Stephens and Wiesel talk Trump, Israel, anti-Semitism

Bret Stephens and Elisha Wiesel, son of the late Elie Wiesel, explored the roots of President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel stance in a discussion hosted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in New York City on Sunday, questioning whether the President’s positions are based on values, politics, or family alliances.

Held at the World Values Network headquarters, the event also touched on Trump’s rhetoric on the campaign trail preceding the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting and if the President had inflamed prejudicial tensions.

“There are expectations for standards of the sort of rhetoric we expect from the President,” noted journalist and political commentator Stephens explained. “And the last few weeks of extraordinary dehumanization of immigrants I think had something to do with an atmosphere in which an event like Pittsburgh takes place.”

Boteach pointed out that Israel Ambassador Ron Dermer had praised Trump’s response to the attack. “Dermer said he had never heard in his life an American president making a statement like President Trump did in the aftermath of the massacre that, if you try to destroy the Jewish people we will destroy you first,” Boteach said. “He’s not an Israeli prime minister, he’s an American president. That’s quite an amazing thing to say.”

From left, Rabbi Shmuely Boteach, Bret Stephens, Dr Qanta Ahmed, and Elisha Wiesel. Photo by Jacob Kornbluh

“Well, I don’t for a second believe that Trump is an anti-Semite, let me make that clear. I think it’s preposterous to suggest that he’s an anti-Semite,” Stephens responded. “But Trump is two things for sure. Number one, he’s prone to conspiracy thinking. And number two, he has an animus towards immigrants… And so, those two prejudices, while they’re not obviously connected to any kind of anti-Semitism, feed into the sort of bigotries in which the Pittsburgh shooter swam…

“The same bigotry that our ancestors met when our families came here is now being doled out by a guy who otherwise has Jewish grandchildren, and who indeed, at least on the level of policy, is a friend of Israel,” he said, adding, “We want friends of Israel to be friends also at the level of values, not simply at the level of policies, and that’s important too.”

“I think the important thing to remember is the fact that Trump has Jewish grandchildren is somewhat of an accident,” Wiesel noted. “Ivanka Trump might easily have not married into the Jewish faith. And if that had been the case, would Trump still be as favorable to Israel? Or would the randomizing machine [have] ended up with some other set of policies?”

Wiesel questioned what motivates Trump’s Israel agenda. “Is the connection with Israel 100 percent on shared values, or is it because of family?” he asked. “And is it right for us to simply stand back and take that advantage without being cognizant of the fact that there are many for whom the wiring is not set up so favorably?”

Subscribe now to
the Daily Kickoff

The politics and business news you need to stay up to date, delivered each morning in a must-read newsletter.