The Political Perils Of Supporting Israel
During his diatribe about the recent exploits of anti-Israel Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, President Donald Trump dropped this line: “And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
An uproar followed due to the president’s use of the word “disloyalty,” which usually insinuates the charge of dual allegiances, a smear that’s been deployed against Jews in various iterations since the beginning of the Diaspora. In case there was any confusion, the president reiterated today that, yes, “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”
If you’ve been following the adventures of progressive Democrats, you might be familiar with the dual loyalty smear. Then again, watching the same media that has been white-knighting Omar and Tlaib now feign horror at the word “disloyalty” has been quite a spectacle.
I assume most mainstream news consumers were confused about the motivation for Trump’s outburst, which was aimed at two members of Congress who had teamed up with an organization that literally praised suicide bombers and made accusations of blood libel. This aspect of Omar and Talib’s aborted Israel trip was not particularly newsworthy. Mostly because media hypocrisy is breathtaking. Incidentally, not a single Democrat now accusing Trump of peddling antisemitic tropes condemned them.
Needless to say, it’s irresponsible and counterproductive to use the word “disloyal” when talking about politics—your party isn’t your family, faith, or national identity—and especially bad when using it in connection with Israel. Trump’s comments, whether the president comprehends this or not, whether he think it helps him politically or not, make it far more difficult to push back against the growing normalization of antisemitism.
Then again, this obsession with seeing everything through the prism of TRUMP!!!, means it’s difficult to have a debate about the broader issue here. For example, intent matters. One group in this back-and-forth claims that Jewish “loyalty” to Israel is something nefarious, while the other argues that it’s something positive. That’s an important distinction.
Long before Trump came around, conservative Jews have maintained that Jewish Democrats would one day have to contend with the anti-Israel faction in their party. This is the point of the entire “Jexodus” movement (if you can call a fanciful wish a “movement”) that Trump was trying to mimic.
If Democrats are going to continue with Corbynization—embracing, defending, and rationalizing antisemites and Israel haters— why shouldn’t conservatives press the case that Jews, at least the ones who are still concerned about the Jewish state, are often voting against their own interests?
There’s probably no question I’ve been asked more as a right-wing Jewish pundit type than, “Why do Jews keep voting for Democrats?” The answer, I guess—as my tribesmen and I do not share telepathic abilities—is that Jews, like any other group, hold a range of opinions, but tend to vote as a group. Maybe it’s because Jewish Americans live in liberal urban and suburban areas and vote like their neighbors do. Maybe it’s because liberalism comports well with American Jewish cultural values. I don’t know.
Whatever it is, I highly doubt that any Jew who is asked about his ethnic brethren’s voting habits would be insulted, even though the presumption of the query is that Jews should still worry enough about Israel that it dictates political decisions. If I voted, it could certainly help dictate mine.
Why should Jews pretend that championing Israel is the same as championing Denmark or Thailand or Saudi Arabia? Israel, a safe haven from the violence that has plagued Jews for centuries, holds a special significance both within the faith of Judaism and within context of recent history. For me Israel deserves “loyalty,” insofar as anything that I believe is a vital moral issue deserves loyalty.
There are few good analogies to offer, as the ancient and unique nature of Judaism makes it both a faith and an ethnicity. However, if there were an international movement aimed at destroying the Vatican, and that movement was abetted by politicians in the United States, I would imagine American Catholics would take a special interest in opposing it. I also imagine they would make a distinction between those using offensive phrases and those supporting policies that would hand the Holy See to its enemies.
I’m also pretty sure that American Catholics feel some “loyalty” towards Catholics, in general. Just as I’m sure many Irish Americans feel some “loyalty” towards the Irish and many Hungarian Americans feel some “loyalty” towards the Hungarians, and so on.
This is why, for years now, progressives have been trying to disconnect Judaism from Israel, by characterizing the latter as apartheid state unworthy of backing. It’s working. Still, American Jews who support the politicians who make these claims certainly aren’t being “disloyal” to America—even if there is a good case to be made that they are being disloyal to their fellow Jews.
And no serious person argues that you shouldn’t criticize the government of Israel. Omar and Tlaib, and a growing faction within leftist movement, don’t believe the Jewish state has a right to exist. That’s not a criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu or Likud.
In any event, the “dual loyalty” smear isn’t really about duality. The charge alleges that a pro-Israel Jew values the interests of a foreign nation above his own homeland. Democrat Ted Lieu of California recently demonstrated how it’s done properly, when he told the American ambassador to Israel, “You are an American. Your allegiance should be to America, not to a foreign power.” Lieu (who later deleted the tweet) was saying that David Friedman’s primary allegiance was to Israel.
Fortunately, Israel, although it’s imperfect in the same ways that most other democratic nations are imperfect, has been morally and strategically aligned with American interests for a long time, so there’s no conflict in supporting it.
If you want to believe that the president’s mangled and incoherent defense of the Jewish state means he’s antisemitic like the Omar and Tlaib, go ahead. I mean, he’s busy absurdly tweeting out columnists who refer to him as the “King of Israel” and, quite confusingly, the “Second Coming” to the Jews. It would seem weird for him slip in anti-Jewish dog-whistles when looking for their support. But who knows?
It’s more likely that Trump believes that he, personally, deserves kudos for his policy towards Israel. That’s because, for him, politics is a transactional. And every transaction is paid with loyalty.
In the end, it comes down to the usual unsavory choices. Trump, no matter what kinds of things he says, has been the most pro-Israel president in memory. The Obama administration might have said all the right things in all the traditional ways, but it did things like stand with China and Vladimir Putin against Israel in the United Nations and send pallets of cash to a Holocaust-denying regime that not only funds anti-Israel terrorist proxies but targets Jews across the world.
The next Democratic administration will almost certainly take a similar positions. Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate rallied around congresswomen who don’t believe Jews should have a state of their own. For Israel supporters, these are the ugly realities of the contemporary political debate.