There's something I find very hard to understand.
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I cannot grasp how some of my Jewish friends, both in America and Israel, who support Donald Trump primarily because of his pledge to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, continue to ignore his assaults on democracy, reason, the environment, his associations with anti-Semites and racists, his sexism, and his willingness to cozy up to Vladimir Putin.
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I always believed that Jews and Israelis were opposed to all this. But are these assaults now acceptable simply because the U.S. President-elect claims to be willing to make a symbolic gesture that will in no way improve life on the planet for anyone, including Israelis?
I cannot understand how those who see themselves supporting Israel have made the move of the ambassadorial staff to Jerusalem so critical a measure of support that they are willing to overlook the appointment of a secretary of state who not only comes from an industry that traditionally shuns Israel, but has close ties not only to Russia but to Middle East oil capitals, all of whom remain in a state of war with Israel, and are likely to continue to do so as long as there is no peaceful resolution of the Palestinian question.
I cannot understand how friends of, and in, Israel can embrace the Trump presidency because of its winks and nods that appear to suggest that they approve of the Netanyahu government’s policies. This, while the President-elect appoints cabinet officials who do not believe in the science of climate change, appointing an energy secretary who thinks his own department, one that's in charge of managing nuclear energy, should be dismantled, leading to a far more dangerous nuclear environment which cannot help Israel’s security.
Or while he selects as head of the Environmental Protection Agency a man who believes that environmental damage is limited by state borders. If there is anything Israel surely understands it is the danger of unregulated nuclear energy and the fragility of the environment in which it finds itself. Israelis must realize the environment ignores borders, that what happens to the water in Syria, the air in Egypt, or the Dead Sea in Jordan or the winds that blow pollution or nuclear fallout into its air are not limited by borders.
I cannot understand why friends of, and in, Israel should be pleased with an American administration that has selected as Secretary of Defense a man who recently asserted that, “I paid a military-security price every day as the commander of CentCom [central command] because the Americans were seen as biased in support of Israel,” and who suggested the Jewish state was headed toward “apartheid.”
Nor do I see why a national security adviser who believes that Hillary Clinton is involved in a child pornography and slavery ring operating out of a Washington pizza restaurant and who has tweeted anti-Semitic sentiments should nevertheless be considered as an asset for the Jewish state because he apparently has warm feelings for Israel (and Egypt’s current regime).
I cannot understand why Trump’s pledge to move the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem is more important than his attacks on the American aerospace industry whose advances and development of aircraft have been essential to Israel’s maintaining its own defenses and aerospace industry.
Friends of Israel and many of its citizens are absolutely convinced that the Trump administration will honor its promises to the Jewish state. Yet when I look at how his promises that the new Trump-headed government would not be filled with cronies, representatives of special interests, and the lobbyists who fill the “swamp” of Washington have been broken, I cannot really understand why anyone would trust this man to keep any of his other promises, even to Israel.
The Trump team has noted that “the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel is based upon shared values of democracy, freedom of speech, respect for minorities, cherishing life, and the opportunity for all citizens to pursue their dreams.”
But whether it is the President-elect’s continuing attack on Americans who have peacefully protested his policies and appointments, his awakening of the forces of hate and prejudice (including anti-Semitism), and his intentions to defund many of the programs in America that respect minorities and cherish freedom, how can the claim be made of sharing these common values?
The future under Trump does not presage the highest values of democracy, freedom of speech, and opportunities for all, the values that were once the guiding principles of both America and Israel. Israel once hoped to be a “light unto the nations.” How can it still hold on to that aspiration if it embraces the frightening darkness that Donald J. Trump, Mike Pence and all their appointees threaten to unleash on America and the world?
Samuel Heilman holds the Harold Proshansky Chair in Jewish Studies at the Graduate Center and is Distinguished Professor of Sociology at Queens College of the City University of New York.