As is my normal practice when working in Washington, last Shabbat I attended services at Kesher Israel synagogue in Georgetown where we were members when living and working in the US capital.
Thanks to stuff in the US media, there was a half expectation of seeing President Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, in the left section of this informal modern-orthodox shul, a favourite place of worship for senators, congressman and young lawyers and policymakers in the State Department and elsewhere. Former Democratic vice-presidential candidate Senator Joe Lieberman was a regular Haftorah reader.
As it happened, the first son-in-law and his wife Invanka, having explored the Georgetown housing market and the shul, opted to live in Kalorama, a swankier neighbourhood close to Embassy Row on Massachusetts Avenue.
They have chosen to attend a smaller Chabad minyan, near to home.
As Trump’s sojourn in the White House reaches its 100 day mark tomorrow (Friday), opinions on his presidency, his family and the levels of competence as viewed by America’s Jewish liberal elite are as divided as ever, despite a perceptible tilt towards Israel after the studied neutrality of Obama administration.
A friend in a senior job in the Trump government tells me she turns her head away from Trump’s photograph in the lobby of her building each day because “I cannot bear to think of that man as our president”. Even worse for this former law professor is the hash Trump and his team are making of governance. Policy position papers prepared to flesh out Trump policies remain unread because up to 400 senior administration positions remain vacant.
Foreign policy wonks in the cafés of the State and Commerce Departments and the Treasury are unable to act because so many assistant secretary posts (those immediately below Cabinet level) have yet to be filled.
Not all is gloom. Among American Jews there is relief Steve Bannon, the right-wing ideologue and a founder of Breitbart News, has been shuffled off the National Security Council by Kushner and others and could find himself out of the White House altogether. Breitbart News has carried unfortunate material with anti-Semitic leanings.
As with much of what Trump said on the campaign trail, his Middle East policies are being “normalised”. In the same way a trade war with China has been sacrificed on the altar of peace in the Pacific, so moving the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem has been shelved.
One breath of fresh air on the foreign policy scene has been rising Republican star and US ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, praised for her robust defence of the cruise missile attack on a Syrian air base and the mega-bomb on an Isis stronghold in Afghanistan.
Most impressive is how Haley personally has made it her mission to end the practice of the quarterly Security Council meetings on the Middle East always having Israel-Palestine at the top of the agenda. She has insisted this changes. It is now Iran’s behaviour that heads the list and the Americans are simply unwilling to engage in the automatic UN Israel bashing.
Haley drew a line in the sand and is winning enormous plaudits for it. In the process, some of Trump’s critics in the Jewish community are less vitriolic – although hardly won over.