Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

No love lost between Jews and Trump? Here’s why.

President Trump speaks a National Day of Prayer event in the White House Rose Garden on May 2, 2019, in Washington. RNS photo by Adelle M. Banks

Several years ago, someone made the following snarky quip about Reform Judaism.

“It is the Democratic Party with holidays.”

It turns out that it is not just Reform Jews.

A new poll by the Jewish Electorate Institute confirms something that most of us had already suspected: Two-thirds of the Jewish electorate remains firmly aligned with the Democratic Party, and there has been no change in the percentage of Jewish voters identifying as Republicans since JEI’s October 2018 poll; it remains at 25 percent.

In other words, Republican efforts to proselytize among American Jews are not working.

This, despite the distorted perception that the Democratic Party has turned against Israel.

Puh-leeze: two anti-Israel legislators does not equal a national trend.

Here is how President Trump is doing among American Jews:

  • Only 23 percent voter support for President Trump.
  • 71 percent disapprove of President Trump’s overall job performance.
  • 70 percent view him unfavorably.
  • 67 percent would vote for a generic Democrat over President Trump.
  • 65 percent would vote for Democratic candidate Joe Biden over President Trump.

And, why?

  • Nearly three-quarters (73 percent) of Jewish voters believe Jewish Americans are less secure than they were two years ago.
  • 71 percent disapprove of the way President Trump has handled antisemitism.
  • Nearly 60 percent believe that he bears at least some responsibility for the shootings at synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway.

My quibble: I believe that it is somewhat of a stretch to blame President Trump for the shootings at American synagogues.

I actually do not believe that Trump is antisemitic (yes, his daughter and son-in-law and all that).

Trump is, at his core, a businessman and an entertainer.

Therefore, he must believe that you give the customers and the audience what they want.

Many of Trump’s “customers” and “audience” uncritically traffic in antisemitic and xenophobic tropes; therefore, he does not push back.

Why lose market share?

There are other reasons why Jews, in general, do not like Trump.

It’s about Jewish values that emerge from Jewish texts and/or Jewish history.

American Jews disapprove of:

  • Trump’s handling of “family separations at the Mexican border (78 percent)
  • Trump’s handling of DACA recipients (74 percent)
  • Trump’s position on guns (74 percent)
  • Building of the border wall (71 percent)
  • Banning immigration from certain Muslim-majority countries (66 percent)

As Jennifer Rubin wrote in the Washington Post:

As a religious minority, perpetual immigrants in history due to widespread persecution, who deeply value civil liberties and the rule of law, American Jews could barely imagine a worse president than Trump. He offends their core values and cultivates an atmosphere that endangers them.

I have many friends, relatives, congregants, and readers who support President Trump.

I respect our differences. We might disagree, but I refuse to vilify and dehumanize you.

But, wait a moment.

What about Trump’s support for Israel?

Again, Ms. Rubin:

Like most Americans, they don’t rank foreign policy at or near the top of their concerns.

In fact, for Jews, Israel ranks dead last [her emphasis, not mine — JKS] in their list of concerns.

How did it happen that American Jews would list Israel at the bottom of their list of political concerns?

It might be because of changes in American Judaism, and among American Jews.

Simply put: as American non-Orthodox Judaism weakens, so does emotional connection to Israel.

And, as the Pew Study has demonstrated, the less religiously observant you are, the less you will care about Israel.

Or, it could be that American Jews believe in Israel’s military and economic strength. Israel can take care of herself very well.

Or, it could be because the nature of Trump’s support for Israel strikes many Jews as kind of meh.

“He moved the Embassy to Jerusalem!” For many American Jews, and more Israelis than you might have thought, this is a meh. They see it as a symbolic move that makes little difference, except to ultra-Orthodox Jews and evangelicals.

(Let me tell you what I do like about Trump’s support for Israel. I publicly thanked him for affirming that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel.)

Likewise, the as-yet-unknown peace plan. If this administration can help pull that off, as we say in Hebrew: kol ha-kavod. Nice work. Maybe. Potentially. Stay tuned.

I think that Israel’s bottom place in American Jewish political concerns  (political — not emotional) is a far more positive development than you might have thought.

It is not about how American Jews feel about Israel.

It is about how American Jews feel about America.

I believe that Israel’s bottom rung placement actually bears witness to American Jews’ primary concern for this country.

It is not that the threat of dual loyalty charges concern us.

It is simply this: In the political equation, American Jewish concerns for America — its character, its democratic values, its moral complexion — “trumps” their concerns for Israel.

American Jews sense that we are living through one of this country’s greatest existential crises.

As citizens of this country, that is our primary political concern.

  • We have little political influence over Israel’s relationship with the Palestinians.
  • We have massive political influence over America’s relationship with women’s bodies, immigrants, guns, health care.

I do not worry about Israel. Israel can take care of itself.

I worry about America.

Since I write these words on Memorial Day, I refuse to say kaddish for the ideals and ideas that made this country great.

 

About the author

Jeffrey Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin is the spiritual leader of Temple Solel in Hollywood, Fla., and the author of numerous books on Jewish spirituality and ethics, published by Jewish Lights Publishing and Jewish Publication Society.