- Jewish Americans have been politically divided over support for Trump.
- The pro-Trump Capitol riot on January 6 that featured at least one Holocaust reference showed the depth of that chasm.
- While most American Jews voted for Biden, most Orthodox Jews approved of Trump’s job as president.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Among the rioters who stormed the US Capitol on Wednesday, January 6, was a white man with long graying hair and a thick white beard. Emblazoned on his hooded sweatshirt, pictured in several photographs from the insurrection, were the words, “Camp Auschwitz.” Beneath the reference to the Holocaust concentration camp that killed 1.1 million people during World War II was an image of a skull with the phrase “Work brings freedom,” a translation of the German words that were etched into the gates of the camp.
The man in the sweatshirt, Robert Packer, was far from the only rioter driven by anti-Semitism. The insurrection drew a wide range of Neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and QAnon conspiracy theorists whose falsities are built in part on anti-Semitic tropes. “It was an ugly weave of kindred historic hatreds still alive in the United States,” Rabbi Menachem Creditor, the Pearl and Ira Meyer Scholar in Residence at the UJA-Federation of New York, told Insider.
But almost unnoticed during the day’s events was another group of protesters â€” one who would seem to have little in common with men like Packer. Orthodox Jewish communities from New York and New Jersey chartered several buses to drive down to Washington that day to hear Donald Trump speak at the rally that led to the riot, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported.
Like the man in the Holocaust sweatshirt, Aaron Mostofsky, a 34-year-old Jewish man from Brooklyn whose father is a New York Supreme Court judge, was arrested on federal charges related to the riot.
It seems incongruous that the son of a prominent Orthodox Jew would face some of the same criminal charges as a protester glorifying the Holocaust. But the dissonance highlights a chasm among American Jews who, like other religious groups, are divided over Trumpism in the wake of Trump’s presidency. And the participation of religious Jews at the January 6 rally, months after Joe Biden had defeated Trump, indicates that the tension won’t disappear simply because a new president has taken office.
The tension continued to play out in a Jewish community in New York in the days after the riot. The front page of the January 8 edition of the Five Towns Jewish Times, a local Jewish newspaper on Long Island, featured a picture of one of the paper’s columnists smiling in front of the Capitol on January 6.
The incident immediately caused an uproar in the community.The Jerusalem Post reported that rabbis at two local synagogues “denounced” the image, calling it “an outrageous desecration of God’s name.”
“The Trump era exacerbated the political divisions in the country, but those divisions are not about to disappear any time soon, and it is concerning,” Aryeh Tuchman, associate director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Centre on Extremism, told Insider.
Trump has been quite popular among religious Jews
Polling shows that the vast majority of American Jews do not support Trump. But in religious Jewish communities, where pro-Israel sentiment makes many people into single-issue voters and socially conservative views on homosexuality and reproductive rights are common, Trump remains extremely popular.
Republican politicians are “less threatening to the way of life of certain Orthodox groups, in the sense that it is easier for the values of those people to be reflected in policy that certain conservative politicians uphold,” Rabbi Emily Cohen, a New York-based rabbi at a Reconstructionist synagogue, told Insider.
An October poll conducted by AJC, a Jewish advocacy organisation, found that 75% of American Jews planned to vote for Biden in the 2020 presidential election. But, like other religious groups, the over 7 million Jewish Americans are not monolithic in their beliefs, politically, religiously, or otherwise.
Judaism throughout North America is mostly composed of three major denominations: Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. Followers of Orthodox Judaism, a movement that the Jewish Virtual Library calls “the continuation of the beliefs and practices of normative Judaism,” tend to lean Republican.
“The Orthodox presidential vote has been predominantly Republican for several decades,” Herb Weisberg, a political science professor at Ohio State University and the author of “The Politics of American Jews,” told Insider in an email.
That trend continued with Trump. A poll of 800 Jewish voters in the US conducted in the fall of 2020 by J Street, a left-leaning advocacy group seeking a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, found that most Orthodox respondents approved of Trump’s job as president.
Trump’s popularity among religious Jews is largely due to his policies on Israel. As Shalom Lipner wrote for Foreign Policy, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “managed to stay high atop the president’s short list of favourite allies over the past four years.”
Throughout his presidency, Trump also painted himself as a friend of the Jewish people, in part due to his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, who is Jewish and whose grandparents survived the Holocaust. Ivanka Trump converted to Judaism before marrying Kushner, and both served as senior advisors in the Trump administration. In 2019, Kushner wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times that Trump was “taking meaningful action to crush” the “poison of anti-Semitism.”
The views and actions of Jewish right-wing activists often align with those of Trump and the far-right. Many espouse a perspective that Tuchman calls the “politicization of anti-Semitism,” which frequently involves using anti-Semitism as a catchall defence against political enemies. Laura Loomer, the far-right activist whose incendiary language has gotten her kicked off most mainstream social-media platforms, told Insider in a November phone interview that she was glad to be welcomed on Parler, the right-wing “free speech” social-media platform, where she wasn’t “targeted for being Jewish.” Loomer was banned from Twitter in 2018 for calling Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar “anti-Jewish” and tweeting that in Omar’s religion, Islam, “women are abused.”
Loomer is one of several right-wing activists who are also Jewish, including Ben Shapiro, a conservative commentator and columnist. Shapiro, who says he is Orthodox, once said that Jews who voted for Obama were “Jews in name only.” He has also claimed that “Jews simply aren’t part of the intersectional narrative” of the mainstream media.
Many Jewish Republicans identify with “traditional views of the family, traditional gender roles, and being much more comfortable with having religion in the public square,” Tuchman said. “All of that leads some people in the Jewish community, many of whom happen to be in the Orthodox community, to have an affinity for Republicans, to the extent that they become activists.”
Despite this, Trump himself has made numerous offensive comments about Jews.
Trump once said that Jewish people “are only in it for themselves,” according to a September report from the Washington Post. After the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, at which marchers donned swastikas and chanted that “Jews will not replace us,” Trump said that there was violence “on many sides.”
The spread of far-right extremism comes with the rise of anti-Semitism
Loomer and others like her may feel welcomed on platforms like Parler and Gab, but so, too, do neo-Nazis looking for a place to gather and discuss their hatred of Jews. A November 2020 report from the Simon Wiesenthal Centre, a human-rights advocacy organisation that researches the Holocaust, found that anti-Semitic claims, as well as Holocaust denials, thrived on the platform. Gab, a similarly unmoderated platform that caters to the right, is also full of anti-Semitism.
There are also adamant Trump supporters whom the president has flattered â€” including the Proud Boys, whom he told to “stand back and stand by” when asked to condemn white supremacy during a presidential debate â€” who have helped spread anti-Jewish sentiment.
Anti-semitism is “pervasive” in American extremist movements, including the far-right, according to research published by George Washington University’s Program on Extremism. Far-right American extremists “have used antisemitism to target Jewish people, Jewish houses of worship, Jewish community institutions, and Americans supporting the Jewish state of Israel,” researchers wrote in the October 2020 paper.
“A lot of extremists â€” white supremacists â€” do support Trump, and they applauded his election, and they have been inspired by his rhetoric and his actions, and they have been emboldened, to be more open about their agenda,” Tuchman, the ADL associate director, said.
Tuchman emphasised that to consider all far-right extremists anti-Semitic is an “oversimplification.” However, anti-Semitism, Tuchman said, is a central tenet of white supremacy.
In one Telegram chat with more than 7,500 members associated with the Boogaloo Bois, a militant accelerationist movement, many messages reek of anti-Semitism. One message shared the week of the riot references the anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that Jews secretly run the world. The person wrote, “because justice is based on who has more to spend in this country when it applies to Jewish power, most capitulate.” Another message from the channel said, “Good thing we’re not intimidated by these disgusting semetic slobs anymore.”
A Telegram chat that’s an offshoot of the Proud Boys, a far-right extremist group that calls itself “Western chauvinists,” is named “Proud Goys.” A “goy” is a Yiddish derogatory term for a non-Jewish person. The account, which has 1,626 subscribers and is run by a former Proud Boys member, said in a November post, “We will confront the Zionist criminals who wish to destroy our civilisation. We recognise that the West was built by the White Race alone and we owe NOTHING to any other race.”
Violent anti-Semitic acts have been on the rise over the last decade, with the ADL reporting last spring that 2019 saw the most anti-Semitic acts since the group had been tracking such acts in 1979.
Post-Trump, America is ‘at an inflection point’
Cohen, the Reconstructionist rabbi, told Insider that it “definitely hurts to see people who are making it clear that they care more about certain elements of their own abilities and society than they do than they do about the overall treatment of the Jewish people.”
Biden is now in office, much to the dismay of Trump, his allies, and supporters, who fought for months to overturn the results of the presidential election. “We’re at an inflection point,” Tuchman said, “where people can return to certain standards of civility.”
This inflection point is particularly poignant within the American Jewish community. In a blog post for the Times of Israel on the day after the Capitol riot, Elchanan Poupko, a rabbi and writer, criticised the “scenes of Orthodox Jews among those thugs,” including “bonafide Nazis, KKK members, and anarchists.”
Cohen said she believes that many policies enacted by Republican politicians in the Trump era show “a complete disregard for the values most central to Judaism,” including their handling of the COVID-19 crisis and family separation immigration policies.
“I don’t find that to be in line with the notion that every human being is ultimately made in the divine image,” Cohen said.
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