Don’t tell a Jew what to do

President Trump says that it’s “disloyal” for a Jew to vote for a Democrat. The Jews I know think before they vote. That’s not disloyalty, it’s democracy.

Here’s how the New York Times reported his public remarks.

“Where has the Democratic Party gone?” Mr. Trump said at the tail end of freewheeling comments during a visit on Tuesday by the Romanian president. “Where have they gone where they are defending these two people [Congresswomen Rishada Tlaib and Ilhan Omar] over the state of Israel? And I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”

It’s dangerous to make generalizations about Jewish people. But if the president is going to tell who we have to vote for, I’m going to share a few that are actually true.

First off, Jewish people are diverse. There are conservative Jews and liberal Jews. There’s diversity like this in my own family, as there is in many American families. So treating us as if we are a monolithic bloc is wrong.

Regarding Israel and Palestine, Jews are not of one voice. There are Jews who fiercely defend the government of a country surrounded by Arabs that want to wipe it off the map, and use those views to support whatever action is necessary regarding danger from Palestinians. There are also Jews who are gravely concerned about the moral challenge of the suffering of Palestinians and Israel’s role in it. Israel’s legislature, the Knesset is historically the site of fierce debate over Israeli policy. Jews disagree. Jews argue. It’s practically our official sport.

Regarding Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and the other Democratic Congresswomen that Trump is demonizing, there are Jews who are angry at these women for their anti-Israel remarks, and others who feel in a democracy that all views deserve to be aired. There are Jews who are just as upset with Israel as these women are. Loyalty to Israel is not a condition for being any kind of American, Jewish or not.

Jews have a tradition revering education. Many end up as lawyers, doctors, businesspeople, professors, and scientists. They learn to weigh evidence and revere truth. Many of these educated Jews have weighed the scientific evidence and are concerned about global climate change. Is it a shock that such Jews would vote for the planet over whatever they believe about Israel?

For Jews, the memory of fascist anti-Semitic hatred and the threat of extermination in the Holocaust is a sacred and deeply felt part of our heritage. Of course we are sensitive to signs of fascism and religious hatred in America. When anti-Semitic terrorists shoot up synagogues and white supremacists shout “Jews will not replace us,” we worry that the President is creating an environment that permits and encourages racial and ethnic division and hatred. For many of us, this is reason enough to oppose this president and his party and to vote for his opponent.

American Jews have a history of support for social justice. We recognize that it was not so long ago that we were the poor and reviled minority in America. We feel a fellowship and a debt to other people facing discrimination and hatred. At the end of the book we read at Passover, the Haggadah, at least in my version, there is a passage that says that in each new era we recognize a new group of people whose freedom is threatened. I have always felt a special responsibility when I read this. It leads to a liberal frame of mind. This is one reason that 70% to 80% of Jews have voted for Democratic presidential candidates.

I think the President has made a mistake. I respect conservative Jews who vote for Republicans and those whose support for Israel is unwavering. I respect liberal Jews whose beliefs impel them to vote for Democrats. What I don’t respect is a President who tells us what we are supposed to believe and what we are supposed to do as Jews. Who the hell are you to tell us what to do? We’re Jews, we make up our own minds.

I am a poor spokesman for Jews. It is a smaller part of my identity than it is for many other people. But it seems to me that a President or candidate who wants to reach out to Jews through his words and his policies is more likely to succeed than one that tells us what do. If you have any sense of history, you won’t tell us what to do.

One more thing. Jews are more likely to live in cities, and in blue states like New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts where Trump will never prevail. But Florida is a swing state, and 3% of the Florida population is Jewish. The 2016 margin between Trump’s vote and Hillary Clinton’s vote in Florida is smaller than the number of Jews there. It wouldn’t surprise me if Trump’s arrogance just cost him the state in the 2020 election.

Because Jews don’t forget.

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  1. I like “Jews disagree. Jews argue. It’s practically our official sport.” That always reminds me of the pseudo-proverb, “Nine Jews, ten opinions.”

    And I like an implicit point in your post: Categorizing any group of people as all having any single trait is a form of prejudice.

    In European history, Jews have been attributed various “qualities as a group,” from greed to scholarliness. All of these attributions diminish us Jews both individually and as a group. All of them have been used to oppress us.

    Thanks for “pointing out” and taking a stand!

  2. Well written Josh. As someone whose Grandmother left Germany in 1926 and lost much of her family in the camps I feel a deep connection to the Jewish history … my history … the world’s history. My father was raised agnostic (her husband was Lutheran and she was disavowed by her father) and I was raised Presbyterian. But the horrors of watching the world tilt have lit a deep fear in the pit of my stomach and we all need to speak out. From all faiths to none the majority of us have a strong sense of morality and what is right. Thank you for using your platform to speak!

  3. Hi, Josh, your comment please on this lead from NY Times Columnist Tom Friedman:

    “If you’re an American Jew and you’re planning on voting for Donald Trump because you think he is pro-Israel, you’re a damn fool.”

    1. Yeah, I read that when it came out.

      It’s well argued.

      American presidents shouldn’t get involved in Israeli politics. And Jews should be quite skeptical if they do.

  4. Sorry I didn’t ask directly: Why wouldn’t you say to Friedman, “Don’t Tell a Jew What to Do.”?

    1. The subtle difference here is that Friedman’s point is that Trump is not helping Israel. He’s not telling you who to vote for, he’s telling you to re-examine what you think.

      It’s a very subtle difference, and the headline doesn’t quite covey it. To wit, this quote:

      Trump’s campaign to tar the entire Democratic Party with some of the hostile views toward Israel of a few of its newly elected congresswomen — and Netanyahu’s careless willingness to concede to Trump’s demand and bar two of them, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, from visiting Israel and the West Bank — is part of a process that will do huge, long-term damage to Israel’s interests and support in America.

      It makes a difference that Friedman is Jewish. Jews telling other Jews what to do are as common as sneezes. Gentiles telling Jews what to do are a lot more offensive.

  5. Well-reasoned and an eminently genteel analysis, Josh. As an Australian, particularly salient is your argument toward Florida and how it could become a key electorate. A similar phenomenon occurred here recently where our previous incumbent PM of the in-government conservative Liberal Party (don’t get me started) was internally “sacked” so he quit politics. His “seat” in the most Jewish (and most affluent…) electorate in the country was vacated. In what is called a by-election to fill the seat, Liberal LOST one of the safest seats in the country to an independent (highly qualified, female, vocal medical doctor, gay, married to a Jewess, lives in the electorate with her wife and their daughter…yep). Liberals who controlled the seat since Moses chiselled rock tried to tell them who to vote for (because most do traditionally vote Liberal). Yet the electorate was so incensed with the treatment of “their” PM and the shocking response to climate and other dog-whistle issues by the toppling-to-the-far-right Liberals, turfed the Libs’ centrist, moderate, preferred candidate. In no shock when the Federal election rolled around about a year later, “senses prevailed” and she lost by a nail-bitingly close margin to the Lib candidate that she previously won against. In the electorate of Wentworth, the 2016 census data indicates that of its population of ~146k, 12.5% is Jewish (33% declared none; 20% Catholic; 13.5% not stated; 10.5 Anglican) against a National average of – wait – 0.4% Jewish.

    As an Australian, all I can say is: “Go, Florida!” Whether the “Jewish collective” has the oomph and chutzpah to pull together (or the desire) is one thing. It is totally different to expect that the Democrats would use this potential opportunity wisely. Just thoughts from abroad.