Last week President Donald Trump bemoaned the state of the Democratic Party, saying, “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” Given that roughly 80 percent of the Jewish population votes Democrat, the remark quickly spurred reaction from many Jewish pundits, politicians and organizations. Much of the comments centered on the issue of “loyalty.” Was Trump suggesting that Jewish Democrats are disloyal to the U.S. or to Israel? And was he hinting around the anti-Semitic trope of dual loyalty?
Before the president clarified his meaning a couple days later (answer: Israel), the media launched into a frenzied Talmudic discourse about the president’s wording and phraseology — as if Trump’s stray, impetuous remarks or tweets are reflective of deeply held beliefs and carefully developed policy positions. We know that’s not the case.
Yet the hyper-focus on the president’s words, and the resulting cascade of comments on their intent, impact or merit obscures fundamental issues for our community: What does it mean for Jewish Americans when the president uses our community as a political talking point, and what are the implications of him passing public judgment on the majority of us?
Many of us shrug it off as another campaign strategy, and don’t pay it much heed. But many others take the comments seriously, since they know that Trump, as agitator in chief, is remarkably effective in driving wedges between members of different communities in an effort to attract more votes. And a fight over Jewish votes is exactly what he wants.
According to a recent Associated Press report, “Trump and his allies are trying to lure Jewish voters who they think could be turned off by liberal Democrats’ growing willingness to criticize the Israeli government. In a razor-close election, picking up a few thousand votes in key counties in states such as Florida and Pennsylvania could make a difference.”
Group identity politics have become more pronounced in recent history, as those identifying with particular races, religions and ethnicities are pitted against one another for the purpose of political gain. Now, Jews have been thrown into the mix, with our president pitting us against each other as he declares who is, and who isn’t, a good Jew.
Also troubling was the embrace of Trump’s comments by some evangelicals, eager to weigh in on his value to the Jews. According to a tweet by conservative radio host Wayne Allyn Root: “President Trump is the greatest President for Jews and for Israel in the history of the world, not just America, he is the best President for Israel in the history of the world…and the Jewish people in Israel love him…. like he’s the King of Israel. They love him like he is the second coming of God… But American Jews don’t know him or like him….It makes no sense!”
Trump loved the comment and retweeted it. But supportive retweets by Jews were very limited, and we join those who are fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of our community, our values and our allegiances becoming a political commodity — not to mention the messianic imagery, which might be hilarious if it were not so disturbing.
Neither the president nor his surrogates speak for us. Our community is sophisticated, savvy, thoughtful and independent. We will think and speak for ourselves. pjc