As a Jewish person and an active participant in Jewish life in Northern NJ, I have always believed that tolerance and inclusion are the lifeblood of our people. We are implored in Isaiah, to be the “Light to the Nations.” But, too often, we cannot see through the darkness that is created by our own hubris and close-mindedness masked ironically by our good intentions. The planned walk-out by certain Rabbis to the Donald Trump speech is one of these times.
Whether you are a supporter of Mr. Trump or not, is not the point. Nor does it matter if you find some of his positions and statements offensive, as many of us do. What matters is that he is the presumptive Republican nominee for President and an invited guest to the largest Pro-Israel gathering in the world. Notwithstanding his track record of Israel support, it is certainly well within your rights to disagree with his other politics; rally support against him and vote for another candidate.
However, unless you hear what he says directly, in a forum of immense importance to the American Jewish people, you are doing a disservice to your role as a religious leader to your congregation. Your congregants did not pay for you to attend AIPAC to advance your own political agenda. They paid for you to attend so that you can show your support for Israel. You do this by listening to all of the speakers and letting your congregations know what each of them had to say. You cannot do this if you are not there when one of the major candidates speaks!
As Jewish people we are very sensitive to censoring any viewpoint and are the first ones to (rightly) protest any attempt by the BDS movement to shout down or boycott a pro-Israel speaker. As a Rabbi you owe it yourself and your position not to be a censor. Moreover, when you only hear from speakers with whom you agree, you only learn things that you already know. Your failure to listen to Mr. Trump will send the wrong message to the youth in your congregation whom you are trying to inspire. It is also an action that demonstrates weakness not strength!
The justifications for the walk-out and the comparisons to infamous right-wing totalitarian dictators ring false. More so since, as I recall, the Jews did not do so well under extreme left-wing dictatorships in the former Soviet Union. And, the genesis of that movement was led by our own Jewish brethren Marx and Trotsky! The fact that the flag-bearer of that far-side of the American political spectrum, and a worthy successor to those who created the Soviet Union, Bernie Sanders, neglects to even speak to AIPAC, on its own speaks, volumes.
So, Rabbis, before you lose your legitimacy as fair-minded leaders, it is time to engage in a meaningful political debate with all the speakers. Thereafter, you can make an informed decision and avoid being the one who has unfairly “prejudged” a speaker who has come to detail his position. Otherwise, unfortunately, you become one who is guilty of the “prejudice” that we Jews have tried so hard for centuries to overcome! So, before it is too late, I implore you to “take the high road” and listen politely to Donald Trump’s speech.