In his book Why Are Jews Liberals?, Norman Podhoretz argued that the real religion of a great many non-Orthodox American Jews is liberalism, not Judaism. There’s a lot of truth in this, I think.
However, it’s one thing for a serious Jew like Norman to say so. It would be inappropriate for a non-Jew to say it, and especially so for an American president.
But President Trump’s recent comment about American Jews isn’t just inappropriate, it’s incorrect. Trump opined:
If you vote for a Democrat, you’re very, very disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish people.
But many Israeli Jews dislike Trump and would prefer to see a Democrat in the White House. Are they disloyal to their country?
Of course not. They may be misguided. I think they are, and seriously so. But they are not disloyal.
They don’t harbor ill towards their country. Their view of what’s good for Israel simply differs from that of President Trump, Prime Minister Netanyahu, and the majority of Israelis.
It’s the same thing with American Jews who vote for Democrats. They don’t favor the destruction or harming of Israel any more than like-minded Israeli Jews do. Instead, they either believe that Trump’s policies are bad for Israel or they believe that Trump’s domestic policies offset whatever merit his policies towards Israel have (or they believe both).
The view that Trump’s domestic policies offset his pro-Israeli approach doesn’t reflect disloyalty to Israel. Suppose President Obama’s policies towards Israel, Iran, and the rest of the Middle East had been identical to those of the Trump administration. I still wouldn’t have voted for Obama (and I doubt Trump would have either).
Would this have made me disloyal to Israel and to the Jewish people? Certainly not. Israel should be an important voting issue for American Jews, but it doesn’t have to be the sole, or the overriding, issue. Indeed, when Israel overrides all other voting considerations of American Jews, suspicions of insufficient loyalty to America may arise — whether fairly or not.
The Trump campaign’s chief operating officer, Michael Glassner, says:
As a Jew myself, I strongly believe that President Trump is right to highlight that there is only one party — the Democrats — excusing and permitting. . .anti-Jewish venom to be spewed. . .freely. In stark contrast, there is no bigger ally to the Jewish community at home and around the world than President Trump.
I agree. Trump should highlight his pro-Israel policies and contrast them sharply with the vile utterances of some prominent Democrats. But he can do so without slandering American Jews who vote for Democrats. In fact, he undermines his potential appeal to Jewish voters by casting the reluctance of most Jews to support him as “disloyalty to Israel and to the Jewish people.”
The day before Trump accused Jews who vote Democratic of disloyalty to Israel and the Jewish people, Trump said that Jews who vote for Democrats “show either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” This statement is also incorrect.
A Jew who knows plenty about Trump’s support of Israel and about the situation in that country can still favor a Democrat for either (or both) of the two reasons I mentioned above: the belief that Israel is better served by softer policies than Trump’s or the belief that issues other than Israel militate in favor of voting Democratic. I know many such Jews.
They may be misguided, but they are neither ignorant nor disloyal.
I understand Trump’s frustration at his seeming inability to win over Jewish voters. He should control himself, though. He won’t gain Jewish votes by insulting Jews.