On Nov. 1, the illustrious historian Simon Schama was the honoured guest of Montreal’s Jewish Public Library, as the keynote speaker for Jewish Book Month. His topic was his latest book, Belonging: The Story of the Jews 1492-1900, the second instalment of a trilogy covering the entire history of the Jewish people. The auditorium was packed with hundreds of Montreal Jews who anticipated a riveting address, my husband and I included.
Yet I was not particularly riveted by Schama’s talk. Delivered in an amiably practised manner, he rambled from anecdote to anecdote like a steel orb in a pinball machine, punctuated by stale Jewish jokes. But he had my full attention when, in the Q-and-A, he responded to a question about U.S. President Donald Trump. Schama’s air of disinterested civility suddenly morphed into Incredible Hulk-level outrage.
The CJN’s report on the talk led with this part of the evening, noting that Schama called out Trump for suggesting that Jewish billionaire George Soros “is financing the caravan of migrants heading north from Central America.” This, Schama charged, was a “wicked thing to say,” as it was nothing less than an anti-Semitic slur. In fact, he said, the “demonizing of Soros as this secretive banker, this manipulator, is a shanda.” Schama went on to say that the migrant caravan reminds him of Jews throughout the ages who had to flee countries in which they were persecuted.
Yet the Central Americans who make up the caravan bear little resemblance to previous Jewish exoduses. One may sympathize greatly with their wish to escape from virtually lawless nations that are tyrannized by drug cartels. But they are not refugees from an impending genocide directed against them as hated members of an identifiable ethnic group.
Indeed, a worrying number of today’s marchers are themselves criminals. In a release called “Myth vs. Fact: Caravan,” the U.S. Department of Homeland Security states that more than 270 people in the caravans are either known gang members, “some very violent against authority,” or have criminal backgrounds. To argue that there is a Nazi-era Jewish parallel is not only a false comparison, but an offensive appropriation of the Jewish trauma.
As for the Honduras caravan being financed indirectly by George Soros, Trump may have been incorrect in his assumption (or possibly not incorrect, we shall see), but it isn’t “wicked” to wonder if Soros had a hand in it, given the slew of progressive causes his Open Society Foundation funds in 70 countries throughout the world.
George Soros holds extraordinary power, not only because of his wealth, but because of his ambition to push America in a globalist direction. It’s unfortunate that Soros is a gift to anti-Semitic conspiracy theorists, but the reality is that he exudes a megalomaniacal vibe. In his 1991 book, Underwriting Democracy, Soros wrote: “If truth be known, I carried some rather potent messianic fantasies with me from childhood.” That seems pretty creepy to many non-conspiracy theorists, too, including Jews who see the world through a conservative lens.
Particularly galling – and not reported – was Schama’s comparison of Jews who support Trump to Jews in 1930s Germany who joined the Nazi party. Now that is a true shanda. This is a historian – and not just any historian, but an internationally respected member of the highest cultural elite on two continents – suggesting that Trump is akin to Hitler. Trump is a hot mess of a president, to be sure. No rational observer, even many Republicans, disputes that. He is coarse, crude, volatile, mendacious, truculent, disruptive and a bully. But he isn’t Hitler. Not even close.
Trump has no intellectual legacy to protect. But Schama does. In the future, he should strive for greater mastery of his contempt for those whose political opinions differ from those of Simon Schama.