular conservatives, foreign policy hawks, and the burgeoning Orthodox community, all enthused by Trump’s staunch support for Israel, attacks on leftist antisemites, and foreign policy successes in the Middle East. On the other and more numerous side was the Jewish left, who — while they may have acknowledged that Israel benefitted from Trump’s policies — were repulsed by the man and what he represented, and saw him as a threat to American Jews and American society as a whole.
Besides Israel, the division around Trump was defined by the issue of antisemitism. To the Jewish right, Trump was a bulwark against rising antisemitism on the left. He denounced racist politicians like Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, fostered international action against antisemitism, and derided the left for its hatred of Israel.
The Jewish left, on the other hand, pointed to Trump’s relentless dog-whistling to far-right racists of every type, his massive base of support on the antisemitic “alt-right,” and the horrifying acts of violence committed by far-right racists against Jews during his tenure, such as the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue. All of this seemed to culminate in the spectacle of a bedraggled beast of a man wearing a “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt during the Capitol insurrection.
The ferocity of this divide over Trump is ironic, because the truth is that both sides have been absolutely right. The Jewish left is correct that denying the forces of hatred and violence unleashed by Trump gets us nowhere. There is no doubt that his oft-racist statements, violent rhetoric, and ultimate sedition gave legitimacy and enthusiasm to antisemites from across the right-wing spectrum, emboldening them to come out of the woodwork and proclaim themselves publicly, with social media fueling their extremism until it claimed Jewish lives.
At the same time, however, the Jewish right is correct that there is an insidious form of antisemitism metastasizing rapidly on the left, and it was good that Trump fought against it — whatever his true motives may have been. In the hands of figures like Omar and Tlaib, and with the quiet collaboration of those like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who are smart enough to keep their prejudice mostly to themselves, antisemitism has gained a foothold in the US Congress and the heart of the Democratic party itself. There is no doubt that Joe Biden himself is free of the slightest taint of antisemitism; but factions to his left could easily drag the party into the same moral abyss as the UK Labour party under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn.
The problem, then, is not that either side of the divide in the Jewish community is wrong — it is that each is in denial about its own side. At the risk of being overly optimistic, however, it is possible that Trump’s departure may be an opportunity.
Removing his polarizing presence may allow both sides of the Jewish community to open their eyes and admit what is happening. When something isn’t working, the most important step is to stop doing it — and denial and self-deception are not working. If the Jewish left and right are to fight antisemitism effectively, they must first begin to fight it in their own ranks.
Whatever he may have done for Israel, the Jewish right should renounce Trump and Trumpism once and for all. And however strongly they may believe in progress and social justice, the Jewish left must renounce the likes of Omar, Tlaib, and their enablers, and work to counter anti-Israel racism in the progressive movement.
This is an urgent necessity, because neither left-wing nor right-wing antisemitism is going anywhere. The far-right may have been kicked off of Twitter, but it will find other ways to spread its poisonous ideology, and may become even more violent as it forced to fester in the shadows. Meanwhile, with the Democrats now in power, left-wing antisemites may feel more emboldened to pursue their agenda in public, using the shield of office to advance their racist ideology, perhaps even one day into the White House itself.
Fortunately, there are signs of progress. Some of the most prominent Never-Trumpers have been right-wing Jews, and they are now entering the battle for the future of the Republican party in the post-Trump era. And left-wing Jews are indeed beginning to push back against antisemitism and anti-Zionism in the progressive movement and the Democratic party. The next step, then, is to forge a broad, united front against antisemitism, both left and right. The Jewish left and the Jewish right can continue to disagree on nearly everything, but on this one issue they must put their ideological differences aside. Our enemies, after all, are united in their hatred of us; if nothing else, we must be united in our resistance to them.