President-elect Donald Trump. This is the first Shabbat after the presidential election so I have decided to speak about the o’ so dangerous topic to discuss from the pulpit, politics. However, as someone who has a degree in political science and is trained to analyze the political terrain objectively as well as someone who has a track record of having voted for both Democratic as well as Republican candidates, I believe I can bring a unique perspective to our attempt to wrap our brains around a Trump presidency.
Much of the Jewish community is of a liberal ilk and so, is in mourning over the election results. We are a congregation which includes both liberals and conservatives, Republicans and Democrats, Trump supporters and those who voted for Hillary Clinton. Suffice it to say, we as a congregation, are not in mourning. We are surprised however and it is therefore upon us to analyze the election results and the possibilities embedded in a Trump presidency from an analytical, critical perspective.
This morning, I would like to discuss three aspects of the new administration, domestic policy, foreign policy, and a Jewish historical perspective.
Let me begin with domestic policy.
I am not going to discuss economic policy because economists themselves are divided as to the best way to handle a national economy. Some believe in funding programs that address poverty directly while others believe in securing the health and prosperity of large corporations, thereby enabling them to put many people to work and lowering the number of people out of work in the overall population. This is often called trickle down economics. Whatever Trump decides to do to positively influence our economy is entirely his decision and as president he deserves our support.
However, some of the things that were said during the election were cause for great concern in the Jewish community and so they should be. Statements aimed at the Jews, Hispanics, women, and Muslims are simply unacceptable and we, as a Jewish community must do everything in our power to make sure that no group is discriminated against in any way. We can find solace in the fact, however, that we may not need to do anything. Throughout American political history, candidates have often promised one thing and done another. It is entirely possible that none of the things that he articulated regarding minorities will ever come to fruition. Then again, they may.
Recent events following the Trump victory are indeed cause for great concern. Graffiti with swastikas and the words Sieg Heil and Trump on public buildings in Philadelphia and a Klu Klux Klan Trump victory parade in North Carolina are not good signs and bring up troubling images of a not too distant past.
Despite this, I have heard some Orthodox rabbis respond to this news with, “Ha, the Joke is on them. Wait till they see a Trump White House full of Orthodox Jews (Orthodox Jews were very active and prominent in the Trump campaign) and Israeli government officials.” Indeed, one of President-elect Trump’s first acts was to invite Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House.
With a Jewish daughter, Jewish son-in-law and Jewish grandchildren, I think it is indeed unlikely that anti-Semitism will be orchestrated by the Trump administration. Having said that, there is already a record of tolerating anti-Semitism among his supporters and he must be made aware that if he wants support from the Jewish community and the State of Israel he must send a clear message to these people within the “Trump Camp” to “cut it out”. He must do this now before it is too late and these people get emboldened and powerful. His message must be clear and strong.
Despite the fact that I believe that we as Jews are relatively safe, unfortunately I cannot necessarily say the same about other minorities and as Pastor Martin Neimoller teaches us in his famous poem, if we don’t stand up for one group, eventually they eventually come for us but by that time there will be no one left to say anything. Therefore, we must do everything in our power and exert every possible resource to protect the rights of every minority in this country.
There is one group that needs a caveat and this comes after reading an article by Asra Q. Onami, the co-founder of the reform movement in Islam. She says, “I am a Muslim , a women, and an immigrant. I voted for trump.” She explains that she views Radical Islam as a threat and whereas she fully supports the rights of Muslims which are good, patriotic, law abiding citizens, she certainly does not want to let jihadist terrorists into this country. Radical Islam, as expressed by groups such as ISIS, with its many supporters and adherents, is a real and credible threat to US national security. I agree. We must have a way to distinguish between immigrants coming to America for safe haven who plan to be good, law abiding, patriotic citizens and those with intentions to place bombs.
This brings us to the topic of foreign policy. It is very encouraging to see a close relationship between Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu and we should be excited by Trump’s promise to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, thus recognizing the Jewish people’s right to our eternal capital. Trump’s presidency may be exactly what Israel needs to conclude a peace with its neighboring countries and with the Palestinian Arabs from a position of strength.
Let us now take a look at this from the perspective of Jewish history. We, the Jewish people, have a long history. We have been through multiple changes in leadership from one ruler to another, from one sovereign power to another, from one occupier to another, revolutions, assassinations, and the like. This presidency will only last for four years … or eight if he is re-elected. It is a blimp on the screen of Jewish history. With this philosophy we Jews have long taken the perspective, “This too shall pass.” This has worked well for us throughout most of Jewish history as we have kept the messianic idea of a better world as an inspiring vision of a future to come.
On the other hand, as Chaim Nachman Bialik points out in his “City of Slaughter” where he describes a pogrom in which Jews do nothing when confronted with terrible violence and persecution, this philosophy has also resulted in complacency and allowing ourselves to go “like sheep to the slaughter”. The “wait and see” attitude has also cost us dearly, most recently in the murder of six million of our people in the Nazi Holocaust, one third of the world Jewish population.
With these two contrasting perspectives in mind, I believe that we have reason to be cautiously optimistic and to keep our eyes wide open at the same time. Just in case the United States does become an anti-Semitic country, we should not repeat the mistake of German Jewry of the 1930s and “hope for the best”. We should be ready to leave.
Thank God, we live in a world with a Jewish state that will accept us with open arms. We all need to have our passports ready and our affairs in order to be prepared for this unlikely possibility. As Reb Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof comments while being expelled from his home in Anatevka, “Maybe that is why we always wear our hats.” Jewish history has taught us that we never know when we might have to leave any particular place.
On that note, I must comment that it is very unwise and not good at all that the Jewish community in the United States is so overwhelmingly democratic. You are hearing this from someone has supported many democratic candidates and agrees with much of the platform of the Democratic Party.
We have become too confident and too comfortable. We think we Jews, as a group, can support whatever we want and whomever we want because anti-Semitism can never raise it’s ugly head in the United States, but as we have seen during this campaign, we were wrong. It can.
That being said, from the perspective of Jewish history, it has proven unwise for the Jews as a group to support one ruler over another and for Jewish organizations to come out with quasi-endorsements of one candidate over another. It is a little know fact that one of the accusations that the Ukrainian Cossacks, who murdered thousands of Jews in violent pogroms, directed towards the Jews is that the Jews were supporters of the occupying Russians. In our own time, Secretary of State James Backer said of the Jews,”F$(@ the Jews. They don’t vote for us anyway.”
The fact that Jews overwhelmingly support the Democratic Party, voted for Hillary Clinton, and are among those showing great opposition to Donald Trump after he won fair and square is not a good thing. We, the Jewish community of the United States cannot make ourselves out to be Trump’s enemies.
Rather, the Jews must find themselves throughout the political spectrum so that no one can say that “the Jews” as a group support any particular party or candidate. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee does a good job of this in its insistence on being a bi-partisan lobby.
In summary, we have reason to be cautiously optimistic as well as to keep our eyes open. Intolerance against Jews, Hispanics, Blacks, Women, LGBT (although he did unfurl a rainbow flag at a rally so I’m not sure he has anything against this community), Muslims (except the Jihadists) has no place in the United States and this is non-negotiable.
However, on other aspects of public administration and international relations, Trump deserves our unqualified support. He is the president and he deserves the opportunity to be successful. We don’t know what will happen. He may yet surprise us. Maybe he will “make America great.”
These are just a few of my thoughts about the events of the past week. I have tried to be balanced and analytical and to look at things from a Jewish historical perspective and from the perspective of the most important political interests of the Jewish community. You may disagree with me and that is ok. We can discuss it further over kiddush lunch.
In the meantime, I pray that God give unto President-elect Trump the wisdom to make good decisions that will benefit the United States and all of its people and let us say Amen.
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