Maybe the Russians didn’t meddle in our 2016 election. Maybe it was the Jews.
So says President Trump’s favorite green-room buddy and shirtless equestrian, Russian President Vladimir Putin.
In an interview that aired Friday evening, NBC’s Megyn Kelly asked Putin whether it bothered him that Russians had interfered in the U.S. election.
“I couldn’t care less,” he replied. “They do not represent the interest of the Russian state. Maybe they’re not even Russians. Maybe they’re Ukrainians, Tatars, Jews, just with Russian citizenship.”
The White House has so far remained silent on Putin’s anti-Semitic scapegoating. And based on a draft House Intelligence Committee report, other Republicans are also apparently in denial that Putin wanted Trump to win, despite the intelligence community’s conclusions to the contrary.
So allow me to chime in instead. I can’t speak for Ukrainians or Tatars. But as a Jew, I find Putin’s attempt to implicate my people to be disgusting, offensive and obviously false.
Because let’s be frank: If Jews had rigged the election, it would have had a way different outcome.
The Chosen People overwhelmingly did not choose Trump. Only about a quarter of Jewish voters cast ballots for Trump in 2016, according to exit polls, meaning he did worse among Jewish voters than any other religious group for which data are available. He has since remained low in our esteem, with just a 26 percent approval rating among Jews, according to a January Gallup poll.
And can you blame us? Trump has clearly been Bad For The Jews.
Sure, Trump’s daughter and son-in-law are Jewish, and some (emphasis on some) Jews are happy with Trump’s declared intention to move the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, security issues and Palestinian peace talks be damned. And needless to say, some on the left have been too cozy with anti-Semites such as Louis Farrakhan.
But throughout the campaign and subsequent presidency, Trump has given American Jewry more significant reasons to be fearful for its place in this country.
He has regularly played footsie with white supremacists. There was the tweet showing a Star of David (sorry, I mean “sheriff’s star”) superimposed on an image of Hillary Clinton and $100 bills. Also his hesitation to denounce an endorsement from white supremacist David Duke.
Also his closing Elders of Zion-style election ad, featuring famous Jews such as George Soros and Janet Yellen alongside dark narration about a “global power structure” that has “robbed our working class.” That dog whistle, invoking centuries-old conspiracy theories about a shadowy international Jewish cabal, was quite audible to human ears.
And who could forget Trump’s reluctance to condemn the tiki-torch-bearing, “Jews will not replace us”-chanting neo-Nazis in Charlottesville? Instead, Trump declared, there were “very fine people” among the attendees of the far-right rally, which ended with the killing of a peaceful protester.
The incident nearly cost him his National Economic Council director, Gary Cohn. When last week Cohn finally did resign — in response to Trump’s bigoted comments toward aluminum, not Jews — Trump referred to him as a “globalist.” For those unfamiliar, the term (like the triple-parentheses “echo”) is often used in far-right corners of the internet as a euphemism for “Jewish.”
The slur is also a favorite of Stephen K. Bannon, the multishirt-wearing former Breitbart editor who until a recent falling-out held Trump under his spell. Since then Bannon has been touring Europe meeting with far-right political parties associated with anti-Semitism and racism.
“Let them call you racists. Let them call you xenophobes. Let them call you nativists. Wear it as a badge of honor,” he urged France’s National Front, a party that has sometimes tried to shed associations with its Holocaust-denying, fascist-sympathizing founder.
Such rhetoric has consequences.
Here in America, the number of anti-Semitic incidents has been rising. From 2016 to 2017 they spiked 57 percent, the largest single-year increase on record and the second highest number reported since the Anti-Defamation League began keeping track in 1979.
Schools and cemeteries have been among the prime targets. As have journalists; in fact, as I type this, I’m mentally preparing myself for the torrent of anti-Semitic abuse that likely awaits. I don’t often talk publicly about my religion, but when I do, I usually confront a digital parade of Pepe the frogs, ethnic slurs and gas-chamber memes.
So come on, Putin. You, like your recently indicted minions, must be trolling us. The Jews are responsible for widespread election meddling? Please, even a 400-pound basement-dweller is a more plausible fall guy. No one could honestly believe that a cabal of Jews — squirreled away in Katz’s Deli, mainlining Dr. Brown’s — would have rigged this election.
Well, maybe almost no one.
Catherine Rampell’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter, @crampell.