Photo Credit: Molly Resnick
Ex-radical Neal Newman with his dog Zev.

Millions of Americans protested the Vietnam War in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s. Some demonstrated peacefully. Others used violence.

Neal Newman belonged to the latter group. Born and raised in New Jersey, Newman – a Jew – was so committed to the “international struggle against Western imperialism” that he not only protested here in the U.S. but actually trained with Palestinian guerillas in Jordan to fight Israel.


Today – 50 years later – the once radical leftist is now a passionate supporter of Donald Trump, an enthusiastic member of the Chabad of Tri-Valley (headed by my son, Rabbi Raleigh Resnick), and the CEO of a krav maga outfit that proudly flies the American and Israeli flags on its buildings.

The Jewish Press: How would you describe your childhood? 

Newman: My hometown – Tom’s River, N.J. – was a tough place to grow up in the 1950s. It was extremely racist and anti-Semitic, and being called a “dirty Jew” was fairly common.

I was raised in a family of American heroes. My father fought at the Battle of Iwo Jima, my uncle fought at the Battle of the Bulge, and another uncle served in the Air Force Special Forces behind enemy lines. My mother, though, was tougher than all three of them. She’s the one who taught me to fight back.

I remember in first grade a kid called me a dirty Jew and punched me in the mouth. When I got home, my mother said, “You know what your problem is? You didn’t defend your people. When somebody calls you a dirty Jew, you make ‘em pay for it.”

How did you become a radical anti-Vietnam revolutionary?

I saw things about the Vietnam War that weren’t kosher and started hanging around with the wrong people. That led me to joining the SDS [Students for a Democratic Society], which was this big leftist group. I started studying Karl Marx and viewed America as the enemy – an imperialist power with Israel as its stooge.

When did you start attending anti-Vietnam demonstrations?

The first big one I went to was in Chicago on October 8-11, 1969. They called that period the “Days of Rage.” I went with a group of about 75 guys from Buffalo where I was in college; we went specifically to riot.

Were you arrested? 

Yes. As we were leaving Chicago, the police pulled us over and started smacking me around. One guy took me around the corner, took off his gun belt and said, “Let’s go, tough guy! Just you and me.”

I actually thought to myself, “I have a chance to beat this guy up,” but then I looked over my shoulder and saw someone aiming a sniper rifle at me. He would have blown my brains out if I had made a wrong move.

Later, another group of policemen took me in, beat me up, and actually hung me out of a second-story window. They were going to drop me, but a guy ran into the police station and said, “No, no, don’t! There are witnesses,” so they pulled me back in. We ended up in Cook County Jail for a couple of nights. It was quite an experience.

Any other colorful incidents you were involved in?

A few days later, about 30 of us at the University of Buffalo went into a building of the ROTC [hated by anti-Vietnam protesters for its association with the U.S. military], rough-housed the cadets a bit, took a bunch of their paperwork outside, and burned it in a big bonfire.

The press made a huge deal over it and started calling us the “mad vandals.” Nineteen of us got indicted, and I had charges of 40-50 years hanging over my head.

How many protests would you say you attended over your radical career?

At least a couple of hundred. I went to Washington a couple of times. In Buffalo, we actually shut down the university and had pitched battles with the police every night.

We took over the Graduate Student Association, got one of our guys in, and put out our own curriculums. The graduate students, who were all radicalized, taught the classes and we ran this thing called the Critical University. When we negotiated the peace agreement with the university – it was totally shut down for months – they had to accept the credits for these courses.

How did you go from protesting the Vietnam War in America to training with Palestinian guerillas in Jordan?

After we were indicted for the ROTC building incident, we were facing decades in jail, so my friends and I skipped the country to Canada and were looking to join some kind of group where we could continue fighting the revolution. The only ones who would take us was this Palestinian guerilla group.

So we met up with one of their guys in Montreal and ended up in Jordan training in a Palestinian refugee camp. We were four Americans among 40 Arabs.

Why did you volunteer for the Palestinians of all people?

We were caught up in the romanticism of the situation. I actually believed in my heart that there would be a revolution in the United States and worldwide during which all of America’s imperialist tentacles would be defeated. We considered Israel to be a puppet of America, and the Fedayeen group I joined were Marxists who believed the Palestinian struggle was part of an overall world struggle to defeat capitalism.

Did they know you were Jewish?

Yes. It was a coup for them to have Jewish boys training to kill Israelis. They actually admired me.

How did you rationalize what you were doing?

At that point I was totally anti-Israel. I was a Marxist revolutionary. I also fell into this nonsense that we weren’t against the Jews. We were just against the Zionists.

It was funny, though, because whenever you talked to anyone, it was all about “Jews,” not “Zionists.” They once sent me to an eye doctor in Amman to get me new glasses. He seemed like the nicest, gentlest guy – so grandfatherly – but in the middle of the eye exam he suddenly looks at me and says:

“You have the eyes of a killer. You have it in you to kill Jews, so I’m going to make you the greatest pair of glasses ever so that you can kill as many Jews as possible.” I thought to myself, “Oh my gosh, I have to get out of here.”

If you were so enamored of training with the Palestinians, why did you leave?

My friends and I became disenchanted. The group we had joined was a little bit low budget, and we didn’t like the caliber of the training. And then when I started thinking about actually fighting my own people, I said to myself, “This is really not where it’s at.”

Also, once the glamour and excitement wore off after a few months, [things started to change]. Deep down in my heart I didn’t want to kill my fellow Jews. It was all rhetoric, part of the radical mantra. We were young kids and I was a danger junky. My opposition to the Vietnam War was 100 percent sincere, but I just got swept into this larger leftist ideology.

How did you get out of Jordan?

I had some money hidden away and I paid a guy 200 bucks to sneak me into Lebanon. I went to the American embassy, but the personnel there wanted nothing to do with me because I was a fugitive. They let me make one phone call, though. It was 4:00 a.m. in the U.S. when I called my father and said, “Dad, it’s Neal.”

As soon as he heard my voice, he hung up on me. He hated me – and rightfully so. He was a lover of Israel and America and here was his son with Palestinian guerillas preparing to fight against Israel and America. But eventually I ended up with a plane ticket and new passport and came back to the United States.

Today you are a staunch conservative. How do you explain your transformation?

I tried to hate America but I ended up falling back in love with it. In reading through American history I realized America was really the first country where Jews could really live and pray in peace. So my Judaism got me to fall back in love with America.

Also, once I started making money, I said to myself, “I don’t want to give away my hard earned money to some guy who’s a slob and lazy.”

How did you come to be a big Trump supporter?

As an ex-radical, I could see through the charade of Washington. And then Donald Trump came along. I love Donald Trump. I’ve watched the Trump family my whole life. My grandmother lived in Coney Island a stone’s throw from Trump City. These are great people. They are friends of the Jews, and the president is a true friend of Israel.

I can’t tell you how many times I thank Hashem for Donald Trump. Only he had the courage to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish people. It flabbergasts me that every Jew in this country isn’t sending this man campaign money.


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Molly Resnick, a former NBC TV News producer, is a popular international lecturer and motivational speaker. She can be reached at [email protected].