Are Religious People More Gullible Than Normal People? Gullible Enough For A Jew To Vote For A Nazi?
After the post a few days ago about Jews who vote for right-wing (anti-Semitic) movements-- and I had both Hitler's Nazi Party and Trump's Republican Party on the top of the list, a friend who writes books about and works within the national security establishment, called me and suggested some avenues I could take for further research. She also sent me this short video of a Holocaust survivor explaining why some Jews voted for Hitler in the 1930s.
She also recommended I read this Haaretz column by Bradley Burston from 2016 before Trump was elected. Burston, who was born and raised in L.A., emigrated to Israel in 1976 and helped establish a kibbutz. He was part of the Zionist movement but-- like many progressive Jews-- has evolved and in 2015 hr wrote that "I used to be one of those people who took issue with the label of apartheid as applied to Israel... Not anymore... Our Israel is what it has become: Apartheid." He retired before the 2020 U.S. election. He is retired and still lives in Israel. In 2016 he wrote that he was scared and worrying about his loved ones who live in the U.S. and "about what may happen to minorities and other people who may be rendered vulnerable by their faiths or their opinions, Jews certainly among them."
I'm watching Jews in Florida talk about why they're supporting Donald Trump. And I'm thinking about the German Jews who voted for Adolf Hitler.
I've never felt comfortable about equating present-day political figures to Hitler. I always felt that it represented a form of Holocaust denial. My discomfort has only grown over the years, as the epithet Nazi has been thrown around so often and so loosely, by so many sides to so many conflicts.
But this time is different. Because this time, the echoes are getting much too close.
Now Trump has an hour to himself on Fox News, with sympathetic anchor Sean Hannity and a wildly admiring studio audience. He is talking about other Republican presidential candidates. But his tone suggests that he may be talking about something broader in scope. From the Fox News transcript:
"Everybody that's attacked me is gone. Do you ever notice that? Wouldn't that be nice for our country? Everybody..."
"(CHEERS AND APPLAUSE)"
When I was small, my favorite aunt, who was a concentration camp survivor, told me that there had been Jews in Germany who, when Hitler was just starting his rise to power, supported him.
But now we all know better, other relatives were quick to add. Something like that won't happen again. We wouldn't let it.
I figured they were right. Until this week. Until I began to hear reminders of the observations of the Jews who'd once placed hopes in Hitler. How a leader like that could bring stability, restore a broken country to greatness. How you shouldn't pay too much heed to what he says-- it's just what politicians need to do to get elected.
Trump is only speaking the way he is in order to win office, but once in power he will dial back, Trump supporter Chaim Bitterman said at Trump's mass campaign rally Sunday in Boca Raton, Florida.
“There’s a difference between a presidential race and actually being president," Bitterman observed.
Another rally participant, Marie Gosser, who moved to Florida from Israel decades ago, said of Trump, “He’s not racist, he says the truth."
Back when I was very small, my grandmother, who got out of the old country before the Holocaust, would tell me stories about what it was like to live through the pogroms she left behind. Her graying eyes far away, haunted, she would then tell me about when they came to America, to the Midwest, where they stayed inside and locked the doors when there were Ku Klux Klan rallies and burning crosses. The Klan, she told me, hated black people and Jewish people and anyone who didn't look like them or believe what they did.
My parents would then tell me that things like this would never happen again. Not in America. They could never happen again. Not after we've seen what we've seen, heard what we've heard. Not when we know what we know.
This is what I know: Any Jew who votes for Donald Trump is voting for an anti-Semite.
This is a man who three years ago, sent his Twitter followers this message about comedian-commentator Jon Stewart and his birth name:
"I promise you that I'm much smarter than Jonathan Leibowitz-- I mean Jon Stewart @TheDailyShow. Who, by the way, is totally overrated."
This is a man who in 1991 was quoted by former Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino president John R. O'Donnell as declaring "Black guys counting my money! I hate it. The only people I want counting my money are little short guys that wear yarmulkes every day."
This is a man who just this month was pressed to disavow the support of white supremacists, only to defend his refusal to do so by comparing the Klan and other groups to Jewish charities.
“I don’t like to disavow groups if I don’t know who they are,” Trump told MSNBC. I mean, you could have Federation of Jewish Philanthropies in groups.”
Anti-Defamation League head Jonathan Greenblatt condemned Trump's statement as "obscene."
This is a man whose vocal supporter, Ann Coulter - who said Sunday that she "would like to see a little more violence from the innocent Trump supporters set upon by violent leftist hoodlums"-- is the same commentator who in 2007 told Jewish talk show host Donny Deutsch she would like to see an America free of non-Christians. All Jews should just throw Judaism away and become Christians, Coulter suggested, and thus "be perfected."
Last September, Coulter, one of Trump's earliest supporters, famously responded to Republican candidates' frequent and glowing mentions of Israel during a debate by asking her followers, "How many f---ing Jews do these people think there are in the United States?"
This is a man who chose for his warm-up speaker at a North Carolina campaign rally, evangelist Mark Burns, who had this to say to prospective voters about the only Jew in the presidential race:
"And Bernie Sanders, who doesn't believe in God-- how in the world are we going to let Bernie-- I mean, really? Listen, Bernie gotta get saved. He gotta meet Jesus. I don't know-- He gotta have a comin' to Jesus meeting."
A voice in the crowd then calls out "Send him to Europe!"
Pastor Burns then repeats the remark, with a long, good-natured laugh, neither endorsing nor condemning it. "Send him to Europe. Well, we're not a socialist country. We're a democratic country.
Here in Israel, the other side of Europe, it's starting to get light outside. I switch the television to Israel. It's the news, Channel 10. They're showing Donald Trump at the Boca Raton rally, and Donald Trump is showing what he's made of.
"It's very important to vote," he calls. "But only if you're going to vote for Donald J. Trump. Do not vote if you're going to vote for anybody else."
The next time he asks you to raise your right hand, America, just say Never Again.
That was 2016. Trump didn't just win the ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities then and in 2020, he swept their precincts, sometimes winning 90% of the votes-- better than among evangelicals! Before the election, the Wall Street Journal published an OpEd by Yossi Gesstetner claiming that Hasidic Jews are much more likely to be living in poverty than other Jews or than most Americans. Gestetner was trying to claim that Hasidics aren't poor because their yeshivas fail to prepare students for life in the real world but are poor because they have much larger families than non-Hasidics. His case is spurious and he failed miserably. Hasidics live in a parallel universe. Just look at the new poll from Ami Magazine, a mouthpiece for far right Jews around the world. In America, Ami is more delusional and Trumpist than Sean Hannity and Tucker Carlson combined. I could be wrong about this, but I've been told over and over again that many if not most Hasidics vote for whatever their rabbi tells them to do. The key findings from the poll of Orthodox Jews in 15 states (December, 2019):
1- Trump's approval rating is 89%
2- Only 5% said Trump should be impeached; 91% said he should not be impeached
3- 92% said they trusted Trump more than Democrats to fight anti-Semitism
4- When asked which president has "accomplished the most for the security of Israel," over 80 percent said it was Trump, followed by former Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.
Around 10% of American Jews consider themselves Orthodox. Their fanatic adherence to Trump brings back the old question about how many Jews voted for Hitler. Does the Verband Nationaldeutscher Juden (the Association of German National Jews) sound familiar to you? Founded in 1921, it was a right-wing Jewish organization during the Weimar Republic. It supported the expulsion from Germany of the Jewish immigrants from Poland, Russia, the Baltic counties and the rest of Eastern Europe. After Hitler came to power, they campaigned against the boycott of German products and consistently backed up German propaganda that Jews were being treated fairly in Nazi Germany. The Nazis banned the group by the end of 1935 and arrested and imprisoned the leaders. And it wasn't just the Association of German National Jews that supported Hitler and the Nazi Party. Der Deutsche Vortrupp-- the German Vanguard-- was a Jewish Nazi group, although by 1938 Jews were being routinely sent to concentration camps whether they were Nazis or not, and Joachim Schoeps, their leader fled to Sweden. After the war Schoeps returned to Germany and became a member of the Deutschland-Stiftung, a neo-fascist organization of former Nazi true believers.
Yesterday Katherine Stewart, who reports on the religious right as is author of The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism, wrote an essay for the NY Times, Christian Nationalism Is One of Trump’s Most Powerful Weapons. She began with a very serious warning: "The most serious attempt to overthrow the American constitutional system since the Civil War would not have been feasible without the influence of America’s Christian nationalist movement. One year later, the movement seems to have learned a lesson: If it tries harder next time, it may well succeed in making the promise of American democracy a relic of the past."
The role of social and right-wing media in priming the base for the claim that the election was fraudulent is by now well understood. The role of the faith-based messaging sphere is less well appreciated. Pastors, congregations and the religious media are among the most trusted sources of information for many voters. Christian nationalist leaders have established richly funded national organizations and initiatives to exploit this fact. The repeated message that they sought to deliver through these channels is that outside sources of information are simply not credible. The creation of an information bubble, impervious to correction, was the first prerequisite of Mr. Trump’s claim.
The coup attempt also would not have been possible without the unshakable sense of persecution that movement leaders have cultivated among the same base of voters. Christian nationalism today begins with the conviction that conservative Christians are the most oppressed group in American society. Among leaders of the movement, it is a matter of routine to hear talk that they are engaged in a “battle against tyranny,” and that the Bible may soon be outlawed.
A final precondition for the coup attempt was the belief, among the target population, that the legitimacy of the United States government derives from its commitment to a particular religious and cultural heritage, and not from its democratic form. It is astonishing to many that the leaders of the Jan. 6 attack on the constitutional electoral process styled themselves as “patriots.” But it makes a glimmer of sense once you understand that their allegiance is to a belief in blood, earth and religion, rather than to the mere idea of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people.”
...At Christian nationalist conferences I have been reporting on, I have heard speakers go out of their way to defend and even lionize the Jan. 6 insurrectionists. At the Road to Majority conference, which was held in Central Florida in June 2021, the author and radio host Eric Metaxas said, “The reason I think we are being so persecuted, why the Jan. 6 folks are being persecuted, when you’re over the target like that, oh my.” At that same conference, the political commentator Dinesh D’Souza, in conversation with the religious right strategist Ralph Reed, said, “The people who are really getting shafted right now are the Jan. 6 protesters,” before adding, “We won’t defend our guys even when they’re good guys.” Mr. Reed nodded in response and replied, “I think Donald Trump taught our movement a lot.”
Movement leaders now appear to be working to prime the base for the next attempt to subvert the electoral process. At dozens of conservative churches in swing states this past year, groups of pastors were treated to presentations by an initiative called Faith Wins. Featuring speakers like David Barton, a key figure in the fabrication of Christian nationalist myths about history, and led by Chad Connelly, a Republican political veteran, Faith Wins serves up elections skepticism while demanding that pastors mobilize their flocks to vote “biblical” values. “Every pastor you know needs to make sure 100 percent of the people in their pews are voting, and voting biblical values,” Mr. Connelly told the assembled pastors at a Faith Wins event in Chantilly, Va. in September.
...A decade ago, the radical aims at the ideological core of the Christian nationalist movement were there to see for anybody who looked. Not many bothered to look, and those who did were often dismissed as alarmist. More important, most Republican Party leaders at the time distanced themselves from theocratic extremists. They avoided the rhetoric of Seven Mountains dominionism, an ideology that calls explicitly for the domination of the seven “peaks” of modern civilization (including government and education) by Christians of the correct, supposedly biblical variety.
What a difference a decade makes. National organizations like the Faith & Freedom Coalition and the Ziklag Group, which bring together prominent Republican leaders with donors and religious right activists, feature “Seven Mountains” workshops and panels at their gatherings. Nationalist leaders and their political dependents in the Republican Party now state quite openly what before they whispered to one another over their prayer breakfasts. Whether the public will take notice remains to be seen.