By Larry Gordon
President Trump, despite all his good intentions and with his heart and mind in the right place on Israel, did not just come up with the notion that Jews are disloyal if they vote for Democrats. He had to have heard it somewhere or from someone a few hours or a few days after the imbroglio over whether Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib should have been allowed to enter Israel.
It is important that we understand what President Trump meant and what he was trying to achieve. He said that Jews are disloyal if at this time in history we spend our votes on Democrats. So the questions that need some exploration are: What is an American Jew, what does it mean to be disloyal, and was he talking about all Democrats or just some (or possibly most)?
To just announce from the White House that Jews are any one thing is absolute nonsense. Jews in the United States are as different and diverse as any people can be. The old adage applicable here is that if you have two Jews, you have three opinions.
So allow me in just a few lines to explain Jews, if not directly to the president then at least to you, the readers. Jews are right-wingers and left-wingers, though most are left. We are conservative and liberal. We are religious Jews and “cultural” Jews. We support President Trump but we also support Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, and even Bernie Sanders.
Some Jews in America support AIPAC, which traditionally stands for the sitting government in Israel, and other Jews support J Street, whose stated aim is to promote American leadership to end the Arab–Israeli conflict. And the list of differences goes on and on.
All this begs the question: If in Mr. Trump’s opinion Jews are being disloyal, which Jews did he mean? It cannot be all of us.
Then there is the matter of what exactly it means to be disloyal altogether. Being characterized as disloyal means that you are a person — or a group of people, as in this case — who lacks loyalty. Loyalty is defined as showing constant support and allegiance to a person or institution. When used in the context of Jews, the matter of loyalty or disloyalty creates an extraordinarily sensitive image. At this point in time, with critics of Israel such as Congresswomen Omar and Tlaib — both Muslims and detractors of Israel — suggesting that American Jews might be more committed to Israel than to our country of citizenship, the image does not resonate well.
Among those trying to score points on Mr. Trump’s wobbly statement are those who believe he was demanding Jewish loyalty personally and not to Congressional Republicans, who have been so overtly committed to a strong and secure Israel.
It is a mistake to say Trump was demanding loyalty to himself. At worst, you can say that the president just does not completely grasp the deep roots between many American Jews and Democrats. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro, who was the ambassador in Tel Aviv during the Obama years, probably stated it most succinctly to Jewish Insider: “I think what we understand well enough about this president by now … what he really means is that American Jews who vote for the Democratic Party are disloyal to him. And this is consistent with his narcissism and his transactional nature, which he has expressed in many other situations—that he has a belief and kind of an insatiable desire for praise and an expectation that anybody [for whom] he has done something that he thinks they should be grateful for, will simply salute, and in some sort of obsequious gratitude, express their support for him.
“It shows how little he knows our community. And it shows how little he understands the reason that the American Jewish community, consistently for decades, [has] voted in the 70 to 75 percent range for Democrats. That was true in his election in 2016 — 71 percent. I’m quite certain that his contribution to this debate will cause those numbers to tick up, because the way he expresses himself on this issue, [and] his policies on many, many other issues, are quite antithetical to the views and values and beliefs of so many in our community.”
Of course, like so many, Shapiro was being condescending more than anything else. Democrats can disagree with the president and Republican policy, as has always been the tradition in this country, but Shapiro, in his case in civil tones, has to seek to undermine the fundamental veracity of the president rather than just honorably disagreeing with the way he sees things. Apparently, that is the policy widely subscribed to and the direction Democrats are committed to pursuing as we move toward 2020.
So what exactly is wrong with the Democrats? The correct answer is that in most cases there is absolutely nothing wrong with them at all. Democratic support for Israel in Congress is consistent and has been for a very long time. So what does the president mean when he says that Jews who support Democrats are being disloyal?
What it means, and it is disappointing that the president could not be more articulate or precise, is that Democrats by and large subscribe to the old-school idea of what peace between Israel and her neighbors might look like one of these days. Whether it is Senator Chuck Schumer or Jerrold Nadler, who represents part of Boro Park, when the conversation turns to peace it will only be about the old two-state solution, which is the antithesis to real peace between Israel and the Palestinian Arabs. What the president probably additionally meant is that he does not understand how a president who was courageous enough to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, has recognized Israel’s sovereignty of the Golan Heights, and is not pressuring her to make concessions for peace is not supported throughout the entire U.S. Jewish community.
Naturally, the Jews who are in the Trump axis are largely conservative and right-leaning. Unfortunately, the way right-wing Jews think is not the way the overwhelming majority of American Jews think.
Still, come 2020, this president should do better among Jews than any other president in history. No, most Jews will not vote for him, though from my perspective it would make sense that those of us who care about Israel’s security should set everything else aside and cast their vote for Mr. Trump. Sure, you can debate that, but right is right.