September 22, 2019

‘Worst fears, best hopes’ for a Trump presidency

The upset victory by Donald Trump in the 2016 elections stunned a Jewish activist and leadership class that is at times as divided as the electorate at large. JTA asked some of those leaders to describe their concerns and expectations in a series of brief essays, “Worst fears, best hopes.”

Rabbi Jill Jacobs T’ruah

Imagine the sense of dread that Abraham felt in hearing God’s prophecy, “Your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years.” (Genesis 15:13)

What’s scariest about this prediction is its uncertainty. When will his descendants suffer this fate? Where? What kind of oppression?

Listening to these words in the Torah reading last Shabbat, I pictured Abraham’s descendants waking each morning wondering whether this will be the terrible day.

Watching a man who ran a campaign based on hatred of minorities and authoritarian threats fumble his way into the Oval Office arouses fear that something terrible is going to happen — but we don’t know when, where or exactly what. Will our darkest fears about nuclear war come to pass? Will millions of people lose their health care? Will we see a reversal in the gains in equality for LGBT people? A ramping up of attacks on women’s health care? Massive restrictions on freedom of speech, religious freedom and freedom of the press? Irreversible climate change? Economic collapse? A break in the U.S. relationships with our allies? Even more hate speech, hate crimes, sexual assault and rape? Incompetence in the face of threatened or actual terror attacks?

My hope stems from the extraordinary resolve on the part of individuals and organizations across the country who are already committing to fight any attempts to violate human rights or erode civil liberties.

And I find hope in the history of the Jewish people, who have lived under hostile governments, suffered persecution and extermination — and have never given up hope. After all, God’s promise to Abraham ends with the assurance that even 400 years of slavery and oppression will end with liberation.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs is the executive director of T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights and the author of two books on Judaism and social justice.

Susie Gelman Israel Policy Forum

The election of Donald Trump and his subsequent actions have created serious concerns at Israel Policy Forum. Broadly speaking, we worry what a Trump administration portends for our country and the world.

More specifically, we fear what it may mean for the future of our already challenging mission of advancing a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Absent such an eventual agreement, the security of the State of Israel will be threatened, its future as a Jewish and democratic state will be jeopardized, and the long-term stability of the U.S.-Israel alliance, rooted in bipartisanship, could be irrevocably shaken.

Trump’s appointment of Stephen Bannon as his chief political strategist – someone who led an extremist publication that has promoted expressions of intolerance and hate toward a number of minority groups and has purveyed ugly and divisive rhetoric – is also cause for grave concern. The vile anti-Semitism unleashed during the campaign has intensified since the election.

In this grim environment, there are reasons to be hopeful that progress toward a two-state solution can be made. We look to Trump’s interview in The Wall Street Journal of Nov. 11, when he described a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as “the ultimate deal.” Later he said, “As a deal maker, I’d like to do … the deal that can’t be made.”

We are cognizant that every president for nearly five decades has realized that it is in America’s interest to make progress on the two-state solution, to solve this intractable problem and to realize additional American regional priorities. Moreover, the majority of American Jews, Israelis and Palestinians support it.

So we at IPF are not abandoning hope. We will do all that we can to provide resources to illuminate a path forward and to stand up for what is right. We pledge to support any helpful efforts by the Trump administration to move toward a two-state future and to oppose any harmful steps that do the opposite.

Susie Gelman is chair of the Israel Policy Forum.

Bruce Abramson and Jeff Ballabon Iron Dome Alliance

(JTA) — Last week, America repudiated a smooth-talking, disingenuous, progressive ideologue who has governed us poorly for the past eight years, replacing him with a blunt, practical purveyor of common sense.

We hope that President Trump will speak to the American people candidly about radical Islam. We expect him to remind Americans who have forgotten (or never known) prosperity about the importance of economic growth. We look forward to a restoration of the freedom of speech and the free exercise of personal conscience and faith that the Obama administration and its allies in academia and the media have attacked.

Our greatest hope for the reassertion of truth, however, is an area in which Donald Trump and his advisers have already shown greater moral clarity than perhaps any world leaders since Truman and Churchill. Trump repudiates the lies of moral equivalence (at best) between Jews building a just society and Arabs inciting genocide. Obama went out of his way to embrace the extremists of the Muslim world and signal his disdain for the Jewish state. As a direct result, during the Obama years real anti-Semitism — grotesque libels and actual violence — grew dramatically around the world.

We were appalled at the distinctions being made between terrorists targeting Jews and those targeting “innocent people.” During the Obama years, for the first time in our lives, we heard older Jews discuss in hushed, agonized tones how the world was beginning to resemble the 1930s and whether there was anywhere left for Jews to run now. Younger Jews became hesitant to wear yarmulkes on campuses and on the streets of major American cities. Worse still, many young Jews became the most vocal of anti-Israel propagandists, spreading the blood libels of our enemies to keep their progressive virtue intact.

Our hope is that under Donald Trump and the Republicans, the anti-Israel, anti-Semitic lies of recent years will be replaced with the truth that Israel is an island of decency in a sea of violence and instability, a critical strategic ally, a beacon of liberal values, and the indigenous, eternal homeland of the Jewish people.

Our fear is the Democrats’ response. With the rise to presumptive Democratic National Committee chairmanship of Keith Ellison, a proud purveyor of the libel of occupation and oppression, the Democrats already seem to be doubling down on their antipathy toward Israel. That fear notwithstanding, we are excited about the future for the first time in many years. For that we thank President-elect Donald Trump.

Jeff Ballabon is CEO of B2 Strategic (www.b2strategic.com), chairman of the Iron Dome Alliance, and a senior fellow at the Center for Statesmanship and Diplomacy. Bruce Abramson (www.bdabramson.com), is vice president for policy at the Iron Dome Alliance and a senior fellow at the London Center for Policy Research.