Imagine for a moment the outrage that would (rightfully) erupt if a mainstream publication wrote an indictment of an entire sect of Islam, while getting basic facts like the name of the sect wrong, and hit publish the night before Ramadan began. Or the outrage that would (rightfully) erupt if Breitbart or an alt-right site published the same about Jews. The latter did happen over the weekend, only it wasn’t Breitbart writing a diatribe against a secret web of shadowy Jews, but instead, Politico Magazine.
This is, unfortunately, becoming a bit of a tradition at the publication. On the eve of another major Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashanah, Politico published a piece accusing politically conservative Jews of remaining silent on Donald Trump’s ascension. Because of the rules regarding work and technology on major Jewish holidays, many Jewish writers and publications were unable to respond to the smear in a timely manner, although Tablet Magazine’s Yair Rosenberg took the time to do so, pointing out for both the writer and editor of the publication just how Jew-y the anti-Trump camp of the conservative movement was and is.
Now Politico is accusing Jews of the opposite: working in a secretive, highly-funded conspiracy to put Trump and Russia’s Vladimir Putin in power, and keep them there. Or something. Truthfully, I didn’t really understand the crux of the piece, despite reading it several times.
Where You See Conspiracy, We See Charity
Politico took great pains to tie the Chabad movement to Putin, and in so doing, omits a few fairly crucial points that could have been fleshed out by actually speaking with a representative of the movement (this guy might have been a good person to start with). While there are outposts of the movement in Russia, there also exist outposts everywhere else in the world. Their emissaries, called schulchim, are technically titled “messengers” because they talk to anyone, anywhere, in an attempt to spread Judaism to Jews in far-flung corners of the Earth.
Chabad’s history in the former USSR is filled with persecution, arrest, and exile. To survive anywhere, but especially in a land as hostile to Jews as Russia is, it’s no wonder the group has worked hard to remain in the government’s good graces.
Blind to the blatant anti-Semitic tropes it trotted out, Politico then paints the movement as a large, rich, tightly woven organization, a depiction straight out of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. In reality, individual Chabad houses, which start with seed money from headquarters, are soon expected to be self-sufficient through fundraising and operate as franchises, not as branches of the Brooklyn headquarters. (Disclosure: This is why I am a nominal monthly donor to the Chabad of Cambodia, which provides essential services to Jewish residents and visitors to the country, from free holiday and Sabbath meals to burials to weddings.)
Like many other Modern Orthodox Jews, the Kushner family are involved in the movement because of its inclusive nature and contagious positivity regarding doing mitzvahs (good deeds) and serving God in a Jewish context. The connections it forms between Ivanka Trump and her husband Jared and the movement are basically that they, like most other religious Jews, have donated to those involved in the movement and have friends within it.
The Kushners now attend the Chabad synagogue in their new home of Washington DC. This could be seen as part of a giant conspiracy, or it could be that they reject the other two other Orthodox options downtown: Kesher Israel, which was between rabbis at the time of the Kushner’s move and still recovering from a major scandal; and Ohev Shalom, whose rabbi publicly denounced Ivanka’s father both by screaming at him from the crowd at AIPAC in 2016 and after in the pages of the Washington Post, calling the current president “wicked.” With those pieces of information, the Kushners’ decision to attend the local Chabad synagogue upon moving to Washington becomes a bit less salacious.
The Alt-Right Is So Powerful It’s Infiltrated Politico
To their credit, even on the eve of what is the biggest and most labor-intensive holiday on the Jewish calendar, the social media team at Chabad’s headquarters in Brooklyn are taking the hit job in stride, tweeting missives like:
Do you yearn for deep state connections to global world leaders? Want to learn how slide into Putin's DMs?
Join our Passover Seder!
— Mordechai Lightstone (@Mottel) April 9, 2017
Several hours after the piece was published, the attached text header and photo were quietly edited to seem just a tad less anti-Semitic, replacing a photo of Jews in the shadows with that of Putin. Considering the hypersensitivity of the media to anti-Semitism in the age of Trump, it’s remarkable just how much they are willing to dabble in it themselves to form a connection, no matter how tenuous, between Trump and Putin. Simple fact-checking like the name of the movement itself was omitted, with tweets and the first published drafts of the piece referring to the group as “The Chabad” (which would be as ridiculous as saying The Catholic or The Protestant).
We’ve spent the better part of the last year being warned about the dangers of the rise of the alt-right. Even I doubted the power the alt-right apparently wields, which apparently includes the ability to convince a mainstream American publication to publish 4,000 words of anti-Semitic garbage on the eve of a major Jewish holiday. Can they silence the rest of the mainstream media, which reports breathlessly on every headline related to Jews at Breitbart?
With most American Jews signing offline for the next few days in celebration of our freedom from bondage in Egypt, it’s up to the non-Jews working in media to pick up the slack on renouncing this article for what it is. (Before you ask, Politico: Yes, The Jews let a few of The Catholic and The Secular work in media too.)