November 19, 2018

Jews, Blinded by Trump

The midterms are coming, and I’m worried about the state of mind of American Jews. 

Not because most of them are going to vote for Democratic candidates, as a survey from last week revealed. That’s to be expected. 

Not because most will vote for Democrats even though Israelis would prefer Republicans to retain control of Congress. There is nothing new in this divide of preferences. 

It’s also not a surprise — and doesn’t much worry me — that most disapprove of President Donald Trump. 

And it’s not a surprise that although pro-Israel, many are critical of some (35 percent) or many (24 percent) of its policies. Join the club: Israelis, too, are critical of some of many of Israel’s policies, while still voting for the same government for quite some time (as to why, read David Suissa’s column “Why Are Israeli Voters So Stubborn?” (Oct. 5). 

No, I’m worried about one question in the survey that was published by the Mellman Group. It is a tricky question to analyze, as it refers to two separate issues: Trump is No. 1, Jerusalem is No. 2. 

“Large Majorities Disapprove of Trump’s Handling of Nearly Every Issue,” declares the summary of the findings. Indeed, the only issue that a majority of American Jews are satisfied with is the handling of U.S.-Israel relations. That’s important because it indicates at least some American Jews retain a grain of common sense even in these highly charged days of partisan politics. How many is “some”? A little more than a half approve of Trump’s handling of the relations: 51 percent. What does the other (almost) half want him to do? What must Trump do to satisfy the discontented half? 

“There is no shame in being honest about your preferences. Israel wants a supportive U.S. president; Trump, thus far, has provided it with one.”

Whatever the answer, the other question I have clearly shows that common sense is out of fashion. It’s the question about Trump’s handling of relocating the American Embassy to Jerusalem. A clear majority of American Jews disapprove of this decision. Does the majority disapprove because it generally disapproves of everything Trump does (except by a scant majority, his handling of U.S.-Israel relations)? Does it disapprove of it because of how Trump made this move specifically? Had he made it in some other fashion, would the majority have approved? Does the majority disapprove of it because it has no desire to see an American Embassy in Jerusalem — or maybe only if and when the Palestinians would agree to such a move (which might be never)?

There are two basic possibilities: Either American Jews don’t understand the significance of the American Embassy’s move to Jerusalem or they are so disenchanted by Trump that even the embassy’s relocation wouldn’t make them squeeze out a compliment about him. Either way, I’m worried. It’s not good for the Jewish people if Jews no longer wish for the main empire of the era to have its embassy in the capital of the Jewish people. It’s also not good for the Jewish people if Jews can no longer see beyond partisan politics. 

In all seriousness, such a response to a simple question about a no-brainer issue is certain to puzzle a vast majority of Jewish Israelis. Among them, more than two-thirds supported the embassy’s move. All its political parties supported it, except for the Arab Party and the small party of the (small) left, Meretz. Their appreciation is shown by the polls proving that Israel is one of few countries to have a positive view of Trump.

Ha, you’d say: Israelis have a positive view of Trump. Shame on them. But no. There is no shame in being honest about your preferences. Israel wants a supportive U.S. president; Trump, thus far, has provided it with one. There is no shame in showing gratitude to a benefactor. 

There is a little shame in blind partisanship, and a little shame in blind disregard for positive action, and a little shame in opposing what Jews have dreamed of for so long. There is shame —  and thus, there’s worry.