Today the New York Observer published an “open letter” to the newspaper’s owner, Jared Kushner, in which a reporter named Dana Schwartz asks her boss to reconsider his close relationship with his father-in-law, the Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, who recently tweeted (and later deleted) an anti-Semitic meme about Hillary Clinton. Schwartz, who is Jewish, tells Kushner, who is also Jewish: “When you stand silent and smiling in the background, his Jewish son-in-law, you’re giving his most hateful supporters tacit approval.”
I disagree with Dana’s criticism. All presidential candidates attract people whose support makes them uncomfortable. I think the effort to paint Donald Trump as an anti-semite because some of his supporters are is like saying that Bernie Sanders hates the US because some of his supporters spit on American flags at his rallies. I understand that the worst among Trump’s supporters can make Jewish journalists — including myself — uncomfortable with their stupid and hateful screeching.
It is certainly true that “presidential candidates attract people whose support makes them uncomfortable.” But there is virtually no evidence that Donald Trump is uncomfortable with his support among white supremacists. Furthermore, “the effort to paint Donald Trump as an anti-semite” is not solely based on the fact that some of supporters tweet about the global extermination of Jews. It’s also based on the fact that Trump’s campaign literally tweeted, using his own account, an anti-Semitic meme, possibly sourced from a white supremacist message board.
But with regard to Trump personally, I’m in a different place from Dana, who happens to be a brilliant and thoughtful writer. I’ve seen this guy hold his grandsons at a bris. No one I know sets the sensitivity meter higher than I do on anti-semitism. My mother fled the Holocaust and I am highly identified as a Jewish journalist. If I saw that in Trump, I’d be the first one to write about it, and no one on earth could stop me. In my opinion, Donald Trump is not a Jew hater. The effort to hold him responsible for what his supporters do is a dangerous trend because it empowers anyone who wants to shut a candidate up to simply organize some misbehavior on his behalf.
It’s unclear whether Kurson actually believes that Trump’s opponents are “organiz[ing] some misbehavior on his behalf” in order to portray him as a white supremacist, or at least sympathetic to the concerns of white supremacists. But, again, Trump has done the work of portraying himself as racist all by himself—such as when he claimed that Mexican immigrants were infiltrating the United States in order to rape and murder innocent Americans, or when he endorsed a comprehensive ban on Muslims. Trump has attracted white supremacist supporters because his statements and policy prescriptions tend to be racist in and of themselves.
Trump has sustained that support by regularly declining to disavow his white supremacist supports, allowing them to believe that he is quietly sympathetic to their cause. The white supremacists themselves seem to understand this: “Our Glorious Leader and ULTIMATE SAVIOR has gone full-wink-wink-wink to his most aggressive supporters,” wrote Andrew Anglin, the neo-Nazi publisher, after Trump retweeted three open and avowed white supremacists in quick succession.
Perhaps the most galling thing about Kurson’s response, though, is that he continues to insist that he is preternaturally sensitive to instances of anti-Semitism. If he isn’t sensitive to a political candidate tweeting a meme that juxtaposes the Star of David with piles of money, then what is he sensitive to?
If Kurson is indeed uniquely aware of anti-Semitism, he tends to focus his power on liberal Jews. In December of 2015, for example, he wrote a bizarre article insinuating that Sarah Koenig, the creator of Serial, was motivated to cover the cases of Adnan Syed and Bowe Bergdahl because ... her brother-in-law, a Vassar College professor named Josh Schreier, has publicly supported the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which seeks to pressure Israel to recognize the rights of Palestinians.
“Serial [is] two for two in plots that feature an American Muslim—or an American who seems to have been attracted to Muslim beliefs—getting the shaft from the dominant white culture in America,” Kurson wrote, before attempting to suggest that Schreier’s opinions about Israel could have tilted Koenig’s Serial coverage.
He never quite gets there, though. “There is no reason to suspect that Sarah Koenig herself or even Ben Schreier [Koenig’s husband] are sympathetic to the BDS movement that the majority of Jews consider anti-Israel and which many consider anti-Semitic as well,” Kurson concluded. As for Joshua Schreier—and what he may or may not be guilty of—Kurson spent the rest of his article raising but not answering questions about Schreier’s Judaism. (“The fact that Mr. Schreier is an observant Jew is also unusual for this crowd,” he mused.) The entire point of the piece was to portray Schreier as a self-hating Jew, simply because he endorses efforts to end the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories.
In other words, Kurson is willing to tar a college professor as anti-Semitic—or at least sympathetic to anti-Semites—because he opposes certain policies of the State of Israel. But Kurson considers it “dangerous” to criticize a presidential candidate for publishing obvious anti-Semitic propaganda. That this twisted logic serves the interests of Kurson’s own boss is not exactly surprising. What’s surprising is that Kurson still apparently believes he can stand up against anti-Semitism while blithely dismissing his own employee’s concerns about the anti-Semitic elements of Donald Trump’s campaign.