To the long list of communities and groups Donald Trump has insulted - Mexicans, Muslims, women, the disabled - we can now add Jews. Addressing the Republican Jewish Coalition last month, Trump quipped that "I'm a negotiator, like you folks." Later, in case anyone hadn't quite got his drift, he went on: "Some of us renegotiate deals… is there anybody that doesn't renegotiate deals in this room? Perhaps more than any room I've ever spoken to."
Several present felt their jaws drop. It seemed a presidential candidate had trotted out one of the most aged antisemitic stereotypes - of the Jew as the chiselling money-grabber, bound to go back on his word if it'll make him richer - and to a Jewish audience. In the same speech, he predicted Republican Jews wouldn't endorse him because "I don't want your money" - implying they'd only back a candidate who'd owe them. Well, at least he said it to their face.
It's tempting to write that episode off with the shrugging declaration that "That's Trump," breaking every rule in the political book and getting away with it. But there's more to it than that - and at least two reasons for taking it seriously.
First, it's easy to assume that a US politician attacking Jews represents a wild departure from the American norm. In the Jewish imagination, the US has all but acquired the status of an alternative Zion. It is the Goldene Medina, the place that embraced Jews when the rest of the world was spurning them. Today, as the European air seems to chill for Jews, America looks like a perennially safe harbour.
But that requires a very selective view of America's past. Consider two of Trump's forebears as larger-than-life US figures seriously talked of as contenders for the White House. Ahead of the 1924 election, the presidential buzz hovered around automobile tycoon Henry Ford. Central to his political identity was the series of articles that ran in the newspaper he owned, the Dearborn Independent, and later collected in four volumes: The International Jew. Week after week, Ford would expose what he called the "Jewish menace": "Jewish degradation of American Baseball" was a typical headline. None of that stopped him becoming nationally admired. Sixteen years later, it was aviation hero Charles Lindbergh who was tipped for the Oval Office. His platform was opposition to US involvement in the war against Hitler. Three groups, he warned, were trying to drag America into a second world war just as they'd pulled America into the first: the Roosevelt administration, the British and "the Jewish."
With Trump, we should feel not just empathy but outrage
Nor is this just in the pre-war past. Among Richard Nixon's many flaws was a tendency to, often foul-mouthed, antisemitism. The notorious Nixon tapes reveal him saying, "The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality." When discussing appointments, he told an aide: "No Jews."
So, in his readiness to insult a Jewish audience, Trump is hardly a novelty even if he seems like one. But Jews are not the main religious minority on his mind. That place belongs to Muslims, whom Trump wishes to ban from entering the country. Which brings us to the second reason why it's worth paying attention. Imagine a US presidential candidate, ahead in the polls for his party's nomination, seeking to exclude all Jews. We would be quaking with anxiety. When we contemplate Trump's ongoing campaign against Muslims, we should remember the history, remember our place in it - and feel not only empathy, but outrage.