As America fragments before their eyes, American Jews, who've learned to be cautious and wary in periods of severe political disruption, are deeply uncomfortable.
The chaos is not confined to the right or the left. Both political parties are in turmoil. The Democrats are leaderless, the Republicans in the midst of their own civil war. President Trump seems to delight in this battle. Often he identifies with the insurgents. But his populism is mostly a sham, and he gleefully shifts allegiances when it suits him.
What does this mean for the Jews? Nothing good. Consider the following:
White nationalism and Christian supremacy in the Republican party
Some Jews took comfort from Steve Bannon’s departure from the White House, but Bannon is arguably more dangerous out of government than in. As a presidential advisor, Bannon was subject to some constraints on his white identity politics. But now he is free to rev up the engines of racism that are fueled by neo-Confederate and neo-Nazi sources.
Bannon occasionally protests that he and Breitbart have always opposed the KKK-style racist attacks that were on display in Charlottesville. But there is ample evidence that Breitbart and Bannon have long drawn upon the most toxic, hate-filled voices in America to promote the alt-right. And they then used the alt-right’s racist message to shape what would become an essential element of the Trump campaign. At his old post once again, Bannon has returned to unleashing Breitabrt - which he calls his "killing machine" - with regularity.
The President, of course, can distance himself from any of this, even if Bannon is whispering in his ear. Exactly how all this works is apparent from Roy Moore’s campaign for the Senate in Alabama. Trump tepidly endorsed Moore’s opponent. Then, in the campaign’s waning days, Bannon arrived in Alabama to offer vigorous support while Trump backtracked. The result: A victory by Moore, who is best described as a Christian supremacist.
Are there any Jews who think that having a Christian supremacist in the Senate is good for America or the American Jewish community?
Anti-Israel voices in the Democratic party
Linda Sarsour is a talented activist, community organizer, and advocate for women, immigrants, and black Americans. I have no reason to believe that she hates Jews but that she hates Israel is beyond question. She supports BDS and a one-state solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. In other words, Sarsour says no to a Jewish state and to Jewish nationalism in any form.
The question for American Jews is whether the younger, grassroots elements of the Democratic party will be drawn to her views on matters relating to Israel, perhaps with a gentle push from the otherwise estimable Bernie Sanders. As of now, Democratic support for Israel is strong, but Sarsour and her troops require careful watching.
The collapse of Republican foreign policy and the danger of a Trump "peace plan" for Israeli-Palestinian peace
To date, the Trump administration has failed at everything, but nowhere are its failures more apparent and monumental than in the area of foreign policy. Republican foreign policy has been far from coherent in recent years. But Trump has reneged on the most basic Republican ideas of American leadership in the world: maintaining and strengthening our major military alliances, defending our friends, advocating for human rights, policing the rules of the international order, promoting free trade.
Trump has not managed to do a single one of these things. Every alliance of which America is a part views us with suspicion. And nearly every country with which we have had friendly ties now views us with skepticism at best and contempt at worst.
And if all of this were not bad enough, the Trump administration is about to unveil its "peace plan" for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I was among those who, in the administration's early days, welcomed such a plan. Perhaps, I thought, this unconventional president might move things along. A two-state solution is desperately needed, and maybe he could produce some progress. After all, how much damage could he do?
I now believe that he could do enormous damage.
The President has neither the interest nor the knowledge to be involved himself. He does not have a functioning State Department. His Middle East team is staffed by amateurs - well-meaning amateurs, but amateurs nonetheless. And the Trump team seems mesmerized by Saudi Arabia, which might be helpful but which cannot bring peace.
A bad plan that quickly fails will increase despair on all sides, discourage American allies in the Middle East and elsewhere, embolden the Russians, complicate the situation in Syria, and possibly promote violence with which America is ill-prepared to deal.
Far better to set aside visions of an "ultimate deal," and to settle for small steps that might lead to some modest progress on the ground. But the point is that American Jews, who have seen that the President’s foreign policy instincts simply cannot be trusted, view the prospect of a grand American plan with real alarm.
American Jews are not giving up. Our job is to fight for a decent America and a better world. We refuse to give up on humanity, and we refuse to despair. And we are also tasked with fighting for Jewish interests, Jewish values, and a two-state solution. We will carry on this fight, even when our president - out of ignorance, incompetence, or just plain ill-will - threatens the fundamental principles of America and the standing of Jews within it.
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