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President Trump’s bigotry has gone too far

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

(RNS) — You know the term “jumping the shark,” don’t you?

It comes from an episode of “Happy Days,” in which Fonzie water skies over a caged shark.

Ever since that memorable episode in American television history, “jumping the shark” has indicated the moment when something has simply gone too far — run out of steam, become too ludicrous, or has simply, well, jumped the shark.

That is what has happened with President Trump’s bigotry.

The other day, he proclaimed that freshman congresswomen Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley, and Alexandra Ocasio-Cortes should go back to the countries from which they came.

Then, he followed up with the statement that Rep. Omar “hates Israel” and “hates Jews, hates Jews. It’s very simple.”

Lindsey Graham supported the President’s statements.

He stated on “Fox and Friends”:

“Well, we all know that (New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and this crowd are a bunch of communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country…They accuse people who support Israel of doing it for the Benjamins. They’re anti-Semitic. They’re anti-America.”

Then, the Republican Jewish Coalition announced that it agrees with Graham.

I should not need to write this, but here goes.

  • As for the suggestion that the congresswomen go back to their “own countries:”  For three of them — Pressley, Tlaib and AOC — those countries happen to be the United States of America — where they were born. To say that people should go back to an imagined somewhere is the very definition of nativism.
  • As for the suggestion that the congresswomen are Communists: I like 1950s nostalgia as much as the next person. But, I take my nostalgia in the form of doo wop, Buddy Holly, and Midge Maisel — not in the form of longing for Joseph McCarthy.
  • As for the suggestion that the congresswomen hate the United States: If wanting our country to live up to its best ideals means that you hate the United States…

Let me be clear.

Communism is evil.

So, too, was McCarthyism.

We must hold both of those truths, simultaneously, in our minds.

But, of course, it does not stop there.

This is also (surprise!) about the Jews and Israel.

Let us try to unpack this.

Does Rep. Omar hate Israel? At the very least, she is very critical of Israel and Israel’s policies.

Does she also “hate Jews?” Is it really “very simple?”

We can debate whether being “anti-Israel” is the same as being antisemitic.

Quite often, it is — especially if you link support for Israel with a desire for the “Benjamins,” implying that those who support Israel are doing it for the money — which is not only a slur, but also wildly and dangerously inaccurate.

The whole question of anti-Israel/antisemitic is actually irrelevant.

What is grimly relevant is that Trump and Graham have conflated the congresswomen’s alleged anti-Americanism and “Communism” with an (imagined or perhaps even real) hatred for Israel and/or Jews.

First, it is a bizarre mixture of several issues.

Second, it is not entirely true. I would not put AOC in the same category as Omar and Tlaib. While I often disagree with her positions, I do not see her as being anti-Israel or antisemitic.

But, third: Trump and Graham knew exactly what they were doing.

They are trying to recruit the Jews and other Israel-supporters into their fight against these women.

To which I must say: No, thanks.

I will continue to criticize Omar and Tlaib’s positions on Israel.

However, I refuse to descend into the jingoistic, bigoted rhetoric that suggests that they are not “real” Americans, or Communists who must go back to their home countries.

That is simply bigotry.

But, now comes the Republican Jewish Coalition — which agrees with Graham’s defense of Trump’s statements.

Let’s do a little algebra here.

If a=b, and b=c, then it stands to reason that a=c.

  • If the Republican Jewish Coalition agrees with Graham’s defense of Trump’s words…
  • And, Graham agrees with Trump’s words…
  • Then, it stands to reason that the Republican Jewish Coalition endorses Trump’s bigotry and lies.

I have many friends and relatives who are Republicans. I have respected their political choices, and have cherished that diversity of opinion and beliefs.

I have also respected my Republican friends and relatives who voted for Trump, knowing that there were many reasons why reasonable people might have made that choice, as much as I disagreed with that choice.

But, now, tragically and pathetically, we come to this moment in time — when to support Trump is to, at least passively, support his racism, bigotry, and white nationalism.

It is, bluntly, that simple.

To which I offer this classic response, also from the McCarthy period.

Joseph Nye Welch challenged McCarthy. Welch was the chief counsel for the Army during the Army-McCarthy hearings. He made it clear, both to the unscrupulous, Red-baiting senator, and to the nation, that he was fed up with McCarthy’s antics.

These were his words.

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

It is time for us, at long last, to speak those words to this president.

To my friends in the Republican Jewish Coalition:

You respected President Trump for many reasons: among them, for moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem; for his proclamation of the unity of Jerusalem, and for its status as Israel’s capitol; for his roll back of the Iran deal, which some believe has endangered Israel.

You have supported him because you have believed that his actions are in accord with the interests of the Jewish people.

But, this president’s words are blatantly and painfully at odds with every Jewish value that we know and teach, and would want our children to embody.

You are free, of course, to continue to support this president, and his words.

You are free, of course, to forget that American bigots once told us to go back to our own land (“Go back to Palestine!”)

You are free, of course, to put allegiance to party over allegiance to principle — even especially, the principles of Judaism and of Jewish history.

But, then, I am free to repeat the words of Robert Welch:

“Have you no sense of decency, sir, at long last?”

 

 

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.