OP-ED: “Trump, Israel and the Jews”

By BJLife/Jay Bernstein
Posted on 07/28/19

Baltimore, MD - July 28, 2019 - Let’s say there is a person that you know.   Regarding one particular matter that is very important to you, this person has been incredibly supportive, has always been there to provide assistance, and has loudly and proudly defended your position, and denounced your adversaries.  You truly could not ask for a better friend, and are deeply thankful for everything this person has done.

But let’s also say that the same person who is so good to you is very bad to others.  He uses vile language to denigrate his critics, has no sympathy or empathy for people in need, exhibits all of the traits of a bully, and generally shows scorn for the values and principles that you hold dear.

How do you react?  If all you care about is your parochial needs, you might be inclined to suppress your concerns and doubts, and continue to support your benefactor.  At the very least, your inclination would be to defer from engaging in any open criticism, and to maintain a position of respectful silence.

This hypothetical describes the current position of many American Jews, and particularly the over 50% of Orthodox Jews who voted for Donald Trump.  Grateful for and supportive of Trump’s move of the U.S embassy to Jerusalem, recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, defense of Israel at the U.N. and in other international forums, cessation of funding to UNRWA and to the PA, and withdrawal from the flawed Iran nuclear deal, they ignore Trump’s myriad character flaws, leadership deficiencies and poisonous rhetoric, and celebrate what they view as a “golden age” in U.S.-Israel relations.

Perhaps this stance is understandable in light of the critical importance that   Israel’s security and well-being rightfully has for most Orthodox Jews. But it is at odds with, and completely undermines, the ethical values which are taught in our day schools, preached from our pulpits, and studied in our yeshivot, and which are violated by the current President on a daily basis.  Values such as speaking the truth, distancing oneself from falsehood, loving the stranger, being deliberate in our speech, not speaking ill of others, not embarrassing others, acting kindly, and practicing humility, are as vital to the spiritual security of our community (and arguably, to the spiritual security of the entire country) as Israel is to our physical security.  For a community ostensibly committed to these values to tolerate their serial breach by the country’s highest elected official is an epic moral failure which is not excused by the President’s support for Israel.

To the extent there was any room for equivocation on this matter, it should have been completely removed by Trump’s recent harangue that four minority Democratic Congresswomen critical of him and his Administration are “people who hate America” and “hate Israel,” and should “go back” to where they came from.  This outrageous and blatantly racist attack is not only abhorrent to such basic Jewish (and non-Jewish) concepts as telling the truth, avoiding derogatory speech (loshon ha’ra), and loving the stranger, but a direct challenge to -- and rejection of -- the ideals and principles that have made the United States so hospitable to Jews.  

One need not agree with a single policy position advocated by the Congresswomen to recognize that the President’s toxic comments are a danger to all minorities, including an American Jewish community that constitutes less than 3% of the population.   If it is legitimate today for the President to demand that minority women of color go back to where they came from, then tomorrow it will be acceptable for this mercurial President (or for a different President who may not be favorably disposed to Israel) to make the same demand of American Jews.  Self-preservation alone demands that the Jewish community unanimously reject the President’s debasement of our civic discourse, and demand an end to (in the words of conservative commentator George Will) the “schoolboy taunts and obvious lies spun out in a constant stream” by the White House.

According to the Mishna in Pirkei Avot, disciples of Abraham have a generous eye, a modest demeanor, and a humble soul, and disciples of Balaam have an evil eye, an arrogant demeanor, and an insatiable soul.  In his commentary on this Mishna, Rabbi Marc Angel explains that the “generous eye” displayed by disciples of Abraham refers to “an attitude that “recognizes the essential humanity of all people and that feels responsible for others.”  If we, a people charged to conduct ourselves as disciples of Abraham, do not call out leaders who behave in a manner characteristic of Balaam, who will?