President Donald Trump has “driven Jewish conservatives to the brink of extinction.” That is the claim made this week by liberal pundit Peter Beinart in the left-wing Forward.
Beinart is wrong, and the fact that he pads his flimsy arguments with lies and ad hominem attacks does not help him. But his essay is useful, because it highlights the real crisis facing liberal Jewish intellectuals, of whom there are few remaining worthy of the name.
First: what is an intellectual? Contrary to popular “nerd” stereotype, it is not someone who hates football (as Beinart does). Beinart says an “intellectual” is “someone who traffics in ideas, not tribal or partisan loyalties.”
The term “traffic” is an odd one, as if ideas are commodities to be bought and sold. It is a word only a professional pundit — one paid to provide ideas — would choose, but it leaves out the amateur citizens to whom reasoned debate ultimately appeals.
I prefer the definition of “intellectual” once provided by the South African scholar Sipho Seepe: “An intellectual is someone who is persuaded by the evidence and who has the humility to know when he does not know something.”
There is much about conservatism that Beinart does not know. There is much that he asserts, in the face of evidence to the contrary. And the reason he persists is precisely because of the “tribal” and “partisan” loyalties he denounces.
Beinart, a loyal Democrat, misidentifies Jewish conservatives with the “NeverTrump” movement. He acknowledges there are Jews who support Trump, but dismisses the idea that we might be motivated by principles.
To him, Ari Fleischer is a partisan “flack.” Mark Levin abandoned NeverTrump “to curry favor with his listeners,” i.e. for money. And “Joel Pollack” [sic] believes “White Christians and Jews are civilized, Muslims and Mexicans are not,” i.e. what a racist!
Beinart has a rather broad definition of racism. Last week, reacting to President Trump’s speech in Warsaw defending western civilization, Beinart said: “The West is a racial and religious term.” A critic of Israel, Beinart cries foul at the suggestion that anti-Zionism is antisemitism, but somehow he finds it easy to hurl accusations of racism. Beinart also claims, falsely, that Breitbart News “specializes in sensationalizing crimes by immigrants,” notably eliding the distinction between legal and illegal.
Beinart points to three reasons that Jewish conservatives are supposedly alienated from their president and their party. First, they are “internationalists,” while Trump is a nationalist. Second, they favor immigration, while Trump, supposedly, does not. And third, they fear populism, while Trump attacks the elites and established institutions.
But despite his intellectual pretensions, Beinart does not bother with the ideas of Jewish conservatives who support Trump. He ignores, for example, the “internationalist” case for Trump — that “if we control our own borders and policies better, we may have closer, more authentic and more productive relations with other countries.” He also ignores commonalities between Trump and his critics — such as David Frum’s opposition to immigration amnesty.
Beinart is correct in only one respect: namely, that the NeverTrump movement abhors Trump’s attack on the elite, because NeverTrumpers see themselves as an indispensable part of that elite.
And that is the essence of the divide. There are few policy differences among Jewish conservatives who support Trump and those who do not. NeverTrumpers simply gambled on Trump losing.
The divide is political, and even personal, but not intellectual. By describing that rift as a specifically Jewish divide, Beinart unwisely singles out Jewishness as a political factor.
The real intellectual crisis is among Jewish liberals like Beinart, who have no new ideas to contribute, and have largely surrendered to the illiberalism of the far-left: the antisemitism of the Palestinian solidarity movement; the racial essentialism of Black Lives Matter; the march of so-called “democratic socialism”; and the tyranny of political correctness.
There is little room left in American liberalism for Jews who value the Constitution: Alan Dershowitz and Jonathan Turley are among the last, and they suffer for it.
Jewish conservatives are not going extinct: in fact, now is probably the best time in American history to be a Jewish conservative. That is partly because Jews feature prominently in conservative media and the Trump administration.
More than that, it is because American conservatism has become profoundly philosemitic. That includes most of the “populist nationalists” who pushed Trump across the finish line. Liberalism is moving in the opposite direction.
Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He was named one of the “most influential” people in news media in 2016. He is the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.