I have encountered a strange surge of what I call the “excuse Trump’s actions at all costs with the pretext of Israel phenomenon” among certain social circles, which troubles me. These discussions generally occur among young, highly educated people (think Ivy leaguers or the like), many of whom attended Jewish day schools or led high school trips to Israel, and all of whom self-describe as fervently “pro-Israel.”
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The conversations are almost unanimously sparked by an offhand remark that either applauds Donald Trump for his alleged pro-Israel stance or criticizes Barack Obama for his lack of the same. What ensues is generally a consensus at the table that Trump “is good for Israel.”
At Shabbat dinner a week ago, for example, when discussing Trump’s remarks on possible military intervention in Venezuela, someone exclaimed “Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton would be a lot worse, plus Trump is good for Israel.” In a similar vein, a few months ago, a friend acknowledged that though she considered Trump to be “creepy, sexist and highly inappropriate with women,” she was willing to see past these “character flaws” because at the end of the day her priority was Israel. Since then, I have asked this friend many times whether she has changed her mind about Trump and his “character flaws,” but her response has been an uncompromising no.
Others I know have defended Trump on the grounds that he instituted the infamous Muslim ban, which some see as a demonstration of Trump’s allegiance to Israel and the Jewish community. But how discriminating against Muslims in the United States can translate into the defense of Israel (or the defense of Americans for that matter) is beyond me. Of all people, Jews should be especially wary of policies that discriminate based on something protected such as religion.
Still, my favorite subset of Trumpites are those who justify even the most obvious deviation from “pro-Israel” or “pro-Jewish” policy by stating that his son-in-law is an Orthodox Jew and his daughter converted to Judaism. Well, that’s a fun fact of which I'm certainly aware of, but how exactly has Jared Kushner’s observance of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur translated into practical advantages for Israel so far?
The answer is it hasn’t. A couple of month ago, I sent a proud Trump supporter and family member an article stating that Trump was the first president since 1989 to visit Warsaw without visiting the Warsaw Ghetto memorial. Her response was “he sent Ivanka Trump instead,” to which I replied: “if Obama had sent Malia I suspect we would be having a very different conversation.” She then proceeded to state unapologetically: “Malia isn’t an Orthodox Jew.” No. She isn’t, but her father did give Israel a record-setting military aid package, I said, a fact she seemed blissfully oblivious to.
Like my relative, many of my friends seem plainly unaware of the actions that belie the lip service Trump has paid to his alleged pro-Israel stance. In his short presidency, Trump has already stated that the Western Wall does not belong to Israel, that he is breaking his promise to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, and that his administration may be the first not to designate a special envoy to combat anti-Semitism in the State Department. And there are other questionable actions to speak of — Trump’s leaking of classified Israeli intelligence to Russian officials comes to mind.
Any one of these actions on its own could be dismissed as “diplomacy” or the “cost of engaging in politics,” but in the collective, Trump’s actions thus far do little to advance the ball for Jews and Israel. In the meantime, Trump’s failure to condemn outright anti-Semitism, racism and sexism does real harm to Americans.
I understand the Jewish people’s legitimate need to defend Israel, and I support it, but we cannot be blinded by the reality in front of us. A few weeks ago, Trump was only moved to condemn the hatred, anti-Semitism and racism by neo-Nazis after a fierce public outcry from both sides of the aisle. And even then, he didn’t have the strength of character to differentiate between those who actively promote (and in some cases cause) the death of innocent civilians and those who are victims of that violence.
So my friends, if you like Trump and his policies, that’s fine. But use facts to defend him, not the pretext of Israel. So far, Trump has proved to be a far cry from a pro-Israel president. And to argue otherwise is to deal Israel the short hand of the bargain.
Fabiana Cohen is an attorney based in Miami.