A group of rabbis is planning to boycott Donald Trump’s speech to AIPAC next week. The proposed boycott has nothing to do with Trump’s statement that, as president, he would be neutral as between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. One suspects that many of the irate rabbis have no objection to this approach, which (giving him the benefit of the doubt) has animated President Obama’s Middle East policy. Rather, the boycott is based on Trump’s illiberalism.
The rabbis’ move is hardly surprising. As Norman Podhoretz persuasively argued in Why are Jews Liberal?, for many non-Orthodox Jews, liberalism has replaced traditional Judaism as the true Jewish religion.
What does traditional Judaism teach us about boycotting unpleasant speech? Jeff Dunetz argues that it teaches us to listen to it.
The rabbis who intend to boycott Trump’s speech think they have heard enough. According to the Washington Post, they object to his “praise of authoritarian figures such as Russian President Vladimir Putin,” as well as his “call for a ban on Muslims entering the United States and his harsh rhetoric on illegal Mexican migrants,” which they claim “is reminiscent of the anti-immigrant sentiment that greeted European Jews in generations past.”
I object to these positions as well. But do they warrant an extraordinary call for a boycott against the likely Republican nominee? Not unless you have an ulterior, partisan motive, it seems to me.
Trump’s views on authoritarianism are a legitimate concern, and liberals aren’t the only people expressing them. However, President Obama’s flirtation with authoritarian figures, coupled with his disregard for the constitutional limits on his power, should be more concerning.
The Obama administration has empowered some of the worst authoritarians in the world, including the mullahs in Iran who are rabidly anti-Semitic and who aim to destroy Israel. To my knowledge, rabbis have never boycotted Obama.
As for immigration, there is no relationship between Trump’s misguided proposals to deport illegal immigrants and temporarily ban Muslim entry on the one hand, and the treatment of European Jewish immigrants 100 years ago on the other. Trump proposes to deport only those who are here illegally. (By right, they should be deported, though considerations of humanitarianism and practicality militate against mass deportation.) And the Jews who entered the U.S. did not belong to a religion many of whose members are waging a holy war against our country.
The boycotting rabbis have strong policy disagreements with Trump. But policy disagreements don’t justify a refusal to listen.
That’s why the rabbis couch their disgust with Trump in terms that invoke the Jewish experience with authoritarianism abroad and discrimination in the U.S. As noted above, however, this attempt requires distortion.
By engaging in distortion, the rabbis demonstrate that they are driven by a political, rather than a religious agenda. But what else can we expect from them? As Dunetz points out, and as non-liberal Jews know oh-so well, Reform and Conservative Judaism are dominated by leftism.
Indeed, some of us have at times felt like boycotting our religious services rather than enduring liberal rants posing as religious sermons. The impulse isn’t admirable, and neither is the proposed AIPAC boycott of Donald Trump.