Columns Jeffrey Salkin: Martini Judaism Opinion

How some Jews are deluding themselves about Trump and the “squad”

From left, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., respond to remarks by President Donald Trump after his call for the four Democratic congresswomen to go back to their "broken" countries, during a news conference at the Capitol in Washington, July 15, 2019. All are American citizens and three of the four were born in the U.S. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

(RNS) — I am going to use a phrase that will raise some eyebrows.

“The political stupidity of the Jews.”

Don’t blame me. I did not invent it.

It comes from the title of an essay written by the late Irving Kristol (father of Bill Kristol) in 1999.

Irving Kristol was the godfather of the neo-conservative movement.

In that essay, Kristol accused left-leaning Jews of political naïveté.

This is one of the quotes from that essay:

It is a “progressive” illusion to think that, in the marketplace of ideas, truth will always win out over error. It is truth that needs help, while error usually manages to make its own way very nicely.

If Irving Kristol were still alive, I hope that he would look at another group of Jews, and that he would remark about their political stupidity, as well.

I am referring to the Jews — some of whom are my relatives, friends, and colleagues — who are bending over backwards in ways that the human skeleton never contemplated — defending the recent rhetoric of President Donald Trump.

They are defending his vituperation against “the squad” — the four congresswomen, women of color all of them — whom he has accused of being anti-American, anti-Israel, antisemitic — and whom he has suggested don’t have a place in this country.

This is the “political stupidity” of Jews on the right.

Those Jews are making a common error in political and moral calculus.

They are saying that the enemy of my enemy is my friend.

I will gladly enter any contest in contempt for the anti-Israel and antisemitic remarks of two of the “squad” — Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib.

However, my anger and frustration over their remarks hardly means that I agree with President Trump’s equally hateful — and yes, as un-American as he accuses them of being — remarks.

Jews should know that when a political leader riles up his/her base, and allows the mobs to scream “send her [Rep. Omar] back”, it never, ever ends well.

I am writing this blog from Berlin. Today, my son and I (guided by the remarkable Ronen Altman Kaydar of Da’at) visited the grounds of Humboldt University.

Before the Nazis and the Communists, it had been one of the greatest universities in the world. Einstein lectured there. Even the late Lubovitcher rebbe studied there.

It was there, on May 10, 1933, that as many as 20,000 books were gathered into piles, and burned.

Quick quiz.

Who brought the books out to be consigned to the fire?

Nazi officers?

Wrong.

The students themselves.

To tolerate xenophobia — against anyone, yes, even against our political opponents — is to give credence to the mob.

But, far worse than this — is the legacy of political stupidity.

My fellow Jews: do we not know that we are being played?

Trump, that master deal maker, knows a good deal when he sees one. At the very least, he knows about “twofers.”

  • By attacking the American credentials of these congresswomen, he gets the support of the hard right bigots.
  • By attacking the anti-Israel and antisemitic statements of these congresswomen, he gets the support (he thinks) of many Jews.

Wait, Jeff. Are you defending Omar and Tlaib?

See above.

Again, hardly.

Rather:

  • We must fight the hateful ideas of Omar and Tlaib.
  • And, in the same breath, we must fight the hateful ideas of Trump.

To allow Trump to seduce us, either into silence or agreement, is yet another version of political stupidity.

Understand the Trumpian seduction of the Jews.

Trump moved the US Embassy to Jerusalem. I was once skeptical about that. I thought it was pandering to the Orthodox, right wing Israelis, and Christian Zionists.

It might have been.

But, it was also overdue, and it was also necessary — especially for Israelis who were born in Jerusalem, and who are now no longer “stateless.”

Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It was likewise overdue.

My only question to those Jews who are impressed by those actions:

What about everything else?

As Irving Kristol wrote:

It is a “progressive” illusion to think that, in the marketplace of ideas, truth will always win out over error. It is truth that needs help, while error usually manages to make its own way very nicely.

Our history has taught us: nurture the truth.

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.