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Friday Feature - A tough week for American Jews

Friday Feature

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22 Aug 2019
Friday Feature - A tough week for American Jews
We started this week with many in the pro-Israel community fretting over the short and long-term implications of Israel’s ban on two antagonistic US Congresswomen from entering the country, and the role US President Donald Trump played in perhaps forcing Jerusalem into this controversial decision. But that ‘tempest in a teapot’ has been quickly overshadowed by Trump’s latest barrage against the provocative freshman lawmakers, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), which many have now twisted into an antisemitic trope against the Jewish people.

Just to recap, Trump first tweeted late last week that Israel (read Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu) was showing “weakness” in allowing Omar and Tlaib into the country. Within minutes, news broke that Israel had decided to block the two agitators from visiting. Many saw it as Netanyahu instantly bowing to pressure from Trump. It took a few days, but Israel clarified that the decision was already in process well before Trump’s tweet. But by then, Republicans and Democrats alike, American Jewish leaders and Israeli officials in tow, were all wringing their hands over the potential damage to US-Israel relations of closing the door on two sitting members of Congress.

Yet that [important] debate quickly faded into obscurity when Trump commented in an Oval Office press appearance on Tuesday that American Jews who vote for a Democrat are showing “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Democratic Jewish lawmakers, 2020 Democratic hopefuls and major American Jewish groups all rushed to condemn Trump’s statement, accusing him of being ‘divisive’ and employing antisemitic stereotypes, among other charges. Charles Schumer insisted that Trump was “encouraging – wittingly or unwittingly – antisemites throughout the country and world.” Joe Biden described his comments as “insulting and inexcusable.” Dan Shapiro labeled Trump “disgusting.” The headline of one critical article even claimed “Trump is now echoing the same antisemitic tropes used by the Nazis”.

Despite the backlash, Trump doubled down on his pasting of Omar and Tlaib in a tweet on Wednesday, while also clarifying that he simply meant American Jewish voters were being disloyal to Israel and their own people when voting for radical, Jew-hating Democrats like the two ‘Squad’ members. Yet by now, the noise and mayhem surrounding this controversy is drowning out any sane voices and goodwill efforts to bring things back to a proper, realistic perspective.

Here is my attempt to be one of those sane voices:

1. Trump is indeed the Most Pro-Israel President Ever
It is hard for anyone to argue with that premise. He was the one who finally granted American recognition to Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and moved the US Embassy there. He has challenged the unfair treatment of Israel in the United Nations, including UNRWA’s distorted definition of Palestinian refugees. He has cut off US funding to UNRWA, and to the Palestinian Authority over its pay-for-slay policies. He has removed the US from a very flawed nuclear deal with Iran which endangered Israel. And he has recognized Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the Golan Heights. It is hard for any US president to match that track record, accomplished in only two years.

2. Trump is a Political Firebrand but he is not Anti-Semitic
There is an election season on, and Trump obviously enjoys the fray. He dishes out as good as he gets. And everyone knows Trump is trying to paint Omar, Tlaib, and other members of the “Squad” as the true face of the Democratic party. His initial remarks and subsequent tweet on “disloyalty” may have been a clumsy attempt to make that point, and it would certainly help if he were more careful in driving it home, but it was not expressed with evil intent against the Jewish people. It is just the rough-and-tumble way Trump tries to sway voters.

3. Comparing Trump to Hitler is Absurd
To do so is an insult to the six million Jews who died and the millions of others who suffered horribly under Hitler and the Nazis. Let us all be careful in the slippery game of drawing Nazi equivalencies.

4. Maintaining Bipartisan Support for Israel is Important
Yes, it is vital that American support for Israel must remain bipartisan. Both parties have had their problems with letting in antisemitic elements. For every Democratic mainstay like Jesse Jackson (“hymie town”), the Republicans have had to cope with their Pat Buchanan (“Congress is occupied Israeli territory”). But today, polls consistently show that the Republican party is overwhelmingly pro-Israel, while the Democrats have a real and growing problem with antisemitic, anti-Zionist, BDSers trying to seize the reins of the party. The Democratic strategy of appealing to identity politics has let in many ethnic and social groups that are ideologically anti-Israel. We saw this when a typically pro-forma plank on recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel was openly booed and hissed at a recent Democratic convention. Omar and Tlaib now personify that troubling wing of the party. So Trump is right in beginning to question why so many American Jews remain so wedded to the Democratic party, and frankly many conservative Christians are mystified by this as well.

5.  Do Not Mistake Silence for Patience
Many Trump critics upbraided Republicans and conservatives for not immediately jumping on the bandwagon to condemn the president for his “disloyalty” comments. But some of us have learned that – in the age of Trump – it is often best to let things settle down first before making a judgment on what was really said and with what intent. This president does use strong and edgy terms sometimes, and people are just too quick to launch into lunar orbit against him. It is best to let everyone come down, regain perspective, and then assess what the truth really is. And at the heart of Trump’s complaint is that voters in several heavily-Democratic congressional districts elected some very radical politicians in 2018, and we are now waiting to see if they will be turned out or returned to office in November, which would signal a much deeper problem not only in the Democratic party but in America in general.

6. Omar and Tlaib are Indeed Anti-Semites
Not so long ago, Democrats in Congress were reluctant to expressly condemn by name their fellow lawmakers for openly espousing antisemitic views, such as Omar’s comments, “It's all about the Benjamins, baby.” No matter one’s political affiliation, that does not bode well for Israel and the Jewish community. As one commentator noted in The Forward: “The truth is, it’s been a tough week for American Jews.”


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