Donald Trump claimed last week that the new Republican Party platform is “the most pro-Israel of all time.” That, of course, is a matter for debate. Some people, including most American Jews, might argue that the proposed platform is, in fact, profoundly anti-Israel. It reneges on previous GOP support for a two-state solution, first enunciated by President George Bush in 2002. Many people view it as the only way to salvage Israeli democracy and to ensure the country’s long-term wellbeing.
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Trump, of course, doesn’t seem too bothered by the fact that three-four months ago he told The New York Times that he supported the two-state solution and that his greatest ambition is to achieve one: Trump discards past positions like most people change underwear. He has entrusted his Israel affairs to two long-time advisers and attorneys, David Friedman and Jason Greenblatt, who are both friendly to the Jewish settlement movement and skeptical, to say the least, of a two-state solution. In Israeli terms, they are somewhere between right and extreme right, between Benjamin Netanyahu and Naftali Bennett.
Most American Jews, however, support a two-state solution, as polls have consistently shown. Contrary to Israelis, who back a two-state solution in theory but don’t believe in it in practice, 61 percent of American Jews believe that an independent Palestinian state can live peacefully with Israel side by side. So what gives? Why is Trump abandoning such a mainstream position at a time when Jews are finding it hard to support him anyway?
There are several possible explanations. The first is that Trump is simply clueless, that he is getting the wrong information from people who know nothing about American Jews: They don’t like the two-state solution, his advisers may have told him, quite erroneously. The second possibility is that Trump’s “most pro-Israel ever” platform is not aimed at Jews at all, but at wavering Evangelicals, who are indeed convinced that the two-state solution endangers the Jewish state. The third possibility is that Trump has given up on the bulk of American Jews and is trying to secure the vote of Orthodox Jews, most of whom also oppose a two-state solution.
Of course, the very fact that Trump would feel the need to try to win over Orthodox Jews is telling: given their conservative views on social issues, their deep antipathy to Barack Obama and the problems they might have with voting for a woman as Commander in Chief, you would think the Orthodox vote would be in Trump’s pocket, wouldn’t you?
Not if you were following the on again off again speech that was supposed to be given at the Republican convention by Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, the venerated 83-year-old former principal of the Ramaz school in Manhattan founded by his father. Lookstein, who converted Ivanka Trump to Judaism before her marriage to Jared Kushner, was already starring in the headlines because of the [scandalous] Israeli Rabbinical Court’s decision not to recognize his Orthodox conversions. Now he was facing uproar from fellow rabbis as well as hundreds of his former students at Ramaz, who urged him not to dignify the “racist, misogynistic rhetoric” of the GOP contender, as their petition at change.org asserted. Within 48 hours, Lookstein recanted, saying he did not want to get mixed up in politics.
Now Ramaz may not be as right wing as Friedman or Greenblatt, but it is no bastion of leftist liberals either, to say the least. The petition against Lookstein’s speech, which quickly garnered over 800 signatories, was all the more remarkable because it failed to elicit any significant pushback. Trump will undoubtedly pick up a substantial number of votes among Modern Orthodox Jews, who probably concur with his assessment that the GOP platform is the most pro-Israel ever. But very few of them were willing to stand up in public to urge Lookstein to keep his prior engagement.
The reason for that is simple: whatever your opinion of the GOP platform or of Trump’s new-found enthusiasm for Jewish settlements in the West Bank, by almost any other measure both the candidate and the platform seem almost tailored to repel as many American Jews as possible. Far too many American Jews and their organizations turned a blind eye to Trump’s racist outbursts against Mexicans, Muslims and other minorities, but none could ignore his refusal to back away from the infamous Star of David image with Hillary Clinton and dollars in the background. Even Jews who believe that Trump was innocent of any malice in tweeting the image could not forgive his refusal to address their concerns about it. When that happened, his continued refusal to distance himself from the multitude of anti-Semitic scum that are surfacing in the wake of his success, like mushrooms after the rain, became all the more significant. Suddenly, everything added up.
But even if there was no Trump, the Republican Party platform in and of itself could drive most American Jews away from the GOP. From supporting the wall that Trump wants to build on the border with Mexico, through its harsh anti-LGBT and anti-abortion provisions, all the way to the demand to teach the Bible in public schools – including the New Testament presumably – the platform might as well read “Jews Out,” unless you are an ultra-conservative Haredi Jew or one who believes that opposition to a two-state solution is the only thing that matters. In New York on Saturday, Trump personally expressed support for removing the stipulation that churches can only be tax exempt if they steer clear of politics. Jews will be overjoyed, of course, at the prospect that preachers will now be able to espouse the principles of the GOP platform and to support candidates like David Duke, if they are so inclined, from the comfort of their pulpits.
Small wonder, then, that there will reportedly be very few Jewish attendees at the Republican Convention in Cleveland and even fewer Jewish speakers. On the other hand, there will be more than enough white supremacist, neo-Nazi, Jew haters in attendance, though presumably not on the stage. Most Jews will follow the proceedings closely, some hoping to discover that things aren’t as bad as they feared, others fearing that things are much worse than they imagined. And the two-state solution will be the last thing on their minds.