We Jews pray for the future, not just our present needs. Three times a day we pray for a future that is a blessing for all, a blessing from God. Near the end of our daily prayers we declare: “Ba-yom ha-hu, on that day, God will be One and God’s name shall be One.”
This prayer is for all of humanity, not just the Jewish people. We have many prayers asking that God respond as our partner in a sacred b’rit/covenant. But when all is said and done, we ask that God unite the whole world in the blessings of ultimate good under God’s authority and rule.
It is so tempting to look at the coming presidential election only in terms of what is good for American Jews as a people, a group with its own values and interests. It is appealing to many in our community to advocate the reelection of President Trump because of material benefits to Israel, a country with which so many of us identify so strongly.
Let’s start by recognizing the positive accomplishments in the region under this administration. Honesty demands no less, even in this most partisan election season in memory.
Trump did move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem. I support this wholeheartedly. It is the capital of our spiritual homeland, a country I have lived in, paid taxes in and even (if briefly) carried a weapon to protect. Israel’s capital city should not be held hostage to other issues. The embassies of all nations with whom Israel has relations should be located in its seat of government.
That said, negotiations with the Palestinians about the contours of the capital can and should continue, especially insofar as they affect the status of 375,000 non-Israeli residents of East Jerusalem.
Trump’s administration, building upon relationships begun during President Obama’s administration, facilitated trade agreements between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. There are flaws in these agreements, to be sure: no recognition of Israel as a Jewish state as well as the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE.
But I admit that I was moved to see a picture of a sukkah at the base of Burj Khalifa in Dubai. I was touched by the recent UAE’s diplomatic visit to Yad VaShem and its representative declaring “never again.” These gestures indicate that these agreements contain the seed of a broadening acceptance of Israel as a legitimate state in the eyes of the Sunni Muslim world. For helping to formalize these relationships, the Trump administration deserves credit.
For my part, the fact that this process hinged on forestalling annexation of parts of the West Bank by the present Israeli government looms large as well. I dreaded having to explain annexation to world that does not accept the Bible as the basis for the fixing of political boundaries. Annexation would further alienate others, (including some Jews) from Israel and make international support more difficult to organize. I will continue to advocate against such a move now and in the future.
Iran continues to be a problem. What I appreciate most is that the Trump administration’s sanctions have denied Iran some of the currency it used to fund and foment military aggression across the region. It can no longer freely open its wallet to fund terror through either Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza. It has to work harder and through illegal channels to acquire material and parts it needs to further its nuclear program.
The day of reckoning is coming, however, regarding its nuclear plans. Whether delayed by international agreement or hastened by sanctions, Iran has shown that it is determined to build and deploy a nuclear arsenal. We know — because Iran has declared this publicly — that Israel is target No. 1 for these weapons when they are armed and ready. There is and should be legitimate debate here and in Israel as to how to respond to this growing threat. There is no single response, not Democratic or Republican, that will neutralize it right now.
So, why should Jews who care about our people and Israel vote for Joe Biden?
The president has stated that Jews should vote for him because of all he has done “for your country,” a phrase that gives me chills because it casts us as un-American. I think that he thinks that being Jewish is alien to what it means to be “American,” and he caters to nativist/nationalist/white supremacists who promote that hateful notion.
This thinking has led to physical violence against Jews here in Pittsburgh, in Poway, in New York and New Jersey. It litters the internet through QAnon, The Stormer and thousands of other anti-Semitic sites. Biden has come out forthrightly against this kind of hatred and its supporters. We know that we Jews are safer when we are included in what it means to be American, not just another ethnic interest group.
As for Israel, there is no Trump “peace process” that will lead to an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I know that that the PA has refused to participate in such efforts in the past. That does not mean that military occupation ruling the lives of 2,345,000 Palestinians in the West Bank is moral, desirable or sustainable.
Even some right of center Israelis know that an agreement cannot be forced on the Palestinian population, and yet is the key to long-term stability for Israel. The esteemed, right of center journalist, Yossi Klein Halevi, has declared that he fears not having a permanent solution to occupation more than he fears Palestinian terror (although only slightly). (1)
Biden is committed to working toward a mutually acceptable, permanent solution to the conflict. Although that goal remains distant, it is still desired. Recent polls of Israelis indicate much more enthusiasm surrounding peace and normalization than annexation of West Bank territory. (2)
Biden is a supporter of Israel. Recall that Obama, along with his vice president, Biden, crafted a $38 billion Memorandum of Understanding which guarantees a huge amount of U.S. aid to Israel for 10 years. This is the largest aid package to Israel ever enacted by our country.
And for the record, both Biden and Kamala Harris have strong connections to Israel personally and politically. For them, Israel is not a partisan issue. They are staunchly against the BDS movement and for rebuilding support for Israel on both sides of the aisle. Biden has worked with nine Israeli prime ministers over the years. He knows the region and its complexity firsthand.
I know these arguments will fall on deaf ears among Jewish Republicans and many of my more traditional friends. They see protecting Jewish interests and Israel’s interests as their primary goals in this election.
But we are citizens of this country, the United States of America. We seek not only protection for ourselves, but the protection of rights for all Americans.
We know that we Jews are not safe in America if others are endangered.
We know that we Jews cannot expect justice for ourselves at the cost of injustice for others.
We know that science matters, especially when going on a quarter of a million Americans have died, partly through ignorance fomented by this president.
We know that racism against the Black community carries anti-Semitism in its wake.
We know that this president, who has lied to the American people more than 20,000 times, cannot be counted on in a crisis when our well-being is on the line if our interests do not align with his.
Am-cha, Jewish peoplehood, is a fundamental Jewish value we should all keep in mind this season. But, so are truth (emet), compassion (rachamim) and justice (din). These authentic Jewish values guide my vote this fall as much as concern about our community or Israel.
Ba-yom ha-hu. On that day, Nov. 3, we will decide what kind of country we aspire to be: A blessing for us all, or advantage just for some? For me, the choice is clear. Having lived, worked and studied in Israel and visited well more than 30 times, I am voting in our election as a proud Jewish American. I am proudly voting for blessings for us as Jews and all our fellow Americans. I am voting for Joe Biden and Kamala Harris for president and vice president next month, ba-yom ha-hu, on that day, which will decide the future for us all. PJC
Emeritus Rabbi Jamie Gibson lives in Pittsburgh
(1) From presentation given by Yossi Klein Halevi in Pittsburgh, PA, May, 2019