November 15, 2018

A double standard for Trump on Israel

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in an arena in Youngstown, Ohio, U.S. July 25, 2017. Photo by Jonathan Ernest/REUTERS.

The double standard that too many Jewish supporters of Donald Trump apply to this president was on sad display last week.

A young Palestinian man entered the home of a Jewish family in the village of Halamish on July 21 and stabbed Yosef, Chaya and Elad Salomon to death. No justification. No mercy. No humanity. 

Our hearts cried out for universal condemnation. Our president needed to set the example of moral leadership. As of this writing, he has said nothing. 

Well, not nothing. Immediately following news of the butchery, President Donald J. Trump did tweet. This is what he said: “It’s very sad that Republicans, even some that were carried over the line on my back, do very little to protect their President.”

Trump was so focused on the perceived treachery of Republicans who refuse to go along with some half-baked Obamacare repeal that he passed on the opportunity to call out terrorists, fanatics and their enablers.

My reaction to Trump’s bizarre tweet was, What if President Obama had done this?

What if Barack Obama had said nothing about the indescribably awful photos of the Salomon family murder scene? His Jewish detractors would have pilloried him — and rightly so.

The contrast points to something more and more apparent: a double standard applied by the pro-Israel community to Trump and his predecessor.

Three weeks ago, Trump recertified Iran’s compliance with the Iran nuclear deal. I believe this was the right thing to do, but then again, I supported the deal originally.  Trump didn’t. But when he reversed himself, did Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fly to Washington and speak to Congress to publicly condemn Trump? Did Trump’s Jewish supporters call him a traitor to Israel and an Iranian puppet? Nope. Double standard.

One week ago, the Trump administration cut a deal with Russian President Vladimir Putin on a Syrian ceasefire that leaves Hezbollah troops close to Israel’s northern border.  Israel vehemently opposed the idea. But Trump sided with Putin. “The Americans completely conceded to the Russians,” a senior Israeli military official told Al-Monitor. “The very names of Iran or Hezbollah do not appear in the agreement, and there is no expression of Israeli concerns at all. Our security needs are completely ignored.”

I’m not sure the ceasefire wasn’t the right move. But I do know what holy hell the pro-Israel right would have raised if Obama had signed that deal. In this case, they said nothing. Double standard.

During the presidential campaign, Trump promised he would move the United States embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem  “on Day One.” Jewish and Christian audiences leapt to their feet at Trump’s promise.

Two months ago, Trump declined to move the embassy. The protest from those who applauded him? Barely a word. Double standard.

Keep in mind these all are examples from the past couple of months. Want to go back further? Imagine what the Republican outcry would have been if Obama refused to mention Jews on Holocaust Remembrance Day? Or if Obama had said he “doesn’t know anything about” Louis Farrakhan, as candidate Trump said of KKK Grand Nincompoop David Duke.   

A healthy swath of the Jewish community, and the larger Republican crowd, reviled Obama. But time and again they grade Trump on a curve. Obama signed a $38 billion aid deal with Israel, helped fund its Iron Dome program, stood by Israel during the Gaza War and firmly declared anti-Zionism is a form of anti-Semitism — two years before French President Emmanuel Macron did. Did it matter? Nope. Double standard.

With one notable exception — the Zionist Organization of America’s Morton Klein — the president’s Jewish supporters give him a pass on issues, statements and actions they would have slammed Obama for.

Obama could do no right, Trump can do no wrong. Can you even imagine the derision if Obama’s State Department had blamed Israel for Palestinian terror, as Trump’s State Department did in a report released this week?

Here’s what I wonder: Why does Trump get a pass? Maybe United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley buys Trump all the indulgences he will ever need. Maybe Obama haters simply used Israel as a wedge issue to gain Jewish votes when their real concern was other Democratic policies. Or maybe these supporters cut Trump slack because they believe he supports Israel deep down in his kishkas, or guts, and — so they like to say– Obama just didn’t.

If it’s the last reason, then I have one question that Jewish supporters of the president must consider: Does it matter if you have Israel in your kishkas if you are otherwise incompetent, unprepared, uniformed and relentlessly self-concerned?

In July 2014, the bodies of three Israeli teenagers were found murdered by Palestinian terrorists — a horror no less shocking and unjustifiable than the Salomon murders last week. Almost immediately, then-President Barack Obama sent his condolences to the families of the teenagers and condemned the “senseless act of terror against innocent youth.”

It’s not asking too much of a president to respond with humanity to inhuman acts. And it’s not expecting too much of his supporters to call him out when he falls short.


ROB ESHMAN is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. Email
him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter @foodaism
and @RobEshman.

Lessons from the house of mourning in Halamish

Elad Salomon with his wife, Michal, and three of their children. Elad, his father and his sister were stabbed to death on July 21 in a terrorist attack at Halamish.

Three days after an Israeli father and two of his children were stabbed to death on Shabbat by a Palestinian in a West Bank settlement, I found myself with 16 other progressive rabbis sitting shivah for the deceased, the Salomons, in a Charedi neighborhood.

It was perhaps the hardest moment of a recent visit to Israel — sitting with the other Americans, our shoulders, heads and legs covered as we paid our respects to this grieving family. We stood out among the others and were stared at by many, and yet, we found many surprising similarities between us and were received by the family with such grace and warmth and real gratitude that it moves me deeply just to recall it.

I have been coming to Israel for more than 20 years, and these visits have never been picture perfect. I lived here as a rabbinical student in the 1990s, during the huge marches for peace, which then brought about the tragic assassination of Yitzhak Rabin after he signed the Oslo peace accords. Shortly after I arrived with a group from my congregation in 2006, the second Lebanon war broke out. And a few years ago, when I brought another group, our ice-breaker the first morning ended with the sound of sirens and instructions to head to shelters because missiles had been launched and Iron Dome activated.

I’m used to arriving in Israel and having things change dramatically within hours or days, but I was hoping this time would be different. It wasn’t.

As Tisha b’Av approaches — it begins the evening of July 31 — I am keenly aware of the dual realities that animate Israeli life. The destruction of the Temples in flames, the massacre of other Jews in so many other times and places, all of the hatred that has been and still is directed at us as a people is real and palpable here as Israel continues to fight for legitimacy and the safety of her people. It pervades every political conversation, every heated argument, every major decision. The pain of the past and the fear our people have internalized, coupled with the fact that this is the Middle East, makes this place a tinderbox ready to ignite at any moment.

It took no time for me to be reminded of all this when I came last week for the American Israel Education Foundation Rabbinic Seminar to travel across the country with colleagues and learn from experts about the complex issues at play here. We arrived hearing that the government had rescinded the agreement that took years to craft, granting egalitarian services at the Western Wall. Local people and delegations from the United States turned out and protested the government’s reversal of policy.

But that was just the beginning. The big news as we arrived was the government response to a challenge from the Israel Religious Action Center, opposing government discrimination against gay and lesbian couples wanting to adopt children. The government alleged that being raised by a same-sex couple would prove harmful to a child because it would “load extra baggage on the child.” As a social liberal and as a lesbian mother, this was particularly painful and disappointing for me, as it was for all of our delegation.

We stood out among the others and were stared at by many, and yet, we were received by the family with such grace and warmth and real gratitude.

Immediately, 90,000 people signed a petition against the decision, including professional organizations of psychologists, mental health professionals, social workers and others. They argued that all research proves that children are better off in a loving home with loving parents of any kind. What amazed me was that, in Tel Aviv, 15,000 people turned out to protest the government’s position. I was deeply moved by how far ahead of the government so much of the Israeli public is on issues like this.

But as soon as there is a march to further the cause of social justice, there is another mass gathering resulting from another kind of deep tension here. Israeli Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians we’ve met with all agree on one thing: Narratives and symbols have great power here in Jerusalem and go beyond reason to powerful emotion very quickly. Actions taken even for good reasons become flash points because they trigger a deeper struggle — the struggle between two peoples and the narratives that express their existential understandings of themselves and their place in the world. And this is what is at the heart of what’s been happening recently on the Temple Mount.

On July 14, two Israeli Arabs murdered two Israeli Druze police officers guarding the Temple Mount. As a result, the government decided to place metal detectors at the entrance to the area. The decision to physically put them in place just hours after the shooting prompted a heated reaction from Palestinians, who saw this as a breach of the status quo at their holy site. Protecting Israelis from those who would murder them makes sense, and the Israeli government has every right to take any action it deems necessary to protect its citizens. What is so sad and shortsighted is that the decision was implemented in a way that completely ignored how this action would be perceived and used by extreme elements within the Arab world.

And it was used: Extremists claimed that Jews were preventing Muslims from praying at Al-Aqsa and called on their faithful to protest in massive numbers. Clashes with police happened on a large scale hours after 15,000 Israelis marched for LGBT adoption rights in Tel Aviv.  

After incitement by Hamas and other radical groups, thousands of Palestinians clashed with police July 21 in the West Bank, and three Palestinians were killed. Later that night, a 19-year-old Palestinian climbed the fence of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank where three generations of the Salomons were celebrating Shabbat and the birth of a new baby. The suspect stabbed three people to death and wounded another, leaving a bloody scene in his wake.

In the same 24 hours, Israel moved from a place with an active debate that would be celebrated in any democracy about social policy to a place where one action that should have made sense tore apart society.

The scene of the Halamish attack. Photo courtesy of IDF

The deep divides between the secular and religious, Palestinians and Israelis, haves and have-nots, hawks and doves will not be bridged in our lifetimes — if ever. As a wise teacher told us on this trip, the oldest Hebrew texts talk about peace and justice in terms of seeking, not of achieving. We are not a people of arrival but of journey “toward.” If there is a people who can model for the world that humans can vigorously pursue ideals they know they never will see fully realized, it is the Jewish people. If there is any country that can make titanic struggles into creative new paradigms, it is Israel.

Our teacher also taught us that he does not view the glass as half full but believes it is important to celebrate that the opportunity exists to pour water into the glass. We break a glass at every Jewish wedding to symbolize what is still broken in our world.

Tisha b’Av reminds us of this so well. What I love about Israel and her people is that even with all that I’ve described, there is a spirit of innovation, creativity, lust for life and defiant hope that also is ingrained in our people. While biblical Israelite religion was destroyed when the Temple burned, Rabbinic Judaism was born at the same time. With every tragedy and act of brutality that happens here, something new and unanticipated is created.

May we have the continued strength to crush glass at our most joyful times so that we remain mindful of the shattered and broken world we live in, the world of conflicting and sometimes flammable confrontation with one another. May we also bless the fact that we are given a glass and the opportunity, as our wise teacher said, to pour water into it at all.

Amid all of the tension and all the misunderstanding and mistrust in Israel these days, our experience of sitting with the Salomons, people in such pain, as a sacred act is an example of the only solution — encountering one another as human beings. As someone very wise once said, “If our hearts must break, let them break open.”


Rabbi Amy Bernstein is senior rabbi at Kehillat Israel Reconstructionist Congregation of Pacific Palisades.