Opinion

Leave the Jews Out of the Trump Debate

Why mix up the legitimate debate around the administration's political circus with hyperbole about the 'danger' the president poses to American Jews?

U.S. President Donald Trump gives a speech at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem, Israel, Tuesday, May 23, 2017.
Debbie Hill/AP

This is a moment of unique political turmoil in America. A president who flouts every conventional notion of normal behavior is locked in a confrontation with opponents who seem to prefer "resistance" rather than normal opposition against a new administration whose legitimacy they dispute.

But, contrary to Eric Yoffie’s concerns ("Beware the Backlash: Trump in Trouble Means Insecurity for U.S. Jews"), whether or not President Donald Trump survives his mostly self-inflicted wounds, or if the arguments over both his conduct and his policies escalate into an even more ugly mess than the one we’re currently witnessing, American Jews are not in danger.

Yes, history teaches us that, as a general rule, unstable regimes are bad for the Jews. Throughout the ages, rulers seeking to divert their people’s attention from their own shortcomings, military disasters or economic downturns, used Jewish populations as scapegoats.

But while American exceptionalism has taken on a more unsavory meaning for some since Trump took office, talk of him triggering a backlash that will endanger Jews misunderstands the basic stability of the American system, even in times like these. Yoffie may think the sky is falling, but injecting the notion that Jewish security is somehow bound up in the political circus that is the Trump administration does nothing to advance the interests of the Jewish community or the nation.

Yoffie deserves credit for not succumbing to the notion that the president or his administration is anti-Semitic. That was a temptation that many on the left couldn’t resist, as they sought to blame Trump for a bump in the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported earlier this year, especially the spate of bomb threats at Jewish Community Centers.

But as we now know, those incidents weren’t the work of right wing extremists inspired by Trump’s stands on immigration. That was a blow to the thesis that Trump’s rhetoric would lead to harm for Jews. But apologies from those who sought to make that case were scarce. Other charges that seek to cast controversial, though ardent, friends of Israel currently working in the White House as anti-Semitic, are equally unpersuasive.

But the problem with blaming Trump for threats with which he had nothing to do, or even for a backlash that hasn’t yet - and probably will never - happen, was brought home to liberals recently. While his critics aren’t wrong to take him to task for over-the-top rhetoric, that’s a lesson that cuts both ways.

In recent months, the apocalyptic talk from the left about both Trump and Republicans was as extreme as anything heard on the right, and a number of threats against GOP politicians were reported. Then last week a supporter of Bernie Sanders tried to kill Republicans practicing for the annual Congressional charity baseball game, resulting in the wounding of Rep. Steven Scalise, the House Minority Whip, as well as others present.

A protester in New York displays a placard during a demonstration against US President Donald Trump to mark his birthday. June 14, 2017
JEWEL SAMAD/AFP

That was a wake up call to liberals who have been accusing conservatives of seeking to destroy democracy, or of wanting sick people to die, about how unfair it can be when your political opponents try to connect dots between strong opinions and extremist violence. Sanders is no more responsible for the shooting of Scalise than Trump would be for attacks on Democrats, had there been any.

Just as important, Yoffie also makes the error of conflating legitimate disputes between liberals and conservatives with those about Trump’s unfitness.

The liberal social justice agenda is integral to his religious worldview. But he should be cautious about lending credence to the old joke about Reform Judaism being the Democratic Party platform with religious holidays thrown in. More to the point, the debate about Trump has nothing to do with the political arguments Democrats and Republicans would be having even if he were not president. Understanding that we can and must agree to disagree on important issues is the essence of democracy.

Interpreting the political disputes - even those involving Trump - in which Americans are currently engaged as a prelude to a surge of anti-Semitism is dangerous hyperbole.

Yoffie should have more faith in a constitutional system that has survived wars and depressions to preserve the American republic. Interjecting traditional fears that feed Jewish insecurity with those about Trump does nothing to bring Americans together or bolster a community that is in no apparent danger from the president.

Jonathan S. Tobin is opinion editor of JNS.org and a Contributing Writer for National Review. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.