Thursday, February 20, 2020 -
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‘Disloyalty’: a frightening decline in discourse

President Trump accuses Jewish voters for Democrats as ‘disloyal.’ 

According to President Trump, “ . . . any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat — it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.” He clarified: “If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”

Disloyal? The word should not be uttered in American political discourse. Banish the word.

The word resummons the “loyalty” oaths of the McCarthy area.

The word resummons the anti-Semitic attacks on Jews who are charged with “dual loyalty.”

The word assumes that Jews must be of one mind when they vote.

The word drives a partisan wedge into what should be, and largely still is, bipartisan support for the State of Israel.

Trump’s logic, such as it is, appears to be this: Two out 232 Democratic members of the House of Representatives, Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to be exact, are anti-Israel and a disgrace to the Democratic Party. This means that the entire Democratic Party is disloyal to Israel. Ergo, Jews who vote for Democrats are disloyal.

It is simply unnecessary to refute this “logic.”

Which doesn’t mean that there are no deep differences between some Democrats and some Republicans when it comes to Israel and other issues that govern the way American Jews choose to vote.

And which doesn’t mean that the Democratic Party leadership has unambiguously distanced itself from Tlaib and Omar, whose BDS position  amounts to a denial of Israel’s right to exist; although the party has been perfectly clear in rejecting BDS itself in a vote in Congress that was virtually unanimous. The party includes many staunchly pro-Israel legislators in Congress who have stood up for Israel and voted for very significant military aid to Israel for decades.

Example: Rep. Eliot Engel of New York, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee. Example: Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, who recently led a tour to Israel for 41 Democratic members of Congress. Example: Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, who grouped Trump’s disloyalty remarks with Omar and Tlaib. Nadler tweeted:

Even though the Democratic Party leadership seems to fear the vote-getting appeal of Tlaib and Omar with the progressive wing of the party, the overwhelming vote of Democrats against BDS demonstrates that the support for Israel in the party far outweighs its reservations about Israel. The “disloyalty” charge aims to reduce that Democratic support for Israel. By definition, this itself is not good for Israel. The disloyalty charge itself damages Israel and thus achieves the opposite of what it claims to want to accomplish.

One of only two Jewish Republicans in Congress, Lee Zeldin of New York, said of the disloyalty charge, “It’s a word I wouldn’t use, with a long history of being used by others who have a hatred towards Jews and Israel.” The Republican Jewish Coalition, in defending Trump’s remarks without qualification, is wrong in principle and wrong in doing its own damage to bipartisan support for Israel by making it difficult for the likes of Lee Zeldin.

All this being said, two other points cannot be ignored in the context of the wide and necessary condemnation of Trump’s remarks.

First, it cannot be gainsaid that despite the clear support for Israel from most of the Democratic legislators in Congress, there is a discernable, distinct drop-off in support in the Democratic Party. Who would ever have imagined tolerance in the Democratic Party for those would destroy Israel? Would white supremacist legislators earn the same courtesy extended to Tlaib and Omar? This development is deserving of analysis and critique. The least effective way to do this is with the accusation of collective “disloyalty.”

Second, the Jewish Democratic Council, though more measured in its language, is also wrong in principle in the way it drives its own bitter wedge into the current partisan debates, which then easily and naturally spills over into the partisan debates on Israel.

According to Halie Soifer, director of the Jewish Democratic Council, it and it alone stands for “Jewish values.” In contradistinction, the Republican Party under Trump, according to Soifer, has enacted policies that are “antithetical to those values.” Minus the extreme “disloyalty” locution, we have in the Jewish Democratic Council the same Manichean political polarity. All right is on one side, all wrong is on the other.

What are these purportedly “Jewish values” that only Democrats uphold? According to Soifer, a principal one is abortion on demand, any time, for any reason. That is a contemporary secular value, to be sure, but it is not a Jewish value. Jewish values are derived not from political parties, not from the zeitgeist, and not from the heartfelt feelings of a rabbi. Jewish values are derived from deep knowledge of the sacred and sophisticated texts of Judaism as delivered, pondered, elaborated and applied from the dawn of Jewish civilization.

The Jewish Democratic Council does not speak this language or articulate these values, whose genuinely Jewish, differentiated application to abortion reveals that abortion is, under rare circumstances, allowed, and under rarer circumstances still, mandated; but never cast in either the Catholic absolute of “life begins at conception” or the secular absolute of choice.

“Working across the aisle” is not the style these days, but non-presumptuous, non-polarizing language should always be in style by both Democratic and Republican Jewish partisans, though the greater onus falls on President Trump. Disloyal? The word is repugnant.

Of all groups, an unlikely one to suggest the way forward on the Israel debate in Congress is the Christians United for Israel (CUFI):

“The leaders of both parties should keep their fringe elements in check and stop attributing the views of these outliers to the opposition. Allowing a handful of anti-Israel Members of Congress to hijack Congressional action on Israel has gone on long enough.”

Copyright © 2019 by the Intermountain Jewish News

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