The Morning Jolt

White House

Trump’s Ignorant Comments on Israel

President Donald Trump in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, D.C. August 20, 2019. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)

Making the click-through worthwhile: figuring out what President Trump meant when he said Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty”; examining the data on how American Jews actually feel about Israel; and why Democrats will always find a way or a reason to avert their eyes from any overt anti-Semitism from Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and their allies.

‘Any Jewish People that Vote for a Democrat, I Think it Shows Either a Total Lack of Knowledge or Great Disloyalty.’

President Trump, speaking in the Oval Office yesterday: “Where has the Democratic party gone?  Where have they gone where they’re defending these two people over the State of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

Disloyalty to whom?

Disloyalty to Israel? Is Trump suggesting that American Jews owe a loyalty to Israel? In a year when American Jews have bristled at the accusation of dual loyalties from the likes of Ilhan Omar, is President Trump arguing that not only do American Jews have loyalty to two countries, but that they ought to?

Disloyalty to him? Americans pledge allegiance to a flag and the country for which it stands, not a particular leader or politician. If “the choice is binary,” as so many insisted about 2016 and are sure to insist again in 2020, then Trump’s statement that voting for a Democratic party that defends Omar and Tlaib is disloyal amounts to a contention that being a “loyal” Jew requires voting for him.

Disloyalty to themselves or their community, as Republican Jewish Coalition executive director Matt Brooks argues? This is probably the most justifiable interpretation of Trump’s remarks – that an American Jew who ignores, defends, or averts his eyes from Omar and Rashida Tlaib represents a person acquiescing to the demonization of his own community and who is betraying himself, his own family, and his fellow members of the faith or heritage community. (Pardon that clunky description of America’s Jews, but there are Jews who aren’t religious and there are converts who are not ethnically Jewish, so this feels like the most accurate wording to describe the “Jewish community.”)

But the interpretation from Brooks comes uncomfortably close to the accusation that Jewish Democrats who have not openly opposed Omar and Tlaib are self-hating members of that community, or that those members of the Jewish community are not really or authentically Jewish. In many circumstances, conservatives loathe the notion that holding a particular viewpoint means you’re not an “authentic” member of a demographic community.

It’s not difficult to understand why many American Jews will bristle or react angrily to President Trump’s comment.

One of the messages that people are least receptive to is, “I’m not a member of your group, but I know what is best for your group, better than you do.” Lots of Americans don’t like it when foreign countries tell us what our foreign policy ought to be, lots of Catholics don’t like it when non-Catholics tell them what the faith’s doctrine ought to be, and conservatives don’t like it when those they perceive as RINO pundits tell them how they need to change. A chunk of our ongoing political debates are variations of, “your life experience and group affiliations are different from mine, so how can you possibly understand what the right choice for me is?”

How Do American Jews Actually Feel about Israel?

Beyond that, pro-Israel Republicans who wonder why they don’t win more Jewish votes perpetually overestimate how much that the issue of Israel drives voting decisions among American Jews.

A survey conducted last year by the American Jewish Committee found significant gaps between the views and attitudes of American Jews and Israelis:

While . . .”39% of the total Israeli sample say Israel should be willing to dismantle all or some of the settlements in a peace deal . . . the figures for the religious subgroups [in Israel] show deep differences: 59% of the secular (exactly matching the percentage of the whole American sample), 39% of the not-that-religious traditional, 29% of the religious-traditional, 14% of the religious Zionists, and 12% of the haredim would dismantle settlements.”

Grossman concluded his analysis in somber terms after noting that when “Asked to choose a familial metaphor to describe how close they feel to each other, 31% of the Americans, and 22% of the Israelis went so far as to respond: ‘not part of my family’ about the other. Only 28% of the Israelis consider American Jews ‘siblings’ — and that was more than twice as high as the 12% of American Jews who viewed their Israeli counterparts that way. Pluralities of about 40% in both groups responded, ‘extended family.’”

Earlier this year, when the same organization asked American Jews, “Do you agree or disagree with the following statement: “Caring about Israel is a very important part of my being a Jew,” 38 percent said they strongly agree, 24 percent said they somewhat agree, 20 percent said they somewhat disagree, and 15 percent said they strongly disagree.

Asking the family metaphor question again, only 13 percent said “siblings,” 15 percent said “first cousins,” 43 percent said “extended family,” and 28 percent answered, “not part of my family.” Only 38 percent said they strongly or somewhat approved of how Donald Trump was handling U.S.-Israeli relations.

It is likely that part of this growing sense of separation stems from Bibi Netanayhu being a right-of-center political leader and most American Jews residing on the left side of the U.S. political spectrum. Trump’s close relationship with Netanyahu, and vice versa, is not likely to win over many American Jews. Jews who adored President Barack Obama probably found Netanayhu’s vehement public opposition to the Iran deal an intransigent obstacle to the administration’s effort for peace. From a 2015 poll:

“By a wide margin, American Jews support the recently concluded agreement with Iran to restrict its nuclear program, and a clear majority of Jews wants Congress to approve the deal. In fact, as compared with Americans generally, Jews are more supportive of the ‘Iran deal,’ in large part because Jews are more liberal and more Democratic in their identities. It turns out that liberals (Jewish or not) support the deal far more than conservatives (Jewish or not), just as most Democrats are in favor, while most Republicans are opposed.”

There are some American Jews for whom a political candidate’s policy towards Israel is the paramount issue of their vote, but for many, particularly the more secular Jews, it’s one of many issues they consider  not that much of a factor at all.

Those of us who are not Jewish could argue that American Jews should prioritize this issue, but many Jews will respond, “why should I trust your assessment of what issues should be most important for me? Who the heck are you to tell me what issue I should care about the most?”

Republicans should not adopt pro-Israel stances because they think they will win them votes from Jews in future elections. They should adopt pro-Israel stances because they think they are the right policies — both in terms of morally correct and best for U.S. national security interests.

There are other reasons why American Jews are unlikely to warm up to President Trump.  As I’ve noted before, if President Trump is an anti-Semite, he’s the odd kind of anti-Semite who is close to his Jewish son-in-law, whose daughter converted to Judaism, and who moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. But for some reason, many anti-Semites believe or believed Trump was on their side: David Duke and the Daily Stormer endorsed him early in the 2016 cycle, his election was celebrated with Richard Spencer with former MTV star Tila Tequila making Nazi salutes, and of course the white nationalists marching through the University of Virginia campus, chanting “Jews will not replace us.” (For what it’s worth, the Poway Synagogue shooter and the Pittsburgh Synagogue shooter left manifestos denouncing Trump as a sellout to the Jews. Perhaps some anti-Semites are awakening to the idea that Trump isn’t really secretly one of them.

But that doesn’t change the fact that plenty of American Jews believe Trump is secretly or not-so-secretly allied with groups that hate Jews, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

It’s Always Easier to Avert Your Eyes from Idiotic, Unhelpful Political Allies

If every last Democratic lawmaker and voter was forced to confront the views, statements, and beliefs of Omar, Tlaib, and their allies, the vast majority would probably recoil, or declare them beyond the pale. But they’re rarely if ever exposed to that information, much less forced to grapple with the ramifications of it.

A lot of Republicans and conservatives don’t like Iowa congressman Steve King. But you haven’t seen a ton of commentary and discussion among conservatives about King’s latest asinine outburst, “what if we went back through all the family trees and just pulled those people out that were products of rape and incest? Would there be any population of the world left if we did that?” When King or any other lawmaker goes out and says something embarrassing, the instinct of most folks on the Right is to publicly express disapproval or opposition and then move on to other topics. House Republican leaders have already stripped King of his committee assignments and condemned him. An attempt to expel him from the House would call greater attention to his remarks, preempt any verdict of his constituents who will have their say in the 2020 primary and general, and perhaps turn him into something of a martyr for free speech. (Lots of members of Congress say lots of controversial and offensive things all the time; why would these particular controversial and offensive remarks warrant the career death penalty?)

A significant number of Democrats probably have heard little or nothing about the remarks and allies of Tlaib and Omar. Only the smallest fraction of Democrats knows about Miftah, the group that wanted to sponsor their trip, and the organization’s overt and explicit anti-Semitism. To the extent they choose to think about it, most Democrats probably smell the same whiff of bull droppings from Omar’s shifting explanations about why she wants to travel, and her odd refusal to visit her grandmother after Israel agreed to permit it.

But they’re not interested in dwelling on the issue; that would involve a difficult clash with political allies. Besides, the president said something outrageous again, which only happens on days that ends in a “y,” and sitting around on an MSNBC panel, listening to one talking head after another say why this is the worst thing Trump has ever done, is much more emotionally satisfying.

ADDENDA: In case you missed it yesterday, Joe Biden’s new ad basically skips the Democratic primary; all the African-American historical figures who get cropped out of the “reframing” from the New York Times’s 1619 Project; and the bizarre, strangely fascinating Bernie Sanders cameo in a 1999 independent romantic comedy you won’t want to miss.

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