Can Is­rael and the di­as­pora agree on Trump?

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE -

THE TALK is of his­toric re­la­tion­ships rent asun­der, of great al­liances torn apart. You think I’m talking about Brexit, right? Think again. What I have in mind is a dif­fer­ent re­la­tion­ship, one that should be un­break­ably strong: the bond be­tween di­as­pora Jews and Is­rael. Start with a num­ber you may have missed in the cov­er­age of this month’s US midterm elec­tions. It is 79%: the pro­por­tion of US Jews that voted for Democrats, and against Don­ald Trump. Ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter, that makes Jews the most con­sis­tently pro-Demo­crat, anti-Trump of all Amer­ica’s re­li­gious groups. In­deed, it makes Jews the most solid vot­ing bloc by faith for any party. Even white, born-again evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tians — as staunchly Trumpian a group as you could name — could not match the Jewish level of com­mit­ment: only 75 per cent of them voted Repub­li­can.

For those who have long drawn pride in Jews’ his­toric at­tach­ment to progress, that 79% fig­ure is wel­come. (It’s also rather handy ev­i­dence to put before Pete Wills­man, the Labour ap­pa­ratchik who fa­mously told his fel­low mem­bers of the party’s na­tional ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee that they need not lis­ten to Jewish con­cerns about an­ti­semitism, since we were a bunch of “Trump fa­nat­ics.”)

But here’s the prob­lem. Pew also mea­sures global at­ti­tudes to the US and its pres­i­dent. Last month, it found that Trump is re­viled across the planet, with rock bot­tom num­bers ev­ery­where you look. Ev­ery­where, that is, ex­cept Is­rael. There, Trump’s pos­i­tive rat­ing jumped from 56% in 2017 to 69% now, a spike Pew at­tributes to Trump’s move of the US em­bassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Those num­bers tell a stark story, one that goes deeper than a dif­fer­ence of opin­ion over the US pres­i­dent. It sug­gests Is­raelis and di­as­pora Jews have de­vel­oped fun­da­men­tally dif­fer­ent ways of see­ing the world.

Proof came in bru­tal fash­ion at the end of last month, after 11 Jews were gunned down while at prayer at the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in Pitts­burgh. You might think such an event would trig­ger a rare out­break of Jewish unity, US Jews and Is­raelis com­ing to­gether to share a mo­ment of com­mon heart­break. But that’s not how it played out.

On the ground, many — not all — Jews wanted Don­ald Trump to stay well away from their stricken com­mu­nity. More than 70,000 peo­ple signed an open let­ter urg­ing Trump not to visit Pitts­burgh and, when he did come, he was greeted with a protest sev­eral hun­dred strong.

Some of that was driven by fury at how Trump had re­acted to the mas­sacre: his first, un­scripted re­marks re­peat­edly noted the Tree of Life’s past re­fusal to sta­tion armed guards in­side the shul, heav­ily im­ply­ing that it was their own fault. Sev­eral times he praised the lo­cal po­lice, but of­fered no words of sym­pa­thy for the com­mu­nity it­self — only crit­i­cism. Later, on the very day of the shoot­ing, he ad­dressed a cam­paign rally. That was con­tro­ver­sial in it­self, and Trump joked that maybe he should have can­celled. Not be­cause the most lethal an­tisemitic in­ci­dent in US his­tory had taken place that day, but be­cause, in talking to re­porters about it out­doors ear­lier, his hair had got blown about. For that rea­son, he mused to the crowd, per­haps he should have called off “this ar­range­ment be­cause I have a bad hair day.”

Other US Jews had a more ba­sic griev­ance. They held Trump in­di­rectly re­spon­si­ble for a crazed white su­prem­a­cist run­ning into a syn­a­gogue shout­ing “All Jews must die.” For what had been a sta­ple of the pres­i­dent’s cam­paign speeches, Is­raelis and di­as­pora Jews have de­vel­oped MRÞN[NW] ways of see­ing the world but his at­tacks on shad­owy, pow­er­ful “glob­al­ists” and on Ge­orge Soros, now less a man than a trope — both terms in­stantly un­der­stood by an­ti­semites as code­words for Jews? Wasn’t it ob­vi­ous that Trump had fo­mented the at­mos­phere in which the Pitts­burgh killer had struck?

Not to the govern­ment of Is­rael, it wasn’t. Naf­tali Ben­nett flew to Pitts­burgh as Is­rael’s rep­re­sen­ta­tive, and he was quick to say it was “un­fair, it’s wrong” to blame Trump. Trump was a friend of Is­rael and that was the im­por­tant thing.

This is be­com­ing a peren­nial ar­gu­ment, re­hearsed re­cently, for ex­am­ple, over Hun­gary’s Vik­tor Or­ban. The com­mu­nity on the ground, in Bu­dapest, felt threat­ened by Or­ban’s re-elec­tion cam­paign — again, tar­get­ing Soros — but Is­rael wouldn’t hear of it. When the Is­raeli am­bas­sador to Hun­gary took the com­mu­nity’s side, and con­demned Or­ban, Jerusalem moved swiftly to “clar­ify” his re­marks. Or­ban is warm to Bibi Ne­tanyahu, so that’s all that counts.

There is a val­ues gap here. It seems the Pitts­burgh killer tar­geted the Tree of Life syn­a­gogue in part be­cause it had given sup­port to refugees, which fu­elled his crazed be­lief that Jews are bent on di­lut­ing the white race. Nat­u­rally, the ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist Ben­nett did not men­tion any of that when he got to Pitts­burgh and nor did Ne­tanyahu, who has tweeted his en­thu­si­as­tic sup­port for Trump and his bor­der wall. Lit­tle won­der that Haaretz’s Chemi Shalev writes that, “Is­raelis are from Mars and Amer­i­can Jews are from Venus.”

Of course, both di­as­pora Jews and Is­raelis will al­ways speak of a “deep and spe­cial re­la­tion­ship”, just like Theresa May and Don­ald Tusk. But the re­al­ity is that, un­der the sur­face, we are drift­ing ever fur­ther apart.

Jonathan Freed­land is a colum­nist for the Guardian

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