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Thompson: Jewish leaders fear Trump presidency

Bankole Thompson
The Detroit News

Clarification: James Edwards, the Memphis-area host of the radio show “The Political Cesspool” has no formal position with the Ku Klux Klan. He has informed The Detroit News that he believes a March 17 opinion column about his support of the presidential campaign of Donald Trump left the impression that Edwards served in an official capacity with the Ku Klux Klan.

With Donald Trump scheduled to address the policy conference of the influential American Israel Public Affairs Committee this weekend in Washington, D.C., some metro Detroit Jewish leaders are speaking out on the divisive and derisive tone of his campaign rallies. The Republican front-runner has been egging on his supporters at rallies to get tough and rough with protesters and promising to pay their legal bills.

“If Jewish history has taught us anything it is that hate speech is dangerous whether it comes from Adolf Hitler, the Ku Klux Klan or Donald Trump,” said Rabbi Daniel Syme of Temple Beth El, the oldest Jewish congregation in Michigan. “Many people, including Republicans and Democrats, have been speaking to me and the major issue that they all seemed concerned about is the hate speech coming from Trump and his campaign.”

Of particular note to some in the Jewish community is the unprecedented support the Trump campaign has received among white supremacist groups like the Ku Klux Klan and leaders like James Edwards, David Duke and Thomas Robb, the national director of the Knights of the Ku Klux Klan in Arkansas. All of these leaders — avowed racists and Holocaust deniers — have publicly expressed strong support for Trump and hailing him as the best candidate to lead the country with his slogan “make America great again.”

“When I look at what is happening now I have to remember that Hitler and Mussolini were all brought to power through free elections,” Syme said. “We better be careful. We need to take a stand against bigotry and act now.”

He added, “The hate speech needs to stop and let’s get back to the crushing burden of student loans, jobs and the economy, Black Lives Matter, the security of Israel. These are the issues that should be part of the conversation.”

Speaking as a private citizen, Dr. Richard Krugel, president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit, said Trump is not the candidate to be trusted with governing the affairs of the nation.

“He is totally not trustworthy as a candidate, and I think he would be a disaster for the country as president,” Krugel said. “He’s been caught so many times in the last couple of months in lies that he will say anything to get elected. I just don’t trust him.”

Like Syme, Krugel is also worried about Trump’s support among hate groups.

“The fact that these groups are supporting him more than anything else says something. And he has not pushed them away. He wants to get elected,” Krugel said.

Krugel, the son of Jewish immigrants, said he was most appalled to hear Trump call for a ban on Muslims from entering the United States as well as his pledge to build a wall along the Mexican border.

“It is unbelievable that he said that about Muslims and talked about building a Mexican wall,” Krugel said. “Our organization supported allowing Syrian refugees into the country as long as there was proper vetting because all of us were once immigrants in this country.”

Krugel added, “It is just hard to believe that someone like that can be the leading presidential candidate for the Republican Party. That is not the America I want to live in and I think the majority of our Jewish community support that line of thinking.”

Another issue that remains unclear is Trump’s position on the Middle East. While not expressing support for Israel, Trump has indicated he would remain neutral on the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

“Support for Israel is important to us,” Krugel said.

With support for Israel a strong factor, the largely Democratic-leaning Jewish vote will be crucial in this election. It remains to be seen if Trump’s appearance before AIPAC will sway support from his likely opponent, Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton, who is also scheduled to address the conference.

In 2008, President Barack Obama received 78 percent of the Jewish vote, according to Herbert Weisberg, professor emeritus of political science at Ohio State University and an expert on the voting patterns of American Jews. In 2012, when Obama ran for re-election, he got 60 percent of the vote, Weisberg added.

“Election surveys show that while Jewish liberals have voted for Democratic presidential candidates in the last half century at high rates, Jews who are politically conservative have not been solid supporters of the Republican presidential candidates in that time period,” Weisberg explained. “This lower level of Republican voting by Jewish conservatives may be due to disagreement with the social issue positions of Republican candidates.”

Krugel said his community would be supporting the bigger issues of criminal justice reform, civil rights and other matters that reflect the broader concerns of the Jewish community.

Syme said he likes the excitement that Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders, who is Jewish, brings to the 2016 primaries, but “I can’t forget 1968 when I gave my heart to Eugene McCarthy during the Vietnam War and when he lost, it broke my heart. I think Hillary Clinton’s message resonates more with a broader and diverse coalition.”


Bankole Thompson is the host of “Redline with Bankole Thompson,” on WDET-101.9 FM at 11 a.m. Thursdays. His column appears Thursdays.