Column: Trump’s Advice for ‘a Good Jewish Character’

We should thank Donald J. Trump for helping Israel, but he has done far more for Jews there than he has ever done for most American Jews.

In the process, his recent pronouncements have reopened the question of dual loyalty – that Jews here must ignore the everyday needs of their fellow Americans and, for that matter, themselves, while exerting all their energy and government revenues to prop up Israel.

What else could these words mean? “U.S. Jews have to get their act together and appreciate what they have in Israel – before it is too late!”

Not so coincidentally, disturbing comments about Jews were uttered by lesser-known Republican candidates and party activists during the past week. Just this past Friday, a senior advisor for Doug Mastriano, who wants to be my governor, warned Pennsylvania’s Jews that Democratic rival Joshua Shapiro is “at best a secular Jew in the same way Joe Biden is a secular Catholic.”

Also, an Ohio state Senate candidate was busy brushing off criticism of her published “Jew them down” statement, and an Indiana school board candidate said that not all Nazis were bad.

Most ominous is Trump’s call for American Jews to go all in for Israel. Let us assume that the Donald means well for Jews in Israel, American Jews and Jews worldwide. That his attitudes are not rooted in antisemitism, his ego, hurt feelings or detachment from his fellow Americans.

Most American Jews do “appreciate what they have in Israel.” They have a homeland whose very existence has helped Jews worldwide acquire a greater sense of legitimacy.

By all means, we must continue to stand with Israel, but we do have our own country to worry about. While not all Jews take the same stance on every issue, I can safely say that the vast majority favors abortion rights, gun-safety laws, better health-care coverage, confronting climate change, higher taxes for the wealthy, justice for the Jan. 6 attack and resolving our many social ills.

Trump has done nothing to address these concerns and even worked against them, and is now telling American Jews how they should behave. Granted, Trump has taken some actions specifically to help American Jews. Especially, his administration investigated complaints of antisemitism on college campuses.

Our former president provoked this new conflict on Sunday, Oct. 16, when he said on Truth Social, the social media platform he owns, “No president has done more for Israel than I have. Somewhat surprisingly, however, our wonderful Evangelicals are far more appreciative of this than people of the Jewish faith, especially those living in the U.S.”

According to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Trump’s posting comes soon after the Zionist Organization of America announced that it would bestow on him a rare honor for, among other actions, decided to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, cut funding to the Palestinians, exited the Iran deal and recognized Israeli sovereignty in the Golan Heights. Some of these actions were helpful, but pulling out of the Iran situation probably destabilized conditions.

Last Thursday (Oct. 20), The New York Times reported on a video taken at an event on May 20, 2021, in which Trump said, “In Israel, I’m at like 94 percent, but I got 27, 28 percent (among American Jews).” His remarks appeared to have begun after a woman approached him and referred to “the Jews who didn’t vote for you.” He asked of Alex Holder, who filmed the event, “Is this a good Jewish character right here?” People standing nearby laughed, according to the Times.

“In Israel, I’m the most popular,” Trump added during the event, held at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J. “With Orthodox, I’m the most popular.”

It is impossible to determine Trump’s intentions. If I had to choose, I would pick a more generous interpretation based on recent history and personal experience.

I wonder if Trump was inspired by his pending ZOA award and chats with Jewish friends when he insisted on taking credit for his friendship toward Israel. His words reflect those of right-leaning Jews who have rebuked me for the mildest criticisms of Israel. One of them abruptly ended all contact in part because I suggested that inhabiting the West Bank is not worth the sacrifice of lives. Others have dismissed any factual accusations against Israel or called for a war with the Arabs “to get it over with.”

Trump chose his attorney, David M. Friedman, to serve as America’s ambassador to Israel after advising The Donald on Israeli and Jewish issues during the 2016 presidential campaign. Friedman urged relocation of the American embassy to Jerusalem and announced that a Trump administration would be open to Israel annexing parts of the West Bank.

Considering Trump’s deep scholarship of world affairs, does anyone believe that he could come up with this perspective of Israel on his own? Does he really know what is going on in Israel? Any time he is capable of speaking in any depth about a given issue, Trump sounds as if he is reciting from someone else’s lecture, verbatim.

Trump’s “before it is too late!” warning sounds like a threat, but my educated guess is that he fears Israel will be harmed if all Jews do not stand with our homeland. If that is true, he nonetheless jeopardizes Israel by failing to be clear.

I will concede that American Jews are not proactive enough in standing up for Israel, but Trump shows he knows nothing about American Jews when he tells us we must “appreciate what they have in Israel.” By parrotting what Friedman and company tell him, he is not thinking for himself.

Despite early lapses, America has generally supported Israel since Israel’s birth in 1948. The two nations have had conflicts, but none severe enough to threaten a crack-up in their relationship.

The more liberal Jews have elected governments that allow the nation to attempt to address domestic needs while allying with Israel at the same time. We should be able to continue along this course with little or no discord. We will need to bolster this effort in coming years, and it is presently impossible to do both under Republican control.

What would happen if a crisis erupted? Under current circumstances, I can imagine two kinds of disruptions. First, Israel and America clash on a critical issue. Based on the record, I would expect the two nations to resolve even the most perilous conflict, but who can predict the future?

Or, if Israel-bashers like Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib should seize control of the Democratic Party, what would American Jews do? Democrats who are repulsed by the likes of Omar and Tlaib – not only Jewish Democrats – might consider forming a new political party. Or they might flock to the Republican Party.

Republicans should be careful what they wish for. If their numbers are large enough, the former Democrats could moderate the GOP, sidelining its current right-wing base. Republicans could at such a juncture address domestic issues and support Israel at the same time.

About Bruce Ticker

Bruce S. Ticker, who writes from Philadelphia, also blogs for The San Diego Jewish World and Smirking Chimp and previously for the suspended Philadelphia Jewish Voice. He was previously a reporter and copy editor for daily newspapers in eastern Pennsylvania.

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