A recent survey by the Jewish Electorate Institute indicates that 71% of registered Jewish voters disapprove of the way President Trump handles anti-Semitism and 73% feel less secure since he took office. Clearly, many associate him with bigotry in spite of his staunch support for Israel, warm relationships with Jewish colleagues and family members, and policy of challenging Jew-hatred at the United Nations and around the globe.
Though Jewish Democrats can disagree with Mr. Trump’s politics, personality, or confrontational style, he has no known connections to anti-Semitic or anti-Israel organizations, churches or ideologues – unlike Barack Obama, whom they pronounced “good for the Jews” despite a questionable background that would have disqualified any Republican in their eyes. Curiously, they expressed little concern when thousands of anti-Semitic acts and hate-crimes were committed, and violent assaults against Jews nearly doubled, during Mr. Obama’s presidency.
The fears voiced by Jewish Democrats regarding Mr. Trump’s supposed bigotry seem disingenuous considering their party’s tolerance for anti-Israel advocacy and progressive anti-Semites. And in advocating a partisan agenda that impugns Israel’s national integrity and rationalizes ancient stereotypes as political expression, they betray heritage, tradition, and common sense. Many define themselves through identity politics, but the identity they assert is not really Jewish. Instead, they espouse a grievance-based platform that glorifies radicalism, devalues Jewish history, and fosters hatred against their people and ancient homeland.
Democratic Party membership today includes BDS activists and classical conspiracy theorists who are not shy about pushing their anti-Israel agenda, and yet liberal Jews continue sitting in the same tent. They were ambivalent during the 2016 election cycle as party radicals burned Israeli flags, and they remain so today when Congressional Democrats spew hateful or ignorant rhetoric.
True, some expressed outrage when Ilhan Omar asserted classical stereotypes against Jewish organizations, Rashida Tlaib questioned the allegiance of pro-Israel legislators and claimed Palestinians gave “safe haven” to Holocaust survivors, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez asserted the Israeli “occupation” myth and praised anti-Semitic British politician Jeremy Corbyn. But their umbrage was short-lived, and there was no outcry when Democrats stripped a House resolution of language solely and specifically condemning anti-Semitism. Party leaders have only compounded the problem by labeling as racist, Islamophobic, or misogynistic those who criticize House Reps. Tlaib, Omar, Ocasio-Cortez and others for such egregious comments.
Those who accuse Trump of anti-Semitism are hard-pressed to corroborate their claims. His relationships with Jews and Jewish institutions over the years have been positive, and his treatment of Israel exemplary. In contrast, Barack Obama had a troubling record that Jewish Democrats simply ignored. He sat in the pews of Jeremiah Wright’s church for twenty-two years, reportedly hobnobbed with members of Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam in Chicago, counted among friends and colleagues people like Rashid Khalidi and Edward Said, and treated Israel and Prime Minister Netanyahu disrespectfully throughout his presidency.
The tendency of liberals to ignore Democratic anti-Semitism suggests they are not serious about confronting it. If they were, they would make a priority of denouncing bigotry on the left as conservatives have done on the right since the 1990s. Their obsession with phantom Republican prejudice stems from their flawed understanding of Jewishness as progressive metaphor and endorsement of ideologies that contravene traditional Judaism as authentically Jewish. The resulting absurdity is exemplified by their reluctance to condemn Democratic bigots the way British Jews have denounced Corbyn and the Labour Party. They prefer to blame Republicans for anti-Semitism – much of which comes from the left – over putting their own house in order.
Jewish progressives cannot tolerate Trump’s relationship with Netanyahu, whom they despise, but this disdain reflects the projection of their political values onto an Israeli society that has far different priorities. Likewise, though the Reform and Conservative movements elevate “social justice” over traditional observance, most Israelis question their relevance. And whereas Americans believe that excoriating Trump and adulating Obama are Jewish mandates, Israelis tend to disagree. In fact, many appreciate Trump’s admiration for Israel and stance against global anti-Semitism, but wonder how US Jews could have supported Obama despite his relationships with Israel haters, apologetic views on radical Islam, and apparent disdain for the Jewish State. More fundamentally, many are baffled that American Jews would trade ancestral loyalty for political causes that are extraneous to or inconsistent with traditional Judaism (e.g., transgender activism, Palestinian advocacy).
As observed by the late Prof. Daniel J. Elazar more than twenty years ago, most non-Orthodox Israelis, whether identifying as traditional or secular, incorporate observance into their lives to varying degrees. And while some might not oppose official recognition of liberal Judaism, “except for a minuscule handful, they do not seek it for themselves nor do they respond to it positively,” he wrote then, noting further: “It is not just that the religiously Orthodox Jews in Israel have not found satisfaction in those two diaspora-originated movements [i.e., Reform and Conservative], but, perhaps especially, neither have the religiously moderate traditional or secularist Jews.” (“Why Reform and Conservative Judaism have Not Worked in Israel,” www.jcpa.org/dje/articles2/whyreform.htm.) Though not all Israelis are stringently observant, most seem to accept the validity of Jewish tradition.
These observations are no less relevant today, as American liberals and their movements have distinguished themselves by (a) seeking to impose sociopolitical standards on Israel that most Israelis find irrelevant and (b) promoting causes that many believe threaten their country’s sovereignty and Jewish character. Nothing illustrates this more than the liberal American propensity for dialoguing with Islamist front groups posing as moderate, supporting organizations like J Street, and legitimizing Palestinian national claims that negate Jewish history – all while demanding that Israel kneel before the altar of progressivism.
Not surprisingly, many Israelis reject liberal Judaism for its ethical relativism as much as its lenient ritual orientation.
Unlike their Israeli counterparts, US Jews seem to suffer from identity erosion influenced by declining observance, substandard Jewish education, and the sacralization of liberal politics. Though many claim their Jewishness requires them to reject Trump, they conflate identity with secular ideals that defy Jewish tradition. Liberals can dislike Trump for any reason or none at all, but they cannot claim their disdain is Judaically-mandated. Nor can they ignore how Trump has reversed his predecessor’s course of demeaning Israel, enabling Islamic radicalism, empowering Iran, and whitewashing leftist anti-Semitism.
Jewish history is replete with examples of those who rejected heritage and community. During the Hellenistic period, many emulated Greek culture and repudiated their ancestors, while during medieval times some accepted baptism and sought to lead others astray. The apostate Nicholas Donin in 1240 denounced the Talmud to Pope Gregory IX, inflamed Dominican ire, and instigated public disputations and Talmud burnings. Similarly, Johannes Pfefferkorn in 1509 advocated expelling Jews from German lands, kidnapping and baptizing their children, and burning Hebrew texts. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many joined European radical movements, abandoned Judaism, and discouraged education and observance.
Whereas yesterday’s apostates renounced religion and culture, today’s progressives claim fealty to tradition while falsely equating Jewish identity with non-Jewish priorities. They misuse terms like “tikkun olam” and “Mussar” to imply Judaic authenticity, though doing so only illustrates their distance from tradition. True tikkun olam involves the promotion of societal harmony through Halakhic observance, while authentic Mussar calls for ethical character development through Torah study, mitzvah observance, and personal introspection. Neither promotes ideals that are alien to Judaism.
Many American Jews today know little of their heritage and attempt to fill the gaps with agendas that bear no resemblance to the Judaism of their ancestors. Though Jewish voters can certainly support any policies their consciences may dictate, tradition does not require them to be liberal Democrats – or conservative Republicans.
As for President Trump, they can support or oppose him for any reason. But they cannot claim that hatred for the man reflects Jewish virtue – and certainly not in light of his support for Israel and condemnation of global anti-Semitism. Nor can they oppose him based on dubious claims of prejudice, especially when they ignore or excuse flagrant anti-Semitism within the Democratic Party. Whatever moral authority they claim to possess is only diluted when they condemn Jew-hatred where it doesn’t exist but grant a pass where it does.