It was the mid 1980s and I mentioned to a colleague in a conversation about politics that Nicolae Ceausescu, at the time the leader of communist Romania was relatively good compared to leaders of other Warsaw Pact nations. My co-worker was Israeli born, a veteran of the IDF, slightly older and someone I looked up to a great deal. He asked me why I thought Ceausescu was any good and I responded almost in knee jerk fashion that under Ceausescu, Romania was the only Soviet Bloc allied government with diplomatic relations with Israel.
His response to that comment was fast and furious. He did not mince words and he quickly chastised me and alerted me that Ceausescu’s supposed friendship toward Israel made him no less a brutal dictator. He mentioned that South Africa, at the time still under apartheid rule, was also a friend of Israel and that did not make their racist regime any more legitimate. Friendship with Israel does not whitewash away anyone’s sins.
It was a valuable lesson and one I think of often especially now during this American presidential election season. American Jewish supporters of Israel, particularly those who identify as Republicans are encountered with a huge moral dilemma: Donald Trump a brash, xenophobe who attracts racists, bigots and white supremacists might very well be their nominee. Both Democrats vying for their party’s nomination, Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are unacceptable to a certain segment of the “is it good for Israel” crowd, read, Orthodox.
If my unscientific survey of fellow congregants in my Orthodox shul is any indication, Donald Trump would win my little enclave in the suburbs of New York City by a wide margin. His slow denouncement of David Duke and the KKK, his lies, undignified manner, conceit, grandstanding and lack of political credentials are ignored because A — he’s a Republican, B — his daughter converted to Judaism (Orthodox, no less) and C — he is not Hillary. Many of the people I spoke to believe straight up that what Trump is doing and saying now is an act and that he will not behave this way as president.
Assuming that I accept that hypothesis, that Trump is just using an unconventional, outsider manner to get elected and this is all a show, would it be acceptable if he had spoken about Jews the way he does about Muslims or Mexicans? But as those friends keep reminding me, the point is moot because he didn’t and thus we Jews have nothing to worry about, because you know, Trump hasn’t singled out the Jews for anything…..yet.
So now we have a significant and vocal group of Jews who not too long ago, suffered from the effects of xenophobia and America Firstism. They are refusing to speak up when it is being used against others. Jews, who were subject to immigration quotas in the USA not too long ago, now have no problem supporting a candidate who will ban a whole religion from entering the USA. Jews who still decry FDR’s refusal to allow the S.S. St. Louis to dock on our shores and allow in Jewish refugees, will support a candidate who wants to build a wall to keep people out. Jews, who suffered from racism and anti Semitism will vote for a candidate whose hate-filled speeches are denounced by even those in his own party — because he is supposedly better for Israel.
So deep is the hatred for anything Democrat or perceived to be left-wing or liberal that a candidate who had the audience at one of his political rallies raise their right hands as if in a Nazi salute is the preferred choice of some Jews. I would like to claim to be shocked, but I’m not. The same people who downplayed Bibi’s obvious xenophobia and racism on the eve of his own last election would of course find nothing wrong with it being practiced in America.
We don’t need to make a Faustian bargain to secure Israel. Our soul is more important than some missiles, military aid or vetoes at the United Nations. If Hillary or Bernie are just as “bad” for Israel as Barack Obama was, then I think Israel proved it can endure. If we vote for Trump and sell our souls to the devil, Israel’s security will the be the least of our problems.