The growing possibility that Donald Trump will be the Republican presidential nominee is stirring a debate within the American Jewish community about how to view his candidacy, particularly in the light of his upcoming address to the AIPAC policy conference on Monday.
Trump’s candidacy has provoked a visceral and response within the community in a way that no other presidential candidate in recent history has done because some of his positions stand in such contrast to Jewish ethical values developed over many centuries.
The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) issued a carefully-worded statement in which it said it respected completely AIPAC’s decision to invite Trump to speak, but then fiercely attacked his campaign for its “naked appeals to bigotry, especially against Hispanics and Muslims.” The URJ said it would find an appropriate way to make its voices heard at the AIPAC conference and beyond.
Trump is certainly within his rights in running his own campaign according to his own lights and views and putting forth his own values. He should not be impeded, blocked or silenced in any way. Our democratic system must be allowed to work. Ultimately, the American electorate will decide whether or not he should lead our nation. But for American Jews, many of us have heard and seen enough already to conclude that this man is singularly unfit to become President of the United States.
Our community is not politically homogeneous, although a sizable majority has traditionally supported Democrats for the White House and found the Democratic Party’s messages of social justice more in tune with its values. At the same time, a vocal and passionate minority has supported Republicans.
But Trump is sui generis. His actions and statements are so deeply at odds with our values that he cannot be treated the same as other candidates, past or present. His positions are so offensive and so dangerous that they require a special and exceptional response.
Take for example Trump’s campaign pledge to deport or remove some 11 million undocumented immigrants in our nation. As someone who was born and educated in Britain, my mind immediately goes to the 1290 Edict of Expulsion promulgated by King Edward I against the Jews. That was just one of the many, many expulsions our people have suffered. The 1492 expulsion of the Jews of Spain still lives in our collective memory. And within the lifespan of our own parents and grandparents are the expulsions, atrocities and massacres of the 20th century culminating in the Holocaust.
Millions of people throughout the world are being displaced, driven into exile and wandering the globe looking for a safe haven before our horrified eyes. Our hearts break for them. To suggest adding millions of responsible, hardworking, productive people living within our midst to that number is outrageous and appalling.
The Torah is particularly insistent on our responsibility to care for all those who reside with us. Exodus 22:21 says, “Do not mistreat or oppress a foreigner, for you were foreigners in Egypt.” Leviticus 19:34 goes further stating, “The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt.”
Trump’s call for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States and his statement that “Islam hates us” is equally horrific and disqualifying. When he was asked whether all 1.6 billion Muslims in the world hate America, Trump said a lot of them do. How are the 3.3 million Muslims living in the United States supposed to feel about that? They are an ethnically-diverse population with African-American, Asian and Middle Eastern roots as well as many converts and they are overwhelmingly loyal and patriotic Americans and as much a part of our nation as anyone else.
What about the 205 million Muslims living in Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim nation, which has had good and constructive relations with the United States for many years? According to one poll, 62 percent view the United States favorably. I could go on an on with example after example.
Trump has also demonized refugees fleeing the horrifying humanitarian crisis in Syria in a way that indicates a profoundly dangerous worldview. He is quick to lump billions of people under one label, all undeserving of compassion and understanding. His is a campaign driven by racism and hate – and it is a tragedy that he is making what used to be unacceptable in mainstream politics in some way acceptable to some.
Republican candidates often invoke what they call “Judeo-Christian” values in their appeals to voters, especially evangelical Christians. This is not a phrase much beloved by many American Jews who do not always recognize the values invoked as their own. But now may be the time to give that slogan new meaning. If those values have any meaning at all, they should disqualify Trump from becoming President.