Sanders, Trump, Biden: The US, Israel, and the Jews

I cast my ballot in the California primary.  I voted for Joe Biden.  It wasn’t the happiest or most enthusiastic vote I ever cast.  But it could be one of the most important.

Biden is a bit past his prime.  I don’t agree with him on every issue.  But he is a competent, decent man who will govern from the center/left and will act responsibly, and who will surround himself with competent, reasonable people.

In contrast, the other two candidates with a realistic chance of taking the oath on January 20th are adverse to the interests of the United States, of American Jews, and of Israel.

As Yossi Klein Halevi has written, a race between Sanders and Trump would be a nightmare for American Jews.  Both men are radical, polarizing figures.  History shows that Jews don’t do well in radical, polarized societies.

Wittingly or unwittingly,  Trump and Sanders are working in tandem to make Israel into a polarizing, partisan issue.  They are both trying to turn the Democratic Party against Israel.

Sanders has surrounded himself with and empowered people who trade in anti-Semitic tropes and who would deny the Jewish people our right to self-determination in the land in which we are an indigenous people. Hate and bigotry is equally despicable, and should be opposed, whether it comes from the right or the left.

Sanders lied about and smeared AIPAC, which has as members and which hosts speakers from across the political spectrum. He showed that he is a hypocrite, having spoken at conferences that feature Jew haters and people who would deny the Jewish people their right to self-determination.

And in 2015 he spoke at Liberty University, the university founded by Moral Majority founder Jerry Falwell and now led by his son, Jerry Falwell Jr.  It is a bastion of opposition to gay rights, reproductive rights, and other rights and beliefs the left holds sacrosanct. Apparently just to show what a proud Jew he is and how much he respects Jews and Judaism, he spoke there on Rosh Hoshanah.

Would-be authoritarians from the left are just as destructive as ones on the right. Because they feel they have seen the light, their views are the only righteous ones and, in their eyes, people who disagree with them are morally deficient and beholden to ignoble forces. (Thus, rather than “I disagree with AIPAC, AIPAC provides a platform for racists.”)

Therefore, the ends justify the means. In his own, perhaps more subtle way than Trump,  Sanders would most likely run roughshod over democratic norms to achieve his ends.

Facts and logic do not matter when you are an ideologue.  As Fareed Zakaria and many others have shown, Sanders’ economic proposals are mired in timeworn ideologies and would either bankrupt the country or would require a crushing tax burden on the middle and working classes.  As Zakaria explained so well, his energy plan is “magical thinking.” 

The most galvanizing event in Jewish history of the last half of the 20th century was the Soviet Jewry movement. It was an epic struggle to free two million Jews from bondage. Coming just 30 years after the Holocaust, the American Jewish community felt morally compelled to rescue Soviet Jews and not to again abandon our brothers and sisters.

We marched, we wrote, some got arrested, we sat in, over and over again. Many took great risks to meet with “refuseniks,” smuggling in prayer books and other cherished items.  Many U.S. officials raised the issue with their counterparts and, while in the Soviet Union, visited with refuseniks in order to demonstrate concern and solidarity.

What did Sanders do on his trip to the Soviet Union in 1988?  If you believe what he and his wife said for 25 years, they honeymooned. If you believe what some now say, that was a joke and that, in reality, the purpose of the trip was to establish a sister-city relationship.

In any event, what he clearly did not do is join his fellow Jews in demanding their freedom.  The picture of a bare chested, happy Sanders reportedly just out of a hot tub does not demonstrate much solidarity with his fellow Jews.  There is no report of him raising the issue either during or after the trip.  In short, Sanders was complicit in the oppression of Soviet Jews.

(During the 1980’s, my city of Sacramento declined to establish a sister-city relationship with a city in the Soviet Union in order to show solidarity with Soviet Jews.)

Trump is equally antithetical to American values and interests and to the ultimate security and long-term well being of Israel.  His deficiencies as a human being and as a president are demonstrated almost daily, sometimes hourly.

Trump has run roughshod over democracy and democratic norms.  He is vindictive.  He is often vile.  He is ignorant.  He clearly lies and misstates.  Many of the things he says, how he treats women, his racism, his mocking of a disabled person, his disrespect to Senator McCain, his disrespect to a family whose son died for the country, all of this demonstrates a person unfit to be President.  Indeed, it demonstrates a seriously flawed human being.

As I have written before, President Trump, if not an anti-Semite, clearly holds some stereotypical views of Jews.  His behavior and speech contribute to an atmosphere where anti-Semitism and hate generally can take root and flourish. 

To these charges, many pro-Israel Trump fans, Jews and non-Jews alike, have adopted a standard refrain:  “But he’s great on Israel” and “He’s the best President ever for Israel.”

Putting aside the debate about whether his supposedly fantastic positions on Israel should outweigh any and all of the terrible things he does as President and the awful person that he is, the assertion that he is the best and and the greatest for Israel is highly questionable.

We should acknowledge when the President does something good for Israel.  I have done that with the move of the capital to Jerusalem, the recognition of the Golan Heights (although I question the value of that recognition relative to other issues), and the withdrawal from the Iran deal, although I did question this President’s ability when it comes to putting together the right follow-up, a concern that is being shown to have been justified.

Despite the President’s positive steps, he is far from the best President, or the President that has done the most for Israel. What Israel needs more than anything else is a U.S. that is strong, respected, reliable, united, and dependable, that is willing to project and even use force when necessary, that is rational and smart, that is strategic, that is capable of uniting other nations, that is supportive of democracies and countries that value freedom, and that is respected throughout the world.

Unfortunately, that is not President Trump.  Indeed, many, including a good number of Republicans and former Republicans, would argue that he projects an America that is the antithesis of those characteristics.  (e.g. George Will, Jennifer Rubin, Max Boot, Bill Kristol, George Conway III, Steve Schmidt, John Weaver, Rick Wilson, William Webster)

Moreover, we have now seen how President Trump’s deficiencies in many of these qualities is causing danger  to Israel and Israelis that far outweighs the positive things that he has done for it. A few that come to mind:

1. Failing to respond after Iran downed a U.S. drone and after it destroyed half of the Saudi’s oil refineries communicated to the Iranians that he is a paper tiger, i.e. that he will not use force to back up the tough talk. Iran has felt free to try to move into Syria. Israel is constantly working to stop it from doing so successfully.

2. He has allowed Russia to move back into the Middle East a goal of Russia and the Soviet Union for over 50 years. Russian soldiers are now in Syria, and Syria has received sophisticated Russian air defense systems, making it much more difficult for Israel to attack Iranian assets. If Israel ever makes a mistake and kills Russian soldiers, we are in for a very difficult time, to put it mildly.  As a result, Israel’s ability to maneuver and act is significantly limited.

3. In announcing a pullout from Syria and hurriedly moving some troops out,  President Trump left the Kurds to be exiled and slaughtered by Turkey and its President and would-be Caliph, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Trump demonstrated convincingly that even the most reliable ally, one who sacrificed 10,000 soldiers in battle as a U.S. ally, cannot depend on the U.S. That sent shudders down the backs of many Israelis, including its leaders. It was a cruel awakening.

Shortly after President Trump gave the green light to Erdogan to engage in ethnic cleansing against the Kurds, he gave him a warm welcome to the White House. “I’m a big fan,” he said as he gave an embrace to a man who is doing everything to impose a dictatorship on his people, who has more journalists in jail than virtually any other country in the world, who has repeatedly uttered vicious anti-Semitic and anti-Israel tirades, and who plays willing host to Hamas, a terrorist organization whose overriding objective is the destruction of Israel and which has managed to kill and maim a few Americans over the years.

Even Prime Minister Netanyahu, who has or had a strong relationship with the President, said that, when it comes to Iran, Israel is on its own, that it cannot rely on the U.S. to join a fight.

The Prime Minister’s own relationship with President Trump is telling in that it demonstrates how everything with President Trump is personal and how fleeting his “friendship” can be. The minute Netanyahu failed in the second election to gain enough the support of the 61 Knesset members needed to put together a coalition, President Trump started distancing himself from Netanyahu.

That is understandable. As President Trump has said on multiple occasions, he likes winners. Why would he respect a Prime Minister who can’t get 61 votes together when he doesn’t respect a soldier who spent five and a half years in the Hanoi Hilton–“I like people who weren’t captured.”

Besides, how could one expect the President to understand and appreciate how Israel’s constitution-lacking democracy can be at a stalemate when he apparently doesn’t understand the U.S. Constitution–Article II allows him “to do whatever I want.” (Fun fact: President George W. Bush, not known as the most intellectual of presidents, read 13 books about Lincoln while President. How many have President Trump read?)

The actions favorable to Israel that President Trump has taken should be acknowledged.  Appreciation should be expressed.  But they pale when compared to the things he has done that put Israeli lives in real danger.

As I wrote at the outset, both President Trump and Senator Sanders are bad for the United States, for American Jews, and for Israel.

Former Vice-President Biden is the Democrat with the best chance of defeating Senator Sanders and President Trump.  He is not my perfect candidate.

But he is a competent, decent human being who will act responsibly as President.  He will respect American democracy and its values, and will bring a sense of dignity back to the White House.  He will not create a petri dish for anti-Semitism and hate.  And he will ensure continued bi-partisan support for Israel, something vital to Israel’s security.

About the Author
Alan Edelstein was a lawyer and lobbyist in California for 30 years. He currently lives in Jerusalem and Sacramento, California and consults on governmental affairs, communications, politics, and business development. He blogs at www.edelsteinrandomthoughts.com. Inquiries regarding speaking engagements: ae@edelsteinstrategies.com
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