One of the trickier moments for me as a pulpit rabbi was expressing gratitude to President Trump and his administration for their involvement in taking a number of steps that I believed greatly served the interests of the State and people of Israel. His administration helped facilitate the signing of the Abraham Accords which formalized an official peace agreement between Israel and the UAE and between Israel and Bahrain. He supported the stance of the Israeli government vis-à-vis Iran and he backed out of the Iran nuclear deal. He also formally recognized Jerusalem as the capital of our Jewish nation and he moved the United States embassy to Jerusalem.
I thought that it was important to express gratitude to President Trump and his administration in these instances even though he is obviously a divisive and polarizing figure. I know that nowadays that whenever we praise a politician for doing something good, those supporting the politician’s political opponents generally feel compelled to minimize the good that he’s done and to point out all the bad that he’s done because in today’s world, politicians are characterized as either only good or only bad. Perhaps highlighting the good that President Trump did for Israel without any qualifications specifically because he is such a polarizing and divisive individual might be a critical step in curing the toxic culture of never admitting that your political opponent ever did anything right. I constantly read about how people are bothered by the toxic culture in which we find ourselves without suggesting practical steps to deal with this culture. Well, I am suggesting a method. Praise your political opponents for good things that they have done. Take the first step in demonstrating goodwill to the other side and hopefully the other side will reciprocate.
That is why those of us who praised President Trump and his administration for doing many things that served the interests of the State of Israel must also praise President Biden and his administration for securing a maritime deal between Israel and Lebanon, an agreement that the Israeli government has supported. The agreement resolves a territorial dispute in the eastern Mediterranean Sea in an area where Lebanon wants to explore for natural gas. It also sets a border between Lebanese and Israeli waters for the first time and establishes a mechanism for both countries to get royalties from exploration of an offshore gas field around the boundary. Former U.S. Ambassador to Israel Daniel Shapiro has written that this deal in a sense marks the first time that Lebanon has “entered a kind of de facto recognition of Israel and its borders.” Israel and Lebanon remain in an official state of war with one another, but this agreement can become a remarkable step in the right direction.
Yes, we can criticize President Biden for pursuing the Iran nuclear deal and we can argue that what his administration has achieved vis-à-vis Israel pales in comparison to what President Trump’s administration has accomplished (although I’m sure those with different political leanings may disagree), but to me, it’s all irrelevant. We all need to learn and not just learn, but also practice the mida of hakarat hatov, the character trait of gratitude, especially in this toxic, polarizing climate. To me, that meant praising President Trump’s administration for pro-Israel actions even if you are a Democrat, and that means praising President Biden’s administration for securing a maritime deal between Israel and Lebanon supported by the Israeli government even if you are a Republican. Don’t just do it because you love Israel. Do it because you care about civil discourse.