February 24, 2020

Jews Could Use a Cease-Fire

The Jewish community is approaching meltdown.

A perfect storm of events has culminated in one of the nastiest communal food fights in recent memory. Among other things, Democrats are incensed at President Trump’s reckless and offensive accusations, and at Prime Minister Netanyahu for following Trump’s partisan games; while Republicans are incensed, among other things, that Democratic leaders haven’t held anti-Israel Democrats like Reps Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar accountable.

The only happy ones are those benefiting from the madness. The media sees ratings and dollar signs when it sees a good battle. Fundraisers and television pundits are geniuses at monetizing outrage. Political activists, who would kill to win in 2020, are ecstatic when they see the other side mess up.

It’s as if we’ve all become political activists. Our marching orders have the rhythm of an Alcoholics Anonymous mantra: “I will say and do only the things that help my side. I will never say or do anything that helps the other side. And I pray that I will always know the difference.”

Anything that smacks of a mistake is an opportunity to pounce.

We’re so on edge that any word can set us off. Trump’s “disloyalty” comment set off hysterics about “classic anti-Semitic tropes.” The only calm reaction I read came from a leftist intellectual and frequent Israel critic, Shaul Magid:

“Not to diminish the insanity of Trump’s ‘disloyalty’ comment but isn’t he actually inverting the anti-Semitic canard? Dual allegiance (disloyalty) usually accused Jews of being disloyal to their country of residence in favor of the Jewish people or later Israel.

“Trump is saying Jewish Democrats are being disloyal to Israel in favor of their American values as embodied in the Democratic Party.”

That attempt at subtlety, whether you agree with it or not, has no place in tribal warfare.

Every news event is filtered through a partisan lens. If a Democrat says anything bad about Israel or the Jews, one side pounces. If a Republican politician blunders (including, most prominently, the man in the White House), the other side pounces. Anything that smacks of a mistake is an opportunity to pounce.

Rarely will you see one side take on its own. The offending side will usually keep mum or try to change the subject. Just as Democrats have been shamelessly dismissive of the anti-Semitic and anti-Israel antics of Tlaib and Omar, Republicans have been shamelessly dismissive of the irresponsible and divisive antics of the president.

 I guess that makes sense: If the goal is to win, why beat up your own team? Winning the White House in 2020 is a fight to the death. All’s fair in love and war.

Unless we figure out a way to calm down and call at least a temporary cease-fire, the merchants of outrage will fuel our fight until it permanently divides us.

The Jewish community, always so actively engaged with the world, has been sucked into this confrontational vortex. We bash and slash with the best of them.

Of course, the great maestro of this gigantic food fight is President Trump, a man for whom confrontation is like breast milk for a hungry baby.

Someone high up in the Jewish world told me yesterday that “it will only get worse,” partly because Trump loves nothing better than to double down and triple down on a good mud fight.

His latest accusation of “disloyalty,” inverted or not, has sent us over the edge. Neither side feels like throwing water on the fire. We’re too wound up. Now it’s drag-down, hand-to-hand combat, hide the children. Dignified debate? That feels as distant and ancient as our forty years wandering in the desert.

We’ve convinced ourselves that the stakes are life and death. If Trump wins again, some people tell me, they will leave the country. If Trump loses, others tell me, they also will leave the country.

Don’t worry, I’m not claiming any perfect equivalency here—moral or otherwise. I’m just pointing out the simple fact that there’s more than one side in this ugly battle. I’ll let you do the moral math as you see fit.

Here’s my moral math: Unless we figure out a way to calm down and call at least a temporary cease-fire, the merchants of outrage will fuel our fight until it permanently divides us.

Maybe we can all channel Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who called House Speaker Nancy Pelosi yesterday to let her know that Israel-US ties “are not dependent on the relationship with one particular party.”

 That’s right—our ties, our lives, our well-being, should not be dependent on a political party. The fact that politicians and professional activists routinely bash one another as part of their job description does not mean we have to.

The White House is important, yes, but so is keeping the Jewish House from crumbling.