I have avoided writing this article for some time. Anyone who carefully reads my articles in Newsweek or on my blog knows I have a political leaning. Though since I maintain a website on the History of American Presidential elections, as well as having authored a book on the same subject, I try to be as publicly apolitical as possible. However, at this point, when a Donald Trump victory remains a possibility, I feel I have a responsibility to speak out in clear and certain terms.
I will not go into the myriads of reasons Trump would be a problematic president for America, nor will I discuss the fact Trump is the individual with the least relevant experience to run for the presidency on behalf of any major party in the entire history of the United States. Instead, I will write as an American-Israeli and a Jew, laying out why Trump is bad for Israel and bad for Jews.
Let me start with why Trump would be a terrible president for Israel … It really does not matter whether you have left-wing, right-wing or centrist views on Israeli politics. Whatever your views, almost all agree that a strong America on the world stage is essential for Israel. There is no replacement for the United States. The fantasy that India, China or Russia could provide a satisfactory replacement for America should have ended with the recent 38 billion US aid agreement — or at least, with the recent UN votes, where all our alternative supporters voted against us.
So, based on the fact that America is an irreplaceable ally of Israel, what would a Trump presidency mean? First, let’s examine Trump’s overall rhetoric. Trump and many of his supporters represent a strain of politics, known as the “America First” movement, (which had died in the post-World War II era.) “America First” maintains the belief that the United States is an island unto itself and should disengage from the world.
Trump has consistently campaigned on that theme.However, the reality would be much more that just that. Trump’s worldview and management style will lead to a weakening of U.S. influence world-wide. As Ross Douthat wrote in yesterday NYT:
“From the Pacific Rim to the Middle East, revisionist powers will set out to test Trump’s capacity to handle surprise, hostile actors will seek to exploit the undoubted chaos of his White House, and our allies will build American fecklessness into their strategic plans. And again, all of this is likely to happen without Trump doing the wilder things he’s kind-of sort-of pledged to do — demanding tribute from allies, trying to “take the oil,” etc. He need only be himself in order to bring an extended period of risk upon the world.”
The last thing Israel needs is an environment of unpredictability. Israel does not need an American President who is capricious and who would weaken the United States. Moreover, Israel needs an American Commander-in-Chief who understands the US military and its capabilities. It might have been acceptable for Trump, the long-shot Presidential contender in the Republican primaries, to know little about the details of the U.S. military and its capabilities. Though once he became the Republican nominee, it was incumbent on him to spend the time learning about these small details — yet, this seems to be beyond his will or abilities.
Trump cannot be the Commander-in-Chief. A person like this would weaken the United States. A person who does not comprehend that US alliances have been the key to world peace for the last 70 years and refuses to understand there is a price for that affinity, weakens the United States. A person who goes around talking up Russian power, insisting the Soviets are outpacing the US in military technology, is both doing exactly what the Russians would like and exhibiting how clueless they are about the state of military technology.
A person who seems unable to accept that Russia is behind the recent hacking of the American Democratic system — after being told that fact by all of the US intelligence agencies — is definitively dangerous. A person who seems unable to criticize Putin — one of the worst actors on the world stage (the individual who doesn’t sell commercial aircraft to Iran, but rather, missiles and fighter aircraft) undermines the security of Israel and that of the larger world.
Finally, for those who suggest there is no need to worry, that Trump will be surrounded by competent advisors — I say, look around … There is not one heavy-weight Republican national security expert on his team. They have all either sat out the election, or come out in favor to Hillary Clinton.
Now let’s turn to the American Jewish aspect of this race … I do not believe that Trump, himself, is an anti-Semite. Yes, he has said he prefers his accountants and lawyers to be Jewish. While some see that as anti-Semitic, I do not think saying Jews are by-and-large capable people is in anyway anti-Semitic. However, as a result of the nativist, racist, xenophobic rhetorical approach of his campaign, Trump has unearthed a level of overt antisemitism in America that I thought would never return.
I have long written that the fear of anti-Semitism is one of the key motivators of American Jewish voting choice — but that generally meant the subtle “country club” type of anti-Semitism. I do not think Jews were cognizant of the deeply-rooted Jewish hatred we have seen come out of this campaign. The fact that almost all of the Republican intellectuals, such as: John Podhoretz, David Frum, and for that matter, columnist Bret Stephens — all of whom are Jewish — have all come out against Trump has probably not helped, but the situation goes way beyond that. The level of attacks against Jewish journalists, the continuing antisemitic chants at rallies, the use of antisemitic imaginary over the course of Trump’s campaign have never been seen before in American politics.
If Trump should win, it will only strengthen these very dark forces in American society. Moreover, I do not believe that a Trump defeat will make these antisemitic forces disappear. It will be impossible to put this genie back in the bottle. Therefore, for any Jew (unless possibly if he or she is an aliyah shaliach) to do anything to strengthen these forces is unforgivable.
So what choices do American Jews face? Well, one can vote for Hilary Clinton, who might put a little pressure on Israel to stop building in the settlements, (and might is in bold to emphasize that she also might not); who has made a number of mistakes—including having an e-mail server in her house, or one can vote for someone who has run a xenophobic campaign and who has brought America’s anti-Semites out of their closets.
One can vote for someone who—by all accounts—has the experience to be Commander-in-Chief from day-one, or one can vote for someone who almost every newspaper in the United States (with the exception of the paper owned by Sheldon Adelson) has categorically called unfit to be Commander-in-Chief. One can choose vote for a person who will not oppose Vladimir Putin and will weaken U.S. standing in the world, or a person who understands the world and how power is wielded in it.
I call on American Jews to vote their self-interest and the self-interest of Israel. Do not undermine 300 years of American Jewish history. Do not undermine 75 years of American-Israeli friendship. Do not vote for Donald Trump.