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Why I’ll stay in the room with Trump

He'll be there listening respectfully as the man who may be the next US president explains his Israeli policy at AIPAC

Dear Mr. Trump,

I am the rabbi of a synagogue in South Orange, New Jersey. We are a diverse group of people who share the common purpose of making our world a better place. Through the practice of Judaism, we collectively affirm the inherent equality and dignity of all human beings. By actively engaging in repairing the world, what we call Tikun Olam, we assert that each one of us can do something to heal the brokenness around us, bring justice to the oppressed, free those who are enslaved, and help to make our world whole.

I will be at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C. Let me say, upfront, that I plan to be in the room when you speak at the conference on Monday night. I will not boycott or protest your speech by making a point of getting up and leaving the room. I will not wear or circulate stickers or flyers that object to your being invited by AIPAC to address the conference. That is not because I am not concerned, even alarmed, by some of the things you’ve said publicly in your campaign for the Republican nomination for President. In fact, the opposite is true. Some of your comments about Mexicans and Muslims are not only divisive and contrary to the teachings of Judaism, but also raise great concern about whether or not you would act on those views should you be elected President. Your position that torture is an acceptable way to deal with one’s enemies flies in the face of American, and Jewish, values. Your comments at your rallies about responding to demonstrators with violence are troubling and make it seem as if you condone, even encourage, such behavior.

No, Mr. Trump, I will not boycott or protest your speech, for two reasons. The first reason, one that is deeply ingrained in the Jewish tradition, is that people on opposite sides of an issue must continue to engage in civil dialogue. The great Talmudic sages Hillel and Shammai held opposite views on nearly every issue of Jewish law and society. Yet they maintained respect for one another and heard each other’s views. If we are to have any chance at solving the problems we face in this country and in the world, we must be willing to listen to one another. If people who vehemently disagree with one another genuinely listen to each other, it becomes possible to bridge the gaps between them. Turning my back on you and refusing to listen to what you have to say will accomplish nothing.

The second, and more important, reason I will not boycott your speech to the conference is that AIPAC’s purpose is to advance the U.S.-Israel relationship and to strengthen the State of Israel. AIPAC invites political speakers in order to hear their message without screening them based on their political ideology or their views. That’s more than reasonable, as the people who attend Policy Conference can listen to the various people who make speeches and judge their words for themselves, without a filter.

Just as important, AIPAC is committed to creating allies who understand Israel’s security needs and will support Israel. And the frontrunner for the Republican party’s nomination for President is certainly someone who may very well be in a position to shape the U.S.-Israel relationship. I won’t boycott your speech precisely because I need to hear if you will present a detailed, specific position about how you would manage America’s relationship with Israel. I need to hear if you understand Israel’s security needs and how you would protect Israel if and when the Jewish State is threatened. I’m glad to hear that you have marched up Fifth Avenue in the Celebrate Israel Parade, and that your daughter and son-in-law are Jewish. But in my view those things by themselves do not make for a solid record of support for Israel. You have stated that objectivity in leading negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is important, but I want to know that you understand the existential threat Israel faces from hostile enemies that surround the Jewish State. AIPAC is devoted to strengthening the U.S.-Israel partnership, and on Monday night I not only hope to hear that you are as well, but how specifically you intend to support Israel.

Mr. Trump, I’m concerned about the divisive, even racist, rhetoric that has characterized the campaign for President. I have no doubt that we don’t agree on a lot of issues. But you might become the President of the United States of America, my President. You may be the person who has the greatest influence on the U.S.-Israel relationship and how and to what extent America supports Israel. So I will not boycott or protest your speech on Monday night. No, I’ll be there, listening carefully to every word and hoping to hear from you a reasoned, clear and detailed statement about your views on Israel. The Jewish State, which I love, may very well wind up having to count on you.

Sincerely,

RABBI MARK COOPER

About the Author
Rabbi Mark Cooper was raised in Los Angeles and has been a congregational rabbi for nearly 30 years, serving synagogues in Natick, Massachusetts, Aberdeen, New Jersey and South Orange, New Jersey. He has been the rabbi of Oheb Shalom Congregation for 17 years. Rabbi Cooper is also a mohel active in the New Jersey/New York area. He and his wife have five sons.
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