The stain of anti-Semitism at the White House isn’t going away
What is it with President Trump and anti-Semitism? He kicked off his inauguration with a sermon by pastor Robert Jeffress, who has declared that Jews are going to hell. Just one week in, the administration marked Holocaust Remembrance Day without once mentioning Jews. He is harboring Sebastian Gorka — a frequent associate of Hungary’s anti-Semitic far right — on his national security staff. And who could forget Sean Spicer’s claim — during Passover no less — that Hitler never used “gas on his own people” like Syrian President Assad had?
In response, Trump has pointed to his Jewish daughter and son-in-law to assure the nation that he’s “the least anti-Semitic person you have ever seen in your entire life,” but that hardly put the issue to rest.
Let’s put aside the president’s trademark bluster and take him at his word — he loves his daughter, and he has a handful of individual Jews in his life that he cares about. But the issue isn’t what Trump believes in his heart of hearts. What really counts are his actions and the company he keeps — including once fringe figures like Steve Bannon and Sebastian Gorka. In that sense, tragically, he has been a godsend to anti-Semitic movements and ideologies once relegated to the margins of society.
All the while, alt-right trolls, white nationalist activists and conspiracy theorists have cheered on President Trump from the virtual sidelines. They’re cheering because this administration has carried the stain of anti-Semitism from the campaign into the White House and federal government. Sadly, the longstanding taboo in the GOP against overt anti-Semitism has begun to fall, and ties to anti-Semitic figures and thought — once considered to be automatically disqualifying by the Republican mainstream — are no longer an impediment to serving in the executive branch.
But across the GOP and among too many establishment Jewish organizations, no one wants to name the depth and breadth of this pattern. Top administration officials like Jeff Sessions, Sebastian Gorka, Steve Bannon, Michael Anton, Rick Perry and, until recently, Mike Flynn, have deep ties to fringe elements of the extreme Christian Right, the white nationalist alt-right, the European far right and the anti-immigration movement. These ties have played a key role in normalizing anti-Semitic bigotry and advancing political alliances with those who promote or are sympathetic to anti-Semitism. This is dangerous for the Jewish community but it is also perilous for immigrant communities, communities of color, and all religious minorities whose safety is jeopardized by white nationalism.
Look no further than Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a close ally of the president and the first senator to endorse him. Sessions has longstanding and deep connections to groups like the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), which tout anti-Semitic figures and leaders. FAIR was founded by John Tanton, who still sits on the group’s national advisory board. Tanton practically worshipped the architect of the Immigration Act of 1924, John B. Trevor Sr., a rabid anti-Semite whose pro-Nazi group was later indicted for sedition. He also recommended the work of a radical anti-Semite – Kevin MacDonald – to a major donor and suggested that FAIR’s board discuss MacDonald’s anti-Semitic theories regarding Jews and immigration.
Sessions has also worked closely with two other anti-immigrant groups affiliated with Tanton, NumbersUSA and the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS). The president of NumbersUSA has appeared on the radio show of notorious anti-Semite Jeff Rense, who hosts neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers and promotes conspiracy theories about “Jewish control of the world.” Meanwhile CIS staff have circulated articles by anti-Semites and Holocaust deniers and appeared on anti-Semitic programs and in anti-Semitic publications. One former CIS Analyst, Jon Feere, provided quotes to an anti-Semitic publication, the American Free Press, in 2012. Notably, Feere was hired by the Trump administration as an advisor to the acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement.
Like Sessions, Mike Flynn, who briefly served as Trump’s National Security Advisor, helped mainstream extremists during his time as a campaign advisor, transition team member and administration official. Flynn’s frequent Twitter interactions with white nationalists and anti-Semites have been thoroughly covered, including the infamous “not anymore, Jews” retweet. He also called former Breitbart News technology editor Milo Yiannopoulos “one of the most brave people I know.” Yiannopoulos, who has credited Steve Bannon for making him a star, has an anti-Semitic repertoire that includes encouraging people to post swastikas, referring to a reporter as a “Thick-As-Pig Shit Media Jew” and saying that “Jews run everything.”
Flynn is no longer part of Trump’s National Security Council, but another figure with disturbing links to anti-Semitism remains in a national security role: Sebastian Gorka, a Deputy Assistant to the President on national security matters. Gorka recently jumped to the defense of the president over the Holocaust Remembrance Day controversy, dismissing the criticism of Jewish groups as “asinine.”
To say the least, Gorka may not be the most credible messenger on the issue. During his time in his parents’ native Hungary, he was intensely involved with Hungary’s far right, which is rife with anti-Semitism. Beginning in 2006, he wrote a series of articles for Magyar Demokrata, a newspaper known for publishing anti-Semitic writers. In 2007, he founded the short-lived UDK Party with two former members of the far-right Jobbik Party, which has been widely condemned for its virulent anti-Semitism. As a leader of the UDK, Gorka appeared on Hungarian television to voice support for the Hungarian Guard, a far-right, anti-Semitic paramilitary group. He also defended right-wing protesters’ use of the Arpad flag, which harks back to the World War II-era pro-Nazi movement in the country. The president of the Federation of the Jewish Communities of Hungary described the flag as “a symbol of murder and mass murder.”