A generation or two ago Jews of the American Diaspora didn’t feel the love and security we take for granted today.
They used to ask “Is it good for the Jews?” about so many topics, none more often than the political leadership of the country.
As beloved as FDR was by the majority of American Jewry in the 1940s, his legacy became tainted in retrospect with the revelations that he could have, but choose not to bomb the instruments of the Jewish genocide in Europe, to the extent that planes returning from missions taking them over concentration camps just dumped their remaining bombs in the English Channel.
Even today, when a Wall Street tycoon or someone with an obviously Jewish surname commits fraud or worse, there is a collective but unspoken sigh in American Jewry, that it is a black mark upon the Jewish people.
Which brings us to a topic I was not planning on writing about: the wildly unusual American presidential political scene. Only the Republican presidential debates could make the vitriol of the Israeli Knesset look tame.
I brief members of Congress on both sides of the aisle, and my lodestar as an American is United States national security and the US-Israel relationship, which to my mind overlap 95 percent of the time. If there were no Israel, America would need to create one to gain the intelligence and security advantages that its only reliable friend in the region brings to the table.
It is speaking season for me in the States, and the tone and feedback I am receiving in the Q and A’s and conversations after the talks is quite disturbing.
It is not news that America is a hyperpolarized country or that many have a “throw the bums out” mentality regarding politicians.
But what has really troubled me is the depth of concern that people share with me, that our country is headed the wrong way, including in its relationship with Israel.
Every political season has its own unique characteristics. This cycle the public’s appetite for a populist like Donald Trump, or a socialist like Bernie Sanders is unlike any political cycle in recent memory, with some very scary rhetoric including everything from wholesale ad hominem attacks to uncharacteristic American bad-mouthing of minority communities.
With the explosion of the Internet over the past 20 years, we know that many Americans, especially younger ones, get most of their news from echo chambers that just reinforce their preconceived viewpoints. Young people who think out of the box or disagree with the conventional wisdom tell me that they are afraid to post challenging articles in fear of being “unfriended.” Just ask pro-Israel kids on today’s college campus.
I am shocked how many people tell me with absolute certainty that facts they read on the Internet are as certain as the Rock of Gibraltar. It is as if were they were reading the front page of The New York Times in 1960, before it began to editorialize the news pages with its political leanings and became agenda driven like so much of the mainstream media, on Israel and various other topics, so that its readers can no longer safely distinguish the news from the opinions of the editors.
This year I am being asked much more often than other years which candidate is not only best for America, but also best for the US-Israel relationship. I have shared my opinion privately in the past, but this cycle’s stakes for America and Israel are too high to remain silent.
Trump’s populist bullying, viciously demeaning anyone who opposes him, is feeding on the fears and despair of Americans, and is a very troubling sign of the state of our republic. His rhetorical flourishes have more in common with Mussolini than with Washington, Lincoln and Reagan.
On Israel, other than saying vaguely that he will be Israel’s best friend, like his “beautiful” tax return that he chooses to withhold, he has shown a lack of understanding of the region. There is little doubt that at least on Israel, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz and John Kasich have much deeper knowledge of the facts, and perception of Israel as an ally. On other topics Trump is even more frightening, as his proposed trade wars could bring the world economy into a recession or depression with even worse consequences of unrest within the populaces. And we all know who is often the scapegoat when things turn sour around the world.
Senator Cruz, who is no liberal, worked across the aisle with Democrat Kristin Gillibrand, condemning the labeling of Israeli goods from over the Green Line as a “de facto” boycott of Israel, according to Al-Monitor.
Senator Rubio has led on a number of important issues to strengthen the US-Israel relationship. According to The Hill, when Trump told the AP that “a lot” of peace in the Middle East “will have to do with Israel and whether or not Israel wants to make the deal – whether or not Israel’s willing to sacrifice certain things,” Rubio responded, “There is no moral equivalence between Israel and those who seek to destroy her.”
Placing the onus on Israel for the Middle East’s problems, implying the Gordian knot to untie in the region is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, highlights Trump’s profound misunderstanding of the Middle East. As Ambassador Yoram Ettinger wrote, “How could the resolution of the 100-year-old Arab-Israeli conflict facilitate the resolution of the totally unrelated 1,400-year-old Sunni-Shi’ite war?” On the other side of the aisle, Hillary Clinton has a long history of telling people, especially pro-Israel Americans, what they want to hear, yet excoriating Israel as secretary of state on issues that previously would have been of secondary importance. Her rhetoric of support has never matched her actions.
Trump’s hardly credible claim that his earpiece didn’t work when asked to disavow the neo-Nazi David Duke’s endorsement is reminiscent of Hillary’s infamous kiss of Suha Arafat in November of 2000 after Arafat claimed Jews were deliberately poisoning Palestinian children. As the New York Times reported at the time, Clinton showed “clear signs of discomfort during the remarks, but gave Arafat a polite, salutatory kiss when she left.” As per Clinton’s usual approach, she switched gears when she saw the political winds blowing in the wrong direction and belatedly said the remarks were “inflammatory and outrageous.”
So the question comes back to what I am continually asked during my speaking tour, and even in the Knesset: whom do I support for president, who is best for the Israel, who is best for America and the world in the 21st century? No one knows what the future will bring, and no one knows what events will take place during the next American president’s term.
As my mother says, man plans, God laughs (she says it in Yiddish).
Few remember that George W. Bush was primarily interested in domestic affairs when he took the oath of office in 2001, but his eight years in office were defined not by that agenda, but rather the agenda imposed upon him by 9/11. His legacy for good or ill lies in his response to world events he didn’t ask for.
So in such uncertain times, it’s important to have someone leading America and the free world who respects American exceptionalism with humility, and who will try to balance American strength, American interests and pragmatism for the greater good.
Narcissism and egocentrism are not qualities of leadership, certainly not for the most important person in the world, during what looks like one of the world’s potentially most transformative moments.
I do not want Trump to be the standard bearer of our country. I do not want Clinton either. I do not want a socialist, and the remaining Republicans may not rise enough in the delegate count in April, May or June to stop the populist momentum of Trump.
A Republican Senator friend told me that her answer to whether she will support Trump is “anyone but Hillary.” I don’t think that is good enough anymore.
I agree with Mitt Romney: “I cannot in good conscience vote for a person who has been as degrading and disruptive and unhinged as I’ve seen Donald Trump be.”
The author is the director of MEPIN™ and is a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Post. MEPIN™ (mepinanalysis.org) is read by members of Congress, their foreign policy advisers, members of the Knesset, and journalists. He regularly briefs Congress on issues related to the Middle East.