The new kapos (i.e. Jews like me)

In the aftermath of Trump’s decision to nominate David Friedman to be the next U.S. Ambassador to Israel, we’ve learned that Friedman has had some choice words for Jews like me, who support J Street, and other progressive Jews. Specifically, he’s said that we’re worse than kapos, who, if that term isn’t familiar, were the Jews the Nazis assigned to supervise other Jews in concentration camps and in forced labor.

Image result for kapo ww2When one Jew calls another a kapo it means “ultimate traitor.” To have Friedman calling other Jews kapos, when he’s about to go to work for a man who has retweeted anti-Semitic Twitter accounts, and who has won the high praise of American neo-Nazis, is so ironic that … well, it’s just really ironic, that’s all.

Anyway, one of my FB friends – someone who has critiqued left wingers many times for their blindness to anti-Semitism in progressive circles – just posted today, with alarm, that he is receiving messages calling him a kapo for opposing the Friedman nomination.

I believe this is probably the shape of things for American-Jewish politics for the next few years, possibly more. I also suspect that it is connected to Steve Bannon’s strategic thinking about how to best deal with the American Jewish community. Do things that widen the acrimony and divide. Tie up the energies of the progressive political American Jewish community, and its often quite effective political organizing and influence, with having to fight the right wing of the American Jewish community. Meanwhile, take the American Jewish right off the table as a potential obstructive political force by emphasizing how RW / anti-Muslim / pro-(greater)-Israel Trump is. This makes it easier for some of Bannon’s anti-Semitic and truly fascist circle to be able to take their places in Trump’s inner circle.

Friedman is a great example. He has no experience as an Ambassador, and he’s a loudmouth. He can’t make policy – he’ll have to take orders from Trump – but he’s perfect for a divide & conquer approach to minimizing the political power of different parts of the American Jewish community.

My guess is that Bannon sees himself as a major player in Trump’s inner circle, but that he sees himself as in competition, to some degree, with others who have different agendas. Bannon may not care that much about Jews himself, but what we know from his previous work is that he’s interested in bringing to the table people who are quite serious about their anti-Semitism. (That’s a generous reading of Bannon, BTW.)

Anyway, I just think we’re likely to see Trump work some kind of strategy like this vis-a-vis the Jewish community. I think Trump’s promise to move the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is perfect as their first gambit of this nature. In terms of really changing the dynamics of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or the ultimate shape that a viable agreement to end the conflict might take, moving the embassy to (West) Jerusalem is not really that substantive a thing to do. In an ideal world, with a permanent peace agreement establishing two states, Israel and Palestine, each with a capital in different sections of Jerusalem, the American embassies to both states would proudly take their places in their respective parts of Jerusalem. But for all kinds of practical reasons that make good political sense, U.S. policy under Republicans and Democrats for decades has been to hold off on moving the embassy to Jerusalem until a final status agreement is reached.

Image result for divide and conquer

But the decision to move the U.S. embassy is a great wedge issue for the American Jewish community and it will suit Trump’s team perfectly. It’s highly symbolic and highly emotional. The tweets and one-line talking points to be offered in a tone of moral superiority and “can you believe these politically correct idiots?” contempt easily write themselves.

Trump announcing the embassy move will send the various Jewish political organizations into their various corners, firing away at each other. AIPAC, ZOA, RCA, the Conference of Presidents, and possibly JCPA and even maybe Reform & Conservative organizations will support the move. J Street, APN, Ameinu, maybe the Reconstructionist movement will dissent or offer qualified dissent. In the Islamic world, the announcement will probably ignite extremists’ passions and increase the likelihood of terror attacks, either in the US, Israel, or elsewhere. It’ll also lead to a big UN showdown. And then, while we in the American-Jewish community are all consumed with this unnecessary shit storm, all of our energies and resources are tied up and largely unavailable to be a useful force against any/all other Trump agendas.

It’s so smart I’m surprised Putin didn’t think of it himself…

2017 = 1933 — yes, no, sort of?

Sort of. Enough to be worried & to be vigilant, organizing. But different enough that it warrants avoiding the mistake of oversimplifying or misreading the situation. Here are my thoughts on what’s similar to Germany in the early ’30s, and what’s emphatically different:


  • Scapegoating as a staple of the regime’s political strategy.
  • Contempt for democratic institutions and a message of the great leader cutting through the red tape and “getting things done.”
  • Alpha-male posturing and misogyny.
  • “Enforcers” serving the leader, using threats, intimidation, propaganda, lies, public humiliation, harassment, and at times violence to shut down all opposition.
  • Message to the masses that they’ve been humiliated and taken advantage of because of their weakness, and that the great leader is going to make the nation “great again” and that the nation is going to assert its dominance and resume its rightful place as the alpha-male nation in the world.
  • Well-developed instruments of disseminating fake news, lies, stereotypes, fear-mongering, and other kinds of propaganda.
  • Promises of positive economic changes for working class members of the majority culture.
  • Alliance building with other autocrats, strongmen, fascists, and totalitarian leaders.


  • Germany in the 1930’s was sunk in an epic depression with hyper-inflation and massive unemployment. The U.S. never hit that level of economic distress even during the worst of the recent Bush administration’s economic meltdown and its aftermath, and despite the ongoing structural class/wealth/income inequality in this country, things have actually been getting better economically for most Americans, even though it’s been a slow improvement in parts of the country. And the peril and uncertainty that existed for so many working class Germans back then – I’m talking “will we be able to afford the food at the grocery store in 3 months” kind of peril – doesn’t exist for working class people here.
  • Germany had, at the end of WWI, been utterly overrun by Allied troops and much of it had been flattened. Huge numbers of German soldiers had been killed, and huge numbers who returned had PTSD. Germany’s surrender agreement saddled it with huge international debts, and it had been forced to disarm. Much of the rest of the world felt disgust and horror towards defeated Germany, because of its inhumane and shameless conduct towards civilians during WWI. There’s just nothing comparable to that going on here and now in the U.S. We’ve not been invaded or defeated by foreign powers, our infrastructure wasn’t reduced to rubble, and we weren’t forced to sign humiliating surrender agreements that assured that we would have a miserable economy for decades to come. Most of the world admires the U.S. and despite all our faults we actually have continued to represent many of the highest hopes of people all over the globe. In Germany just before Hitler, the vast majority of Germans felt humiliated and oppressed by other nations. In 2016 America, at least half the country, if not more, doesn’t feel that way. Trump has taken the discontent of his followers, which is real, and connect it to a perception of the U.S. being weak and humiliated internationally that is not shared by at least half the population of the country.
  • The U.S. is way, way more racially, ethnically, religiously, and otherwise diverse than Germany was then. Some of its most powerful states, economically and culturally, are already white-minority states or are places with a century or more of a multicultural way of life, beginning way before the term “multicultural” was even coined.
  • This one may sound a bit odd, but the U.S. just twice elected a black / bi-racial president, a champion of a multicultural, religiously tolerant, LGBT positive, eggheadish guy with an Arabic middle name, and his approval ratings are still very strong. Take a look:approval
  • In 1933, Germany’s post-war democracy was less than two decades old, and much of its structure had been imposed upon it by its enemies. The very democratic institutions of Germany were tainted in the public mind with the humiliation of defeat, and with skepticism towards the actual purpose of the institutions, as many Germans believed that their post-war democracy was merely a con designed to keep Germany under the thumb of France, England, and the U.S. Today in this country, I have no doubt that our democracy is in for one of its greatest historical existential threats with the incoming administration. But, the U.S.’s democracy was self-proclaimed 240 years ago, and our society’s mythic story of its origins treats our democratic institutions not only as sacred, but on some level as the essence of who we are as a nation. Also, unlike Germany, the U.S. fought a brutal and horrific Civil War that resulted in a rebirth of the republic, deeply ingraining an American identity of multiracial equality and citizenship.
  • The U.S. Civil Rights movement, which for sure is part of what some Trump voters backlashed against, is nevertheless still the defining series of events in American post-WW2 identity formation. What we know from this election is that a demagogue can win the Electoral College, but not necessarily the popular vote, by running in part against the values of the Civil Rights movement. That’s not insignificant, but at least half the country not only supports the values of the Civil Rights movement, its very understanding of what America is and what it aspires to be are grounded in that movement’s ideals. That’s a formidable force, and it’s a coalition of Americans who’ve experienced the last 8 years as having raised the expectations of our society to be ever more inclusive, ever more equal, and ever more willing to engage cultural change towards those ends. I think it’s safe to assume that many Americans who are part of minority groups, or who are aligned with the Civil Rights values I’m talking about, are going to resent having those achievements treated with contempt by America’s incoming leaders. Having experienced an increase in power, respect, and opportunity over the last 8 years, I believe many of these Americans will respond politically to attempts to reverse those gains. I say that bearing in mind that some in the minority communities of this country were feeling frustrated with the slow pace of progress even in the Obama years. I’m wary of predicting anything anymore, so I won’t. But I do think it’s fair to say that these forces and large blocs of citizens are still big parts of American society, and nothing like that existed in Germany 1933.
  • It’s a bit odd to say, but we still will have Barack Obama. Not as president, but he is still young, and he’s a brilliant political organizer. I have no idea where he’ll put his talents and energies, but I’m pretty certain he’ll put them somewhere. He may step out of the spotlight for a while out of respect for the traditions of the presidency, but he’s already made it clear that he’s still very interested in being a force for change and political organizing. And his civility, dignity, integrity, and ability to read and communicate well in different American sub-cultural frameworks are all still a part of what he brings to the table. Suffice it to say, Hitler’s predecessors in German leadership didn’t leave office with high popular approval ratings, nor did they have the values and talents that Obama does.

Stand by for more – I’m still working on this, but I’m posting it for now incomplete.