Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical Left and Islamic terrorism.
In 2017, Politico claimed that Chabad, a Jewish Chassidic group, was the nexus between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. The bizarre article was illustrated with a photo of shadowy Jewish men in black hats.
Politico’s The Happy-Go-Lucky Jewish Group That Connects Trump and Putin traced “some of the shortest routes between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin” to a synagogue on Manhasset Bay “across from a Shell gas station and a strip mall”. Strip malls and gas stations are notorious conspiracy hubs.
How did this synagogue across from a Shell gas station become the hub of the Trump-Putin conspiracy? Trump had once done business with some Russian Jewish real estate people who had donated money to a Chassidic Jewish charity. Also Jared Kushner’s brother had dated a woman who is friends with the wife of a Russian oligarch.
Do you really need any more proof?
This was the heyday of Russia conspiracy theories in which any media hack with the ability to Wikipedia their way through a list of Russian oligarchs, and find some pathway to someone Trump knew or had done business with, or to the wife of a friend of his son-in-law’s girlfriend’s brother, could roll their own expose.
The Politico article was deservedly torn to shreds even by the lefties at JTA and the ADL. It was the sort of vulgar anti-Semitic conspiracy nonsense that Neo-Nazis specialized in. And the vulgar nonsense was leaking into the media.
The Russia conspiracy theory died when Mueller couldn’t figure out how to chew gum and testify at the same time. It’s been replaced by the Ukraine conspiracy theory. And the Jewish conspiracy theories are back.
The latest version in the New York Daily News tries to connect Chabad, Young Israel, Pro-Israel activists, Giuliani, Trump, Netanyahu, Huckabee, Ukraine, and some sort of point. It never comes close to doing any of these things. The article is full of basic errors that you don’t need to be an expert on Jews or Israel to spot. Take its claim that Sweet Home Alabama is a “a tribute to Dixie segregationists.”
The Daily News turns out to know as much about Israel and Jews as it does about Lynyrd Skynyrd.
It claims that Yair Netanyahu, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s son, is a “a powerful figure on the extreme right wing”. Last time I checked, Yair is a twenty-something guy who handles social media for Shurat HaDin, a group that uses legal tactics to go after terrorist financing. He’s not running the country.
It conflates Chabad and Young Israel, two very different groups from very different branches of Orthodox Judaism. It states that Young Israel is a “group of more than 100 Orthodox synagogues”. The actual number is 175. More importantly, the article struggles to smear a variety of Orthodox and Pro-Israel groups by associating them with the latest Ukraine conspiracy theory entirely by association.
Why does every conspiracy theory about President Trump eventually turn into a Jewish conspiracy?
Part of the answer is convenience. Chabad has been the target of several such media conspiracy theories because it’s international, and its Jewish movement has a large number of institutions in America and Russia. Its plethora of locations and openness attract a spectrum of attendees.
But the larger answer is that Jewish conspiracy theories provide a traditional framework on which contemporary conspiracy theories can be based. It’s inevitable that at least some of these conspiracy theories will return to their origins and that the media will gleefully run them. (Almost as inevitable as the outsourcing of the writeups to reporters with Jewish last names to deflect the inevitable criticism.)
The decline of journalism into conspiracy theories, drawing up charts of first, second and third degree associations, lends itself naturally to the traditions of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories in which associations themselves are proof of guilt. Or, as the New York Daily News admits, “Parnas and Fruman may not have broken any laws with their outreach to far-right wing supporters of Israel.”
What laws could they have broken? The article never provides an answer. And then what’s the point?
The association is the entire point of a conspiracy theory. Whether laws are broken is entirely secondary. Conspiracy theories never actually prove anything or establish illegality. What they do is argue that their targets are operating a vast conspiracy and that any means, including, eventually, violence, may be used against them because they represent an extraordinary violation of the norms.
The decline of Trump media conspiracy theories into conspiracy theories about Jews doesn’t necessarily mean that Trump conspiracy theories are anti-Semitic, though some examples obviously are, but that they originate in the same rotten place and share the same intellectual flaws.
When the two are crossed, the end result only highlights the absurdity of both.
The crossover conspiracy theories of Trump and the Jews assume that any association, no matter how casual, is causal, that all interactions are about influence, and that therefore the wider the sphere of association, the vaster the underlying corruption must be. Trump’s international business interests have become proof that he is involved in foreign conspiracies around the world. The presence of foreign guests in his hotels is routinely put forward by mainstream media outlets as implicit proof of bribery.
It’s never clarified though exactly how exactly this system of hotel bribery works.
Do Trump hotels immediately inform the White House when foreign diplomats stay at one of their properties? Questions like that aren’t asked, details like these aren’t nailed down, because they would reveal the silliness of the conspiracy theory and of the unserious organizations that promote them.
But the essence of any conspiracy theory is the supernatural intelligence of its villains.
President Trump is immediately aware of any foreigner staying at one of his hotels. There are no casual meetings. Every association is part of a sophisticated plot whose actual implementation would baffle Machiavelli and defy the talents of 007. Coincidences and accidents don’t exist. Everything is planned.
Assume this and proof becomes unnecessary. That’s lucky because the theorists aren’t good at proof.
Their last conspiracy theory was thrown together more haphazardly than a season of 24. The only good thing to be said about their transition from Russian conspiracy theories to Ukrainian conspiracy theories is that they’ve simplified the plot, eliminating the endless lists of oligarchs, urinating prostitutes, and Facebook ads which tied together about as well as Young Israel, Sweet Home Alabama and the Ukraine.
And yet, as the media’s latest foray into Jewish conspiracy theories reveals, they can’t resist complexity.
The pleasure of a good conspiracy theory is its runaway complexity. Invent a conspiracy theory and there will always be new theorists looking to add layers of pointless complexity to the simplest alliance between Trump, space aliens, the Bank of England, and Burger King. The difference between a crime and a conspiracy theory is that the latter has no proof and no endpoint. Proofs narrow an accusation. Guilt by association infinitely expands it until it encompasses anything, everything, and everyone.
That’s why the Mueller investigation worked wonderfully as an open-ended, stream-of-consciousness series of raids, leaks and random interviews, but failed miserably as a counterintelligence investigation or whatever it was pretending to be. It’s why the House won’t actually vote on impeachment.
Trying to actually wrap up a conspiracy theory is like having a butterfly in your hand and making a fist.
A conspiracy theory is meant to be a never-ending story, a holographic extrapolation of infinite possibilities whose greatest significance lies in what is implied and unknown, not in what is known.
That’s why every time the media invents another Trump conspiracy theory, it spins out of control.
And then, before you know it, your modern, sophisticated progressive journalistic conspiracy theory takes a detour into classic anti-Semitism. And then it’s just a matter of connecting Chabad to Dixie to Ukraine to the friend of somebody’s girlfriend, to Russia, to Netanyahu’s son, and to the space aliens.