A couple of weeks ago, an unprecedented event took place: 400 wealthy Orthodox Jewish philanthropists met with the president of the United States, Donald Trump. At the event, lavish praise was heaped upon him, including opening remarks from Rabbi YY Jacobson, and the “Bircat Hanasi” (Blessing upon a Ruler) was recited by Rabbi Yisroel Reisman. The event raised millions of dollars for Trump’s re-election campaign and was featured in numerous yeshiva publications. Mishpacha Magazine, one of the most prominent magazines in the ultra-Orthodox world did a full feature article on the event, with the title “America’s first Heimishe President.”
Supporting Trump among the Orthodox is not a new phenomenon. According to one survey, 54% of the Orthodox voted for him in 2016, and many say they will vote for him again. Although he was largely looked at with disdain by the Modern Orthodox, the overwhelming majority of the ultra-Orthodox voted for him and continue to support him.
What are we to make of this trend? Many see it purely in terms of how he has treated Israel. Many are quick to point out that Trump has managed to succeed in a pro-Israel policy in ways that has gone far beyond any of his predecessors, including cutting of funding to the Palestinians (which has been known to go at least in part to fund terror in the past), his moving of the US embassy to Jerusalem, his tearing up of the Iran Deal, and stating that the Golan Heights is rightfully part of Israel.
I respectfully disagree with this approach for many reasons. Firstly, one must always remember that Trump was paid a lot of money in campaign donations to make these pro-Israel policies. He was paid at least $65 million by Sheldon Adelson alone, the largest single donation of the 2016 election cycle, with the understanding that these pro-Israel policies would be put in place. (Nothing against Sheldon Adelson, of course, what I think he did was quite admirable, it just shows that Trump’s pro-Israel policies may not be for the purest of reasons that some seem to think.) If one thinks money does not factor into play in Trump’s mind, one only needs to look at his other decisions as president to see how easily he is swayed by money in addition to fame and power. He had once made statements against gun violence and in support of stricter gun laws in the years before he ran for president. After the NRA donated $31 million to his campaign, his views shifted dramatically, and he suddenly became a champion of the Second Amendment and refused to even enact universal background checks after numerous mass shootings. An amoral person with no ethical compass will always sell himself out to the highest bidder, regardless of what the position may be.
In addition, many seem quick to overlook Trump’s decision regarding withdrawing US troops from Syria, which according to Israel’s own defense minister and generals is very dangerous for Israel, as it gives Iran a chance to build a proxy base in Syria, as well as strengthen ISIS and Assad in the region. Why did he do this, when many of his own supporters in the GOP warned him that withdrawing from Syria was a dangerous move? The answer was obvious: Trump has many long standing business ties with Turkey and Russia, both of whom wanted the US troops to leave. And suddenly he left Israel out to dry, as money meant more to him than the safety of the Jewish state.
But it goes much beyond this. Rabbi YY Jacobson, in defense of his remarks at the event, said that despite Trump’s many deep-seated flaws, it is important to show gratitude for what Trump has done for Israel. But was that the entire truth? The event was billed as a fundraiser, not a recognition or awards ceremony. It was an event to help him get re-elected.
And so, we now come to the greatest problem of all, one that deeply disturbs me and just about every other Jew who is completely repulsed by this man’s behavior, both as a person and as a president. Is it right to choose a US president based solely on how he or she treats Israel? Isn’t that indeed a fulfillment of the anti-Semitic charge of “dual loyalty,” the claim that American Jews care more about Israel than about their own country?
Many try to justify this by peddling the facade that again, despite Trump’s personal flaws, he is a good president for the US, and are always quick to point to strong economic numbers. But here again, the facade can only go so far, digging even a little beneath the surface shows how disillusioned this narrow view is. One only needs to look at the economic trends in the years before he became president, and one sees that the Trump economy is pretty much an exact continuation of what occurred before him. The unemployment rate was going down at nearly the exact same rate as it has been under Trump — Business Insider Magazine did a complete review of the nine main ways economies are typically measured and found that in just about every way, the economy was growing at the same pace as it had been before . And moreover, Trump has added many trillions to the national debt at a higher and faster rate than Obama or any other predecessors. He has started a Trade War with China that has already had disastrous consequences and will continue to do so. The economy has already begun to slow, with the Feds cutting the interest rates several times, and the economy is expected to continue to slow.
And what about his other colossal failures? The national embarrassment on the world stage, when he sided with Putin over his own intelligence regarding election meddling? His begging the other members of the G-7 to allow Putin back in? His failed photo-op “Summit” with North Korea, which has not led to any changes, as they continue to pursue their nuclear ambitions? How about his failure to make any healthcare or education reforms? The constant revolving door of his cabinet, of which more than 90% have left, due in large part to his gross incompetence and reckless impulsive behavior? His complete failure to enact any meaningful changes at the border, other than enacting several cruel policies? His starting the longest government shutdown in US history, predicated by his blatant lie that Mexico would pay for the wall? How about saying over 13,000 lies to the American people, and peddling awful conspiracy theories, including accusing a former president of murder? Dividing and polarizing the country with his hateful messages, insults, and lies? And what is there really to say regarding the current scandal with the Ukraine, which was nothing short of treason, bribery, and obstruction?
I would even venture to say that in the long term, he has not really helped Israel, but perhaps even hurt it. Although the embassy move was nice from a symbolic perspective, from a practical perspective, it accomplished nothing. According to recent polls, since Trump has been elected, American support for Israel has gone down, both among Democrats and Republicans. This may be due in large part to Trump’s general unpopularity as president, and how he has made the US appear too biased toward Israel. He also marginalized Israel further from bipartisan support when he pushed Bibi to not allow the two Muslim congresswomen into Israel (I too am disgusted by those two congresswomen, but not allowing two duly elected US congresswomen was a mistake that many including AIPAC believed would strain bipartisan support for Israel.) And his reckless tearing up the Iran Deal, without even bothering to try to negotiate a stronger deal, has led Iran to once again begin enriching uranium and showing aggressive behavior that has brought us even closer to war than ever before.
So, what are we left with? Supporting an awful person and president for some half-baked ideas that he is some kind of “savior” for Israel and Jews? How can one not be nauseated by the headlines from Mishpacha “America’s First Hemishe President,” a man who bragged about groping women by their private parts because he could “get away with it because he is a star?” That’s “Heimishe”? That’s someone worthy of the chant “Four more years” and throwing millions of dollars his way?
My dear brothers and sisters, you have wandered far away. You are not evil, and we do not hate you, you are just sorely misguided. You have become blinded by partisan views and ill-conceived policies. The Lubavitcher Rebbe used to write and speak extensively about the importance of ethical and moral leadership. I was once a staunch Republican myself, but the party of Lincoln and Reagan in the era of Trump no longer exists. The party I once knew and loved has now become a sad bunch of groveling supporters of a man who is not worthy of the sacred office he holds.
There was a sad irony to see at the Orthodox event Trump standing behind a sign that said America First, an organization started by the KKK to not allow Jews entry into the US, during and after the Holocaust. To me, one of the most awful lies Trump said was when he claimed that there were thousands upon thousands of Muslims dancing in Jersey City on 9/11. I ask my Jewish friends, if he had said this same lie about Jews, how would we feel? But if it’s said about another minority, it’s suddenly OK? How can any Jew with sensitivity to lies and propaganda against minorities find this behavior acceptable? It’s not too late to right the ship and stop being blinded start looking at the whole picture. The time has come to really start believing in true Jewish values and supporting leaders who represent our very best, not our worst.