In the run-up to the US elections this week, there is a great deal of analysis going on as to why 75% or more of American Jews living in the US will not vote for Trump while probably 95% of American Jews living in Israel will vote for him. An analysis of priorities and internal religious feelings can perhaps shed some significant light on the subject.
First, Jews are people just like everyone else in the human race. As Shylock asked in The Merchant of Venice, “If you prick us do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh? If you poison us do we not die?” The answer, of course, in all cases is….for sure, we bleed, we laugh and we die.
As such, we human beings tend to vote for the person we perceive as doing the most to answer our needs and our concerns. Therefore, for the average American citizen living in Israel the prime determinant when voting is whether one candidate appears to be better than another when it comes to their view of Israel and how they act towards those of us who live here. That is clearly understandable.
In the minds of the overwhelming majority of American Jews living in Israel, Trump has been a Godsend for Israel. One can argue whether all the things people crow about (i.e. moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, permitting Americans born in Jerusalem to have Israel noted as their country of birth on US passports, etc.) are as important as some people seem to feel they are. However, the overriding consideration in the minds of Americans living in Israel seems to be, “he is good for Israel so who cares about his admitted moral failures.”
Similarly, most American Jews living in the US, using the same parameters of voting for the person who they perceive is best for America, come to an entirely different conclusion. Their conclusion is that one can neither easily separate the good things that the President has achieved from the moral bankruptcy that he represents nor close one’s eyes to the clear incompetence that he exhibited in handling the Corona challenge during this past year which resulted in the unnecessary deaths of a quarter of a million people. Clearly, in their minds, the bad significantly outweighs the good and they will vote for calm and cool-headedness rather than anxiety and bluster.
Of course, the exception is the right-of-center Orthodox community that seems to be looking at only one parameter: Who will best protect their conservative religious values? From that perspective, they are happy to join with their equally myopic brethren in the Christian Evangelical community, look past the moral vacuum of the man, and cast their votes for Trump.
Yet there seems to be another concept that is also in the minds of many Jews in both countries when it comes to evaluating the current President. Specifically. There is a concept that has surfaced often during this election season signified by the Hebrew phrase “hakarat hatov” or expressing gratitude. Many people speak about their need to vote for Trump out of gratitude for all that he has done for Israel and the Jewish people. While that is an understandable desire, it does seem a bit vapid during a year where many well-known philanthropists in the Jewish community have had their reputations impugned for far less than what even the President himself admits to.
Giants of the Jewish philanthropic world like Michael Steinhardt and Leslie Wexner, among others, have been roundly (and rightfully) criticized, for certain social behavior that is simply unacceptable. For all practical purposes, almost everyone so castigated has become persona non grata in the community. Yet none of their reputations were salvaged by people claiming “hakarat hatov.” Nevertheless, the very same community that was quick to “clean house” as it were in those cases, now gives the President a pass. Quite amazing to be sure.
Finally, it is also possible that the majority of the American Jewish community has looked at the rise in Anti-Semitism in the US during these past few years, looked at Pittsburgh, Poway, Monsey, Borough Park, etc. and drawn a sobering conclusion. Perhaps they remembered the verse from Psalm 146:
אַל־תִּבְטְח֥וּ בִנְדִיבִ֑ים בְּבֶן־אָדָ֓ם, שֶׁ֚אֵ֖ין ל֥וֹ תְשׁוּעָֽה:
“Do not put your trust in princes, in the son of man, who has no salvation.”
Jewish history has taught us that it is always a mistake to depend too much on one person to secure our future, that morals and honesty are critical aspects of leadership and that those who treat us well today can just as easily treat us badly when it suits them. Perhaps the American Jewish community has internalized that message and is voting accordingly. The warning of the Psalmist is clear and may well explain the dichotomy that we see between the electorates in each country.
It has often been said that this election is a fight for the soul of America. If that is indeed the case, let us hope that there will be a rebirth and not a burial.