Michael Kohler

Was it Worth it?

I’m wondering what all the Jewish, political moderates – both Democrats and Republicans –who voted for Donald Trump arguing he was “good for Israel” are thinking now that the Supreme Court seems ready to overturn Roe v. Wade? I’m guessing that many (most?) are not as gleeful and feeling “vindicated” like CNN Political Commentator Alice Stewart who writes on CNN.COM (May 4, 2022) that she “unapologetic[ally]” voted for a pro-life candidate rationalizing that she, “voted for [Trump] to be my president, not my pastor” so sees the impending decision as a reward for that vote.

Support for Israel is a critical and proper litmus-test for many Jewish Americans come election time. And to be sure, the far left-wing of the Democratic Party is an abomination on this issue – not because of its concern for the Palestinian people or desire to end the on-going conflict; but rather, because of its support for BDS and positions that cross the line from legitimate criticism of Israeli policy to blatant antisemitism. This flank of the party has left many centrist, pro-Israel Democrats, like myself, in a political quandary.

In 2016 we faced the question: do we vote for Clinton and risk the far-left potentially having input on US policy regarding Israel, or do we vote for Trump because he allegedly cares for, and supports Israel? In hindsight, we now know the result. Negotiating the Abraham Accords, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal? All accomplishments of a Trump administration, but is Israel safer or more secure now? Is Hamas or Hezbollah or Iran weakened or any less determined to create a Palestinian state “from the river to the sea?” No, no they are not. Was the US-Israel relationship stronger when Israel was reluctant to share intelligence after Trump inexcusably disclosed classified information obtained from Israel to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (you know, the guy who recently called the Russian bombing of a Ukrainian maternity hospital a “so-called atrocity” and who just claimed Hitler was Jewish) during his all-access tour of the Oval Office in 2017? No, it was not. The truth is the US-Israel relationship is strong not because of who is president or prime minister, but because of our shared democratic values and strategic interests. Could one say that Trump’s record regarding Israel was stronger than Clinton’s record would have been? Maybe, it is unclear. But if it was, at what cost did that marginal victory come?

Here in the United States, I fear we are only beginning to feel the negative effects of Trump’s presidency. The alarming, exponential rise in antisemitic incidents in recent years can, to a large extent, absolutely be laid at Trump’s feet. As ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt writes in his new book, It Could Happen Here (p. 27), [i]t’s hard to underestimate the organizational boost that white supremacists, anti-immigrant groups, neo-Nazis, white nationalists, and others received during the Trump years, when their ideology was tolerated and sometimes openly encouraged by officials at the highest levels.” This rise in antisemitism (and all hate-crimes) is surely an unwelcome consequence of a vote for Trump.

And with Politico’s leak of the draft Supreme Court decision this week, we learn that another consequence of that vote for a “pro-Israel” Trump will likely be the end of abortion rights and a woman’s right to make reproductive choices about her own body. Trump’s four years in office allowed him to appoint three conservative justices to the Supreme Court who appear ready to not only overturn Roe v. Wade, but to eviscerate its legal foundation, opening the door to other unwanted decisions.  Political pundits and legal analysts are opining that other social policy issues – which most non-Orthodox Jews have moderate, centrist views on – such as gay rights, gun-control, humane immigration policies and voting rights are all issues this Court will address. In other words, don’t be surprised if same-sex marriage soon becomes a thing of the past. I assume these results would also be unintended consequences of that Jewish, political moderates vote for Trump.

To all of this, throw in “the big lie” and his promotion of a coup attempt on January 6, 2021, his mishandling of the COVID pandemic, and all his other scandals, I ask: looking back on that vote for Trump cast in 2016, was it worth it?

About the Author
Michael Kohler is on the Long Island Regional Board of the American Jewish Committee, is committed to strengthening the relationship between US Jews and Israel, and professionally works as an immigration attorney on Long Island, N.Y. The opinions expressed are personal and do not reflect those of AJC or any other group or organization.
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