NEW YORK — How low will Donald J. Trump’s foes go to tear him down? Why not concoct a fake anti-Semitism flap?
“Donald Trump is normalizing bigotry,” a Washington Post headline screamed Friday night. “His campaign manager’s website publishes an anti-Semitic screed.”
The unsigned editorial slams “a personal attack on the website Breitbart, whose executive chairman is Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s campaign chairman.” The editorial explained that “the piece was written by an obscure Polish American writer” and that it criticized Post columnist Anne Applebaum who is “as the item repeatedly and gratuitously pointed out — a woman of Jewish origin.”
Yes. “Repeatedly.” As in precisely twice.
The deeply offensive passages in this September 27 article about Polish politics and the result of a corruption scandal read as follows:
“This turn of events ended Applebaum’s dream of being Poland’s first Jewish-American first lady.”
“And hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned.”
That’s it: The full extent of the Semitism in this article – anti-, pro-, or otherwise. Nonetheless, the Post ominously warns:
“Expect more openly anti-Semitic rants at his [Bannon’s] website — and, if Mr. Trump is elected, in the United States at large.”
(Bannon is on a leave of absence while serving Trump.)
The Post’s vitriolic explosion follows Thursday’s burst of outrage from Media Matters:
“Breitbart Slammed for ‘Anti-Semitic Attack on Washington Post Columnist Anne Applebaum” read the headline on its piece about this controversy.”
Despite its needlessly heavy breathing, Media Matters’ coverage resembled the venerated Associated Press compared to the Washington Post’s “journalism.”
First, Media Matters identified the author of this Breitbart piece. (Post staffers, if you are taking notes, this is called “a byline.”) This “obscure Polish American writer” is named Matthew Tyrmand.
Second, Media Matters reported something rather important in this matter: Matthew Tyrmand “is Jewish.”
This seems to be a relevant fact in a story about alleged anti-Semitism. Perhaps the Post just ran out of space and couldn’t squeeze that in.
More likely, the Post’s character assassins realized that including this indispensable datum would have turned their bullets into blanks.
Matthew Tyrmand is a friend of mine. In fact, just two Saturdays ago, he challenged me over drinks to list the five books of the Torah.
“Genesis, Exodus, Deuteronomy, and Numbers,” I replied. I hesitated and then asked, “Psalms?”
“Leviticus!” Tyrmand snapped as he smacked my arm.
Reflecting on this synthetic anti-Semitic episode, Tyrmand told me, “What is so ludicrous about this is that I am a Jew from Brooklyn who grew up in one of the most Orthodox neighborhoods in America — Midwood — and am absolutely a proud product of American and New York Jewish culture.”
Tyrmand’s Polish ancestry also is important to him — and painfully so.
“My father was a Polish anti-communist dissident who saw a large portion of his family, including his father, murdered by the Nazis in the Holocaust,” Tyrmand said. “His mother, once liberated from Majdanek, went to Israel where she lived out her days.”
Tyrmand has seen the sad spot where Hitler’s henchmen murdered his grandfather as well as the Auschwitz death camp. He wrote about this in a book published in Poland and described these visits as “powerful and distressing experiences.”
Tyrmand also is an advisor to a Polish organization called From the Depths.
“‘From the Depths’ was set up by descendants of Holocaust survivors to ensure that the memories of their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents live on,” the group’s website explains. “‘From the Depths’ works with Holocaust survivors from around the world and with Jewish communities particularly in Eastern Europe.”
At a From the Depths ceremony in Warsaw last April, Tyrmand helped commemorate a righteous gentile named Jan Zabinski. At tremendous risk to himself, Zabinski hid Jews at the Warsaw Zoo, which spared them from the flames of the Final Solution.
On this side of the Atlantic, Tyrmand flew from his Manhattan home to the Windy City to denounce promiscuous references to the Holocaust. He addressed the College of DuPage’s board of trustees in December 2014 and challenged trustee Diane McGuire. After Illinois-based taxpayer-watchdog group American Transparency identified wasteful spending at that suburban-Chicago school, McGuire compared herself and her colleagues to German theologian Martin Niemoller and other victims of National Socialism.
“McGuire’s statement goes well beyond politically correct and approaches hate speech,” Tyrmand said. “Please resign now.”
Meanwhile, rather than an anti-Semitic screed, Tyrmand’s Breitbart piece on Applebaum (one of seven that they have published by him as an unpaid, outside writer) is a very complex criticism of multiple, obscure aspects of internal Polish politics and the role that Applebaum — the wife of Poland’s former foreign minister Radoslaw Sikorski — allegedly played in that arena. Tyrmand’s description of “Applebaum’s dream of being Poland’s first Jewish-American first lady” and subsequent comment that “hell hath no fury like a Polish, Jewish, American elitist scorned,” both fit within this survey of Polish current events.
Tyrmand’s article is no more anti-Semitic than it would have been sexist to write in 2008 that Obama spoiled Hillary Clinton’s dream of being America’s first female president and, consequently, “hell hath no fury like a female American politician scorned.” The sentence “Republican primary voters ruined Dr. Ben Carson’s dream of being America’s second black president” is as anti-black as Tyrmand’s is anti-Semitic.
Tyrmand’s description of Applebaum’s Jewishness is just that, a descriptor, devoid of bias, rancor, or stereotype. Applebaum’s Jewishness is a pertinent fact in a country that tragically endured the Nazis’ extermination centers at Auschwitz, Belzec, Chelmno, Majdanek, Sobibór, and Treblinka. Had Applebaum, a Jewish American, become Poland’s first lady, it would have been intriguing, impressive, and newsworthy. Her attendant dream was a major ambition. And fury was an understandable reaction when that dream evaporated.
In this context — none of which the Post bothered to mention — the paper’s baseless hatchet job proves to be manipulative and truly vile. It shows just enough ankle to stir fear and hatred, but not enough to reveal that the ankle belongs to a lifeless mannequin, not the vivacious pin-up of the editorial board’s most lurid fantasies.
People can applaud Matthew Tyrmand’s Breitbart article, condemn it, or simply skip it as contemporary Eastern European political arcana, which is not for everyone.
But anti-Semitic this piece is not. It does not indict Tyrmand as an anti-Semite. It does not impugn Breitbart.com as an anti-Semitic website. It does not confirm Steve Bannon as an anti-Semite. And, most important, it does not, by implication, demonstrate that Donald J. Trump is an anti-Semite — which was the despicable purpose of this entire failed exercise.