It is the mark of a well-managed mind that one can hold principles that are not dependent on the people who espouse them. So it is possible to believe, simultaneously, in the following:
- The move of the American embassy from Tel-Aviv to Jerusalem was both necessary and overdue.
- Some of the statements of Rep. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar and some of the organizations and individuals who support them are anti-Semitic.
- The President’s statement that Jews who vote Democratic are either ignorant or disloyal is both foolish and dangerous.
In the past few weeks, partisan anger has risen over the issue of Israel’s denial of admission to Reps. Omar and Tlaib, and subsequent invitation to Tlaib for only a humanitarian visit that she then refused. The Jewish community, which has seen both rhetorical attacks from the far left and a spate of violent attacks from the far right, is increasingly subject to angry divisions. Today, a day after Trump said that Jews who vote for Democrats show “either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” the President tweeted a quote from a conservative talk show host comparing him to “the king of Israel.”
Along with many commentators over this month (and indeed over the past few years), I have discovered that it is impossible for many to hear any sort of nuance in conversations about the issues. My Facebook page has changed from a discussion to a boxing match. But we have to be able to hold principle above personalities. When President Obama linked the establishment of the state of Israel to the Holocaust, I condemned the statement. When President Trump said that good people marched with Nazis, I condemned the statement. That is what adults do. We do not assume our sports team never fumbles, our children never err or our favored politicians never do wrong. Is there no adulthood left in America?
The accusation of disloyalty has a long history in the Jewish experience. Those who have hated Jews, from the biblical stories of Egypt onwards, have catalyzed their nefarious plans by declaring the disloyalty of Jews to whatever country they inhabit. In Germany, despite having fought for the country in World War I, Jews were suddenly treated like a cabal of traitorous outsiders. That trope is one of the most reliable ways to mobilize anti-Jewish sentiment. In this paranoid, delusional world, Jews are not native — they are interlopers and disloyal ones at that.
Defenders of the President will note, correctly, that he has Jews in his own family and among his many associates. They will note, again correctly, his popularity in Israel and his close relationship with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. What they will not dwell on is the fact that there is also a disturbing double messaging from this administration that has been the delight of alt-right sites and pundits — and that the danger of accusing Jews of disloyalty (since over 70% of Jews vote Democratic, wisely or not) cannot be remedied by other aspects of his Presidency that Jews find congenial or praiseworthy.
A problem that arises with always supporting “your guy” is the same that arises with always defending your kid. The motivation to change never comes from the opposition, it always comes from those who support you. So if Omar and Tlaib’s voters would stand up and say, “You cannot speak that way about Israel or Jews,” it would matter. If pro-Trump voters would say, “This is unacceptable,” it would matter. Shouting over the fence does nothing but make each side wish to build it higher.
The President should have the maturity and graciousness to admit he ought never have suggested that Jews are disloyal to their country or their tradition. That is not a judgment for a President and it carries some terrifying implications. Progressives in the Democratic Party should raise alarm bells at the increasing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic rhetoric that threatens to undo generations of bipartisan building.
The rest of us should ask a simple question: if someone I disliked said the same thing that was just said by someone I like, what would be my reaction? Believe in more than “your team.” Believe in your principles.