The Jerusalem Post

The Trump challenge

Jews stand to lose by requiring validation from the president


It happened on a Wednesday a short time ago. The president of the United States publicized a view that represente­d a striking departure from long-standing American policy and internatio­nal norms. The response was predictabl­e: Trump was deplored for his dangerous demagoguer­y by most. Some were enthusiast­ic though, embracing the prospect that America was finally declaring a suppressed truth. What about the reaction in the Jewish community? Well, notable Jewish organizati­ons condemned Trump, but the Israeli government and most Diaspora Jewish organizati­ons were silent.

What’s that? You were following me until the last sentence? That’s because you assumed I was talking about Trump’s December 6 pronouncem­ent that the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move its embassy there. In fact, I was referring to the prior Wednesday, November 29, when Trump retweeted three Islamophob­ic videos posted by the previously obscure British hate group “Britain First.”

When asked about the videos (one of whose protagonis­ts was in fact not Muslim) and the president’s promotion of Britain First (whose leader has been convicted for anti-Muslim violence), White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said it didn’t matter whether the videos were real because “the threats are real – no matter how you look at it.”

The president’s “goal,” she said, “is to promote strong border security and strong national security.” Never mind that native white non-Muslim gunmen have been the greatest threat to Americans’ security in recent years. And never mind that the president’s action had undoubtedl­y increased the sense of insecurity felt by Muslims and immigrants in America and throughout the Western world.

As noted, some Jewish organizati­ons responded appropriat­ely to what was just the latest effort by Trump attempt to sow division and hatred within the American and world publics. Jonathan Greenblatt of the ADL tweeted that Trump’s re-tweeting was a “four alarm fire” that “will embolden bigots in the US and abroad.” He also declared that “we stand with the Muslim community.”

This sentiment was then rebroadcas­t by various branches of the Jewish Community Relations Council, and some other organizati­ons. Others – including the Orthodox Union and the Agudath Israel of America, who so warmly embraced Trump’s Jerusalem speech the next week – were silent. What does an attack on Muslims have to do with us?

Beyond the Jewish community, reactions were predictabl­e given the “new normal” of the Trump era, if shocking and terrifying in historical context. “Making American Great Again” apparently involves taking actions that elicit condemnati­on from the prime minister of Britain (who needs all the friends she can get these days) and applause from former KKK leader David Duke.

What are the lessons of Wednesday, November 29, for Wednesday, December 6, and its aftermath?

In short, given Trump’s track record of lying demagoguer­y and the threat he represents to truth and decency, it is both a moral and strategic error to confer upon him the status of someone who has the ability to declare the truth.

It should be obvious what is morally problemati­c here. The only reason anyone cares what Trump has to say (especially about topics about which we all know he is ignorant, such as Jerusalem) is because he is the president of the United States. But if that is the case, we need to care about every declaratio­n he makes in that role.

In particular, there is no moral justificat­ion for only paying attention when he discusses Israel or Jews and ignoring his treatment of others. Moreover, it is insufficie­nt to denounce Trump’s attacks on other groups while embracing positive treatment of Jews and Israel when they occur. If you tut-tut when a bully beats up other kids but then praise him when he pats you on your head as his sidekick, have you challenged the bully or enabled him?

And not only is it wrong to embrace a bully when he protects you while attacking others, it is a strategic mistake.

Do Jews anywhere need anyone else’s recognitio­n of the fact that Jerusalem is the center of the Jewish world, as it has been for 3,000 years? Certainly not. But by embracing Trump’s declaratio­n, we signal that we are in fact desperate for such validation. Indeed, consider how desperate we must seem if we are thrilled when the world’s most infamous liar offers us validation! And since no one else but Trump is willing to extend such approval before there is a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinia­ns, this means that Trump has turned our apparent desperatio­n into dependence upon him.

We can only stand to lose from such dependence. As with Trump’s supporters-cum-victims more generally, Israel has gotten nothing from embracing him but a ride on the slippery slope towards self-abasement and complicity.

After all, the last two weeks hardly augur well for Israel-Palestinia­n relations (it doesn’t help that Palestinia­n Authority President Mahmoud Abbas took Trump’s bait, just as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did, declaring Jerusalem to be solely Muslim and Christian), or for relations with others (except for authoritar­ian regimes such as the Philippine­s). And it is becoming clear that the embassy will not be moving to Jerusalem anytime soon. Not that it matters because Trump is busy hollowing out the State Department, so nothing of consequenc­e will actually happen in the Jerusalem embassy.

The upshot is that there is little essential difference between the two Wednesday declaratio­ns. Each was a purely symbolic action aimed at sowing division and hatred. The only difference is that the second one contained a fundamenta­l truth for Jews. But that very truth was a trap, into which Israel and right-wing Jewish organizati­ons seem to have fallen. We must be smarter and better.

The author is the Alvin J. Siteman Professor of Entreprene­urship and Strategy at the MIT Sloan School of Management, where he is deputy dean. He is also president of the Young Israel of Brookline in Brookline, Massachuse­tts. His opinions are personal views and do not represent either institutio­n. He tweets at @ewzucker.

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 ?? (Reuters) ?? A POSTER in Jerusalem supporting Donald Trump.
(Reuters) A POSTER in Jerusalem supporting Donald Trump.

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