Journalist and political commentator Jonathan Alter acknowledges that he is “a very strong critic” of Donald Trump.
So it is logical that when the Montclair resident delivers the Joseph Gotthelf Holocaust Memorial Lecture at Temple Beth Am in Parsippany on May 12, his speech, he told NJJN, will be titled “Jewish Values in the Age of Trump” — despite the fact that the printed advertising titles his talk “The Fragility of Democracy.”
The Gotthelf family has been sponsoring an annual Holocaust Memorial Lecture series for the past 28 years in honor of Joseph, a native of Lodz, Poland. He spent the early years of the Holocaust in the Piotrikow Trybunalski Ghetto and later survived a death march. He and his wife, Ida, whom he met at the Regensburg displaced persons camp in Germany, left Europe for the Bronx before settling in New Jersey. They had three children and six grandchildren.
Alter, a prominent book and magazine writer, blogger, and guest commentator on MSNBC, is currently working on two biographical projects — a book on the life of former President Jimmy Carter and a television documentary about two leading newspaper columnists, Pete Hamill and the late Jimmy Breslin.
After issuing a caveat that he did not “want to spell out the substance” of his talk at Temple Beth Am, Alter spoke with NJJN in an April 28 phone interview.
NJJN: How should Jews respond to Trump?
A: Critically. It is important not to use the word “fascism,” but it is also important to understand the implications of what he represents. It is a fairly deep subject.
NJJN: What does his hiring of Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist suggest?
A: I thought it was very disturbing to hire Steve Bannon, who said that his website, Breitbart.com, was “a platform for the alt-right.” The alt-right is not just a conservative, but a neo-Nazi movement.
But I also think sometimes Trump says the right thing [regarding the Jewish people], as he did (when he pledged “never again” on the observance of Yom HaShoah). But that hardly lets him off the hook. He still has Bannon and other people in his organization who have associations with anti-Semitism and anti-Semitic organizations…The fact that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an Orthodox Jew is not enough.
NJJN: Despite allegations of anti-Semitism among some in the Trump administration, others say positive things about Israel. How do you reconcile the two?
A: Just because you say positive things about Israel, it doesn’t give you a pass. When civil liberties are in danger, whether they are the civil liberties of Muslims or anyone else, Jews are naturally going to suffer.
NJJN: Do you think he will serve his four-year term? Is there any chance he will be impeached?
A: We are a long way from impeachment because Republicans control the House of Representatives. It is highly unlikely there would be any impeachment before 2019 at the earliest, and even then I don’t think the chances are high. So I think the likelihood is that he’ll serve at least one term.
NJJN: What will you be saying about the Holocaust?
A: I am going to talk about keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive for new generations. It has to be done on many different levels. There are many people who are connecting with survivors, and when they do they will be shaped by that for the rest of their lives. Building those intergenerational connections is very important.