The Jewish World's Dilemma Over Donald Trump
Avi Benlolo, National Post Publishing date: Oct 01, 2020 • Last Updated 52 minutes ago • 4 minute read Donald Trump has done more for Israel in just 45 months than any previous American president: he has moved the American embassy to Jerusalem; stood up against the Ayatollahs in Iran; and most compellingly, has made peace between Israel, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Recently, having helped Serbia and Kosovo reach a peaceful agreement, he leveraged Serbia into recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
Yet, his chaotic performance at the presidential debate and his refusal to denounce white supremacism creates a precarious situation for many in the Jewish community. Jewish American organizations and leaders were quick to condemn his remarks. For many Jewish people, it’s proving difficult to go against our very ethos, character and spirit of tolerance, justice and human rights. This is painful because of what is arguably the most pro-Israel administration in American history. Let’s be honest, it’s been 29 years since any previous president has been able to bring about peace between Israel and any other Arab country in the region. Love him or hate him, that’s quite an accomplishment. Some have argued he deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, especially given the fact that his predecessor received one despite not bringing about a Middle East peace agreement as he had hoped. Even Yasser Arafat received a Nobel in 1994, then went on a terror campaign of suicide bombing killing scores of Israelis. Remarkably, Trump and his team continue to push forward on Israel’s behalf. U.S.-mediated talks are already underway between Lebanon and Israel to negotiate a resolution to their long-running dispute about their shared border, which has been the subject of countless skirmishes. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a comprehensive peace agreement. The administration is further said to be holding talks with Oman, Sudan, Morocco and Saudi Arabia, which may lead to additional peace agreements with Israel. Friends of Israel fear these positive initiatives will falter should Trump lose the election.
Most Israel supporters agree that Trump has strengthened Israel’s security by putting Iran on notice with the targeted killing of Gen. Qassem Soleimani. His administration continues to champion America’s best ally in the Middle East, by providing Israel in 2020 with US$3.3 billion in foreign aid assistance and US$500 million in missile defence aid. This is essential given the looming threats on Israel’s borders, particularly from an encroaching Iran and Hezbollah. With all this spectacular support of Israel in mind, it’s difficult to comprehend why the president continues to be murky about denouncing Neo-Nazi white supremacists. Nazi ideology is behind the greatest crime perpetrated against the Jewish people — and humanity — the Holocaust. Asked to condemn the Proud Boys during the debate, Trump instructed them to “stand back, stand by.” Having heard this, white supremacists across the country responded with glee, telling the president they are “standing by, Sir.” Standing by for what? Armageddon?
Since then, the president has attempted to disassociate himself from these remarks and some have argued he misspoke — he is misunderstood, they say. But the damage unfortunately has been done. In a scathing piece in the Atlantic, David Frum seemed exasperated: Trump “talked to the angriest of ultra-Republican partisans, and to violent white supremacists … (he) yelled, threatened, interrupted — and changed nothing.”
If action speaks louder than words, Trump has pushed back against anti-Semitism, especially on university campuses. Last December, he took aim at the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel by signing an executive order that bans discrimination based on race, colour, or national origin in programs and activities in colleges and universities that receive federal funding. The order especially extends to discrimination based on anti-Semitism.
For Jewish supporters and their friends, this positioning is hard to understand. Some believe it’s a strategy to push back against the angry left-wing movements like Antifa and QAnon. They question why the Biden campaign has not equally condemned these groups. Others say it’s a marketing ploy to get the American heartland to vote for Trump in the upcoming election. While others are concerned he is provoking a racial war and many months of chaos if he loses the election.
All this rhetoric has divided the Jewish community and one might argue, America itself. We are proud supporters of Israel, as the bastion of freedom and democracy in the Middle East. At the same time, we have a history of proudly defending human rights and civil discourse. If we are the so-called canary in the coal mine, history shows that extreme economic stress, social strife based on race and tribalism and political upheaval all compounded with a pandemic provides for a dangerous situation.
The losers of this impending catastrophe is America itself and our children — no matter race, colour or creed. It’s our responsibility to make the world a little better for them. We are failing them.
Avi Abraham Benlolo is a noted human rights activist.