I’ve spent much of the past years fighting for Israel in different ways. From my crowdfunding campaign to help balance what I felt was a media bias about terror attacks in Israel (which resulted in a full-page ad in the New York Times) to writing on my blog to defend Israel’s actions to visiting the edge of Gaza and Sderot during Operation Cast Lead to report a different perspective on the war.
If we went strictly by identity, you’d think that someone who has fought for Israel in ways like this would be against any Democrat in office. When I hear my friends, the people on my Facebook feed, the orthodox Jews I know, arguing that anything is better than another Democrat in power, I’m sympathetic.
It’s been hard watching as Israel has seemed to become more and more isolated internationally. Watching as the world cries in pain over the terror in France, Germany, and the United States, but would never cry in unity with Israel even though terror attacks have been happening there on a far more regular basis for far longer. Watching young Jews who defend Israel become the victims of increasing antisemitism on campus.
The silence, or relative silence, of the left in these areas is deafening to those of us who read the news about Israel every day, who see innocent people targeted daily, who believe that we have more in common with the West than the West seems to believe we do.
And so it would seem bizarre to ever reject the leader of the party that seems to be the most pro-Israel.
But I hate Donald Trump. He scares me. He is running as a demagogue, he has argued for things that would have been unimaginable for a presidential candidate on either side of the aisle only four years ago. And so I’ve put aside much of my voice for Israel recently in trying to fight against this dangerous man, as it has felt like a personal moral imperative.
It is for this reason that I’ve found it hard to help the pro-Israel people of the world understand why they should be against him.
Because for far too long, I have tried to make the case that Donald Trump is a strategically bad option for Israel. He said, early on in his campaign, that he would be “neutral” when it came to Israel and said they should “pay for” the aid they receive from the US. He’s courted antisemites. And, most importantly, his temperament is completely unpredictable and dangerous, to say the least. Any insult sets him off and turns him into a petty child who just wants to settle a score.
I’ve seen many other people who care about Israel, like Yair Rosenberg of Tablet, make the same arguments.
And in my experience making the argument, and seeing eloquent writers like Rosenberg try the same, it is completely fruitless. No one is convinced. Any argument on this level is met with, “Well, what about Hillary?! The Democrats? You honestly think Trump could be any worse?”
And the circle continues, no one convinced, and everyone ending up more divided when they started.
I’ve been introspecting about this a lot. What is happening here? How can people that would normally agree suddenly find themselves on opposite divides of a very important discussion? And, more importantly, how can they stop demonizing each other? Seeing one as the agent of some evil force?
The more I see people arguing for or against Trump the more I notice something that I missed previously. A focus on one area: what is “good” for Israel. The defenses, and the attacks, for or against Trump, are all based on Israel’s self-interest. Who will defend Israel in the world court, who will understand the intractable situation it finds itself in, who will refuse to join a world that seems obsessed with condemning the very nation where all their terrorist problems are most grandly and directly played out?
But what if we are asking the wrong questions?
I can’t help but think of Khizr Khan, the father of the Muslim soldier who was killed in action saving his unit. A man who seems, all told, to actually be quite conservative. But who has stood up valiantly to Donald Trump.
What has been fascinating, as this story has developed, has been two things: First, an insistence on the idea that politics, leadership, and voting are all much more than strategy. They are also moral decisions that affect us on a soul level.
Speaking of Republican leaders who support Trump, he said, “The lack of moral courage with remain a burden on their souls.”
The second thing I’ve noticed in the way Khan has spoken is his insistence that the Republican leaders understand that their job isn’t just to win. While calling them patriots, he simultaneously pointed out that, although it may mean they lose their jobs, their standing, and their party’s election for president, they still must “repudiate” Donald Trump. They must, not because it will be good for anyone, but because it is the right thing to do.
My conscience compels me under these very difficult circumstances, very raw emotions….There is so much at stake and I appeal to both of these leaders. This is the time: There comes a time in the history of a nation where a stand has to be taken regardless of the political cost.
This, I believe, is one of the lesser-noticed messages in Khan’s speech and interviews: that the concept of sacrifice doesn’t just apply to his son or to him and his wife, it’s a lesson his son and others have taught the world: there are some things that matter more than short term wins or even self-preservation.
For decades, Israel has engaged in “Hasbarah,” which is essentially PR to show Israel in a positive light. Sharing all the good things it does, talking about its morality.
For example: Israel is the only Democracy in the Middle East. It is one of the world leaders in gay rights, women’s rights, and more. When Israel goes to war, it takes more precautions than any country in the world to prevent civilian deaths, against an enemy that does all it can to increase its own civilian deaths. Israel is one of the top and first helpers in just about any huge natural disaster around the world.
Of course, all of that is true. None of it is an exaggeration, and the world should know all of it.
And as the world has increasingly isolated Israel, the need for Israel to engage in Hasbarah has seemed to take on increasing urgency.
The understanding that Israel is a moral agent of the world and not what its enemies paint it as is absolutely vital.
But there’s one problem with this, the problem any marketer like myself is intimately familiar with: often, PR can become its own end instead of just being an extension of the values it’s sharing. This is why marketing has such a bad rap. A company or organization loses track of what causes it to deserve PR, and instead just focus on the PR itself.
Just as the Republicans are now. As they defend a man who goes against so many of their values. A man who has turned their party from hawkish to isolationist, from one of patriotism to one of attacking any veterans who get in its way, from one of democracy to demagoguery.
This is the reminder Khan was making to the Republican leadership: in trying to win a small battle, you’ve lost your very souls. Not just their personal souls, but the soul of their party. They don’t even have a pretense of morality now, all they are interested in is winning.
And so it goes with those who think Trump is “good” for Israel.
Imagine for a moment that Trump actually would be good for Israel. He’d support it in every situation, would financially back it, would refuse to back down to a world of increasing antisemitism.
But, here’s the thing: he would still be dangerous to the minorities in the United States. He would still demonize Muslims. He would still argue for a strategy of killing the families (including children) of terrorists. He would still argue that if the military disagreed with him, he’d force them to listen. He’d still be a man who lies multiple times a day. A man who argues for breaking down alliances like NATO. A man who is willing to demonize veterans, parents of dead soldiers, judges for being “Mexican,” spreading conspiracy theories about his primary opponents. A man who actively limits journalism and free speech at his events and threatens to do more when elected.
Quite literally none of these things are Israel’s values.
When Israel is called an apartheid state, people point out the Palestinian Muslim participation in government, culture, and every other walk of life. When criticized for our war tactics, we point out that Israel does whatever it can to avoid the death of innocent people, while Trump argues for targeting those people. When Israel is criticized for being undemocratic, we focus on Israel’s democracy. And yet, Trump is openly running as a demagogue and threatening journalists and more.
And so all those things we brag about when it comes to Israel would become invalidated. We’d be going our values just to benefit ourselves.
In other words, even if Trump is “good” for Israel (which he isn’t, but whatever), he is against all the good things Israel stands for. His values are not just un-American, they are the opposite of most Israeli values.
Like Republicans, the pro-Israel camp is trying to convince itself that this unprincipled man deficient in morality, and perhaps sanity, will ultimately fight for its interests. And thus they justify any immoral act he does.
But Khizr Khan has taught us something vital: there is more to life, to decisions, and to politics, than winning… or even self-preservation. We must live a life we are proud of. We must live the morality we preach. And this applies to a community, a political party, and a nation just as much as a person.
If you defend Trump, and every sickeningly immoral act he does, you are being anti-Israel. Maybe not in terms of preservation, but in a much more important way: in terms of your soul. And in terms of the soul of Israel.
If the pro-Israel world continues to fight for him, we will no longer have any moral authority in Hasbarah or really any public defense of Israel. We will have defended a man who goes against every bit of good PR Israel tries to make for itself.
Nothing is worth that. Not having a guy who may care about Israel more. Not winning a short-term fight against the people you feel have wronged Israel. And not even keeping ourselves safe.