Jews for Donald Trump
Arutz Sheva, identified with the National Religious Party in Israel, with the Israeli settlement movement, and with a history of consistent opposition to negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (PA), is an Israeli media outlet which includes Channel 7 and B’Sheva, an Israeli weekend newspaper with the third largest circulation in the country. Following its reports on the presidential campaign in the United States provides a number of insights. Begin with the coverage of the standard prayer invocations at the Republican Party Convention held in Cleveland from 18-21 July.
Prayers came from all faiths. Msgr. Kieran Harrington on behalf of the Roman Catholic Church reminded Republicans in a clearly political speech that “all human life is important.” As another example, a Sikh prayer was delivered on the second night in Punjabi, subsequently translated into English, by Harmeet Dhillon, a lifelong Republican and the daughter of a Sikh-American orthopedic surgeon. She called for unity among Republicans, asking them to have the “courage to make the right choices, to make common cause with those with whom we disagree, for the greater good of our nation.” However, when she was editor-in-chief of the conservative student newspaper, The Dartmouth Review, in October 1988, she was very divisive. She published a satirical column by James Garrett likening the president of Dartmouth College (a Jew, James O. Freedman) to Adolf Hitler and calling the results of university policies a Holocaust. Allan Gold in an op-ed in The New York Times (5 November 1988) noted that the headline read, “Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein Freedmann,” echoing the Nazi slogan, ”One Empire, One People, One Leader (Fuhrer).” Dhillon denied the charges thrown at her of anti-Semitism, but, at the very least, like her contemporary leader, Donald Trump, both of their remarks and the strong defence of them instead of an apology may have smacked more of gross insensitivity.
“The Jewish prayer became controversial when a very well known and highly respected rabbi, Haskel Lookstein, rabbi of the modern Orthodox Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York City for almost sixty years and principal of the Ramaz School for fifty years – now emeritus of both – was originally designated to offer the Jewish prayer at the Republican Convention. He withdrew. Lookstein was the rabbi who converted Donald Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, to Judaism and officiated at her wedding to Jared Kushner. Both were his congregants and Ivanka had invited him to deliver the prayer.
At the same time, the conversion of another American married to an Israeli, whose certificate Rabbi Lookstein signed, was rejected by the local rabbinate court in her husband’s hometown, Petach Tikva in Israel, setting off the controversy within Jewish orthodox circles between the bona fide orthodoxy of American versus Israeli rabbis and the issue of whether orthodox Jewish conversions in America were kosher. The issue was not over Ivanka Trump’s conversion because her conversion was sanctioned by a “networked” beis or beit din, a Jewish rabbinical court, while the controversial case was not sanctified by the GPS Rabbinic Court in Manhattan.
However, the bona fide of Lookstein’s orthodoxy was not offered as the explanation for his withdrawal, but rather the pressure he had come under by his former students of Ramaz. “To embrace Trump and Trumpism goes against all we’ve been taught. As graduates of Ramaz, and as current or former members of the Modern Orthodox community; this is a shanda [shame] beyond the pale,” wrote Jacob Savage responding to Donald Trump’s pledge to build a wall on the Mexican border and temporarily ban Muslims from entry into the U.S. His petition urging withdrawal, or, alternatively, an explanation rooted in Jewish values, had 800 signatures urging that withdrawal. Lookstein did withdraw, professing his political innocence and non-involvement. Rabbi Ari Wolf, a relatively unknown orthodox Ohio police “chaplain,” was named as his replacement.
In spite of that initial reversal, Donald Trump received relatively favourable treatment in the orthodox Jewish press, particularly through the media outlets controlled by Arutz Sheva. The convention itself marked an important turning point in the American presidential race because, according to many pollsters as reported by Arutz Sheva, Donald Trump, benefiting from the Convention “bounce,’ pulled even with his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton.
This celebration of Donald Trump’s improvement in the polls was recently reiterated when Arutz Sheva reported that Hillary Clinton’s lead over Donald Trump had shrunk to 3% (6 August 2016) according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll, though when one read the full article, the headline was undermined when the piece mentioned that CBS poll reported a 7% lead and a CNN/ORC poll reported the lead as 9%. Careful reading indicated the polls more favourable to Clinton were conducted with “registered” voters as distinct for “likely voters” polled by Reuters. The precipitous drop in Trump’s support was attributed largely to his denigration of the gold star parents of a fallen American Muslim war hero who had appeared at the Democratic Convention and criticized Trump’s attack on Muslims. As well, Trump’s squabbles with the Republican Party establishment had also not helped. Making up to the Republican Party and endorsing House Speaker, Paul Ryan, and others, and dropping his feud with the Khans, were given credit for the bounce back, though not much of a bounce according to most polls.
Though the reporting tended to be balanced once the bias of the headlines and the lead to the story were discounted, most op-eds in Arutz Sheva appeared to be highly critical of Hillary Clinton and generally favourable to Donald Trump. David M. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with the Kasowitz law firm and a close confidante of Donald Trump as well as his adviser on Israeli affairs, publicly declared that Donald Trump would, upon winning the presidency, withdraw American support for the two-state solution, move the American embassy to Jerusalem, put more pressure on the Palestinian Authority and end U.S. economic “coddling” of the PA (seemingly in contradiction to Trump’s early statements in his primary campaign that he would remain neutral in dealing with Palestinians and Israelis), and withdraw the designation of Israeli settlement activity as “unhelpful” in fostering peace and certainly not endorse any characterization of the settlements as illegal. Friedman went further and declared in Trump style, without proffering any evidence, that Hillary would be “terrible” for Israel, and had no love for the Jewish state.
Barak Obama (as well as Hillary Clinton) has been harshly critical of continuing Israeli settlement activity in the West Bank. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.” Obama, however, has not strayed from the continuing American established policy that settlement activity was not defined as a violation of the 1993 Oslo Accords or their subsequent implementation agreements, and is neither illegal nor in violation of the letter of the Oslo Accords and its supplements. Eliot Abrams, President Bush’ national security advisor, wrote on 8 April 2009 that the specific guidelines negotiated between the Palestinian Authority and Israel merely stated that any settlement activity would not diminish the territory the Palestinian Authority would get in any peace agreement. In any case, the settlements, even with their expansion as a result of national growth, consist of less than 2% of the territory of the West Bank. However, most international observers go further than Obama and Clinton and regard the expansion of the settlements as not only illegitimate in violating the spirit of Oslo because they undercut the prospect of peace, but also regard them as illegal according to international law.
But what a radical shift Donald Trump would make on Israeli policy, assuming that Friedman has articulated Trump policy correctly. “Trump policy first and foremost is to trust Israel that they know what they are doing. They are not a client state of the United States. They are a partner with the United States in a global war on terrorism. We trust our partner and we want our partner to be secure and safe. We trust them to do the right thing.” Reflexive support of a two-state solution would no longer be a premise in American foreign policy since it has proven to be a failure if Trump were to be elected.
On 22 July 2016, Ben Ariel published an article in Arutz Sheva headlined, “Trump: Clinton’s legacy doesn’t have to be America’s legacy.” He repeated Trump’s condemnations of Clinton’s polices while she was Secretary of State in Libya, and with Iran., Egypt and Syria. “In 2009, pre-Hillary, ISIS wasn’t on the map. Egypt was stable. Iran was being choked by sanctions. Syria was somewhat under control. After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region and around the world. Libya is in ruins. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, forcing the military to take control. Iran is on a path to nuclear war. Syria is engulfed in war.” Trump ran as the candidate of law and order, of America first, of making America great again. The report captured and summarized Trump’s speech, but there was no fat check of his assertions – such as, “America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.” (In a report by KPMG in 2013, in a comparison of 114 states, the U.S. ranked 55 in comparing personal tax rates around the world.)
Yet an article by David Rosenberg on 24 July 2016 reinforced Trump’s message when it was headlined, “Could Clinton’s VP pick hurt her chances with Israel supporters,” as if all supporters of Israel opposed the nuclear deal. At the same time, an op-ed by Jack Engelhard appeared entitled, “Trump’s speech was huge.” This paragraph in the article is typical of his vociferous cheerleading for Trump. Fact-checking was labelled merely “nitpicking.” “Trump delivered the goods for nearly every segment of American society, and true Zionists who wanted a good word about Israel got it when he named Israel as ‘our greatest ally in the region.’ This drew sustained applause from the packed house. Among Democrats, meaning Liberals, such talk usually gets jeers.”
In another op-ed piece in the same issue, Rabbi Dov Fischer, who gives himself the tile of Prof. Dov Fischer even though he is only an adjunct professor of law at Loyola Law School, in an op-ed article entitled, “I think I understand Trump,” explained Trump’s delivery of the longest nomination acceptance speech at any convention as a means to undercut all his naysayers on the three main commercial networks who might otherwise devote the time to dissecting and criticizing the speech if it were shorter. There were no criticisms of the speech in Arutz Sheva. Other than these two pro-Trump op-eds for Trump, there were no critiques let alone analyses of Trump’s speech, only one reasonably objective report, but under a distorting headline, and one anti-Kaine diatribe under the guise of reporting.
Just when one would expect objective reporting on the Democratic Convention, all one could read was one attack after another on the Democratic presidential team. The attack on Kaine continued in the next issue (25 July 2016) headlined, “Clinton VP tapped pro-terror Muslim leader (Esam Omeish) for immigration seat,” with an on-line video clip of a pro-jihadi speech that Omeish gave. In 2007 (my italics), Governor Kaine of Virginia had appointed Omeish to Virginia’s Immigration Commission, though, after learning more about him, he pressured Omeish to resign, which Omeish did. The story was a denunciation of Omeish and, by extension and association, Kaine, even though it was really about an inadequate vetting process. Omeish had been vice-president of the Dar Al Hirjah mosque and responsible for hiring the radical imam, Anwar al-Awlaki, killed by a U.S drone in 2011 in Yemen. Two of the 9/11 terrorists attended that mosque. Another op-ed piece by Stanley Zir was a vitriolic attack against Obama for allowing the theft under his watch of America’s identity as a Great Nation.
The 27 July issue included anther op-ed by Jack Engelhard with the headline, “Hillary flees to sanctuary city, Philadelphia. He pronounced that Hillary had won over her audience, not by her brilliance but “wore them down through exhaustion” as he repeated the usual Trump litany of accusations against Hillary. “It’s how the Clintons do it – they beat you into submission. They’ve spent (ill-gotten) millions crowding out anyone who might be more qualified. As for Hillary, throughout her shady past, has she ever met a payroll? Yes, but mostly for herself, her foundation and her cronies.” While Ben Sales gave a reasonable, if very brief, report of Bernie Sanders’ endorsement of Hillary Clinton, Ben Sales wrote that, “Sanders’ delegates not listening,” a statement that proved to be totally false in subsequent polls.
In the next issue, Rabbi Yoel Schonfeld wrote a rebuke of the petitioners who “forced” Rabbi Haskel Lookstein to withdraw offering a benediction at the Republican convention, which he insisted was always politically neutral, though anyone with the least knowledge knows that it is not. He asked rhetorically in a rebuke, “how about the Chillul Hashem [desecrating the name of God] of publicly humiliating a rabbi – your rabbi – in the media? What about the Chillul Hashem of a massive rebuke to someone who could be the next President of the United States? What about the mitzvah of ‘v’ahavtem es hage. You must love the convert’? Don’t you think your actions were a public humiliation of Ivanka, the Jewish daughter of the ‘anti-Semite’ Donald Trump?” What is worse, comparing the criticism of a rabbi and of the Republican presidential candidate to profaning God’s name, or comparing university policy to a Holocaust? I personally find it hard to choose which is the worst, but they are both of the same order.
The overt bias against Obama and Clinton and the overt favouritism towards Donald Trump continued in issue after issue. The same 28 July issue included a repetition of an accusation by Republican Senator Lindsey Graham that, “Obama increased aid to Arabs, but not to Israel.” The 29 July issue by Shai Landesman reported Trump’s charge in some detail that, “Hillary’s refusal to mention radical Islam proof that she is unfit.” Finally, a seeming reproof of Trump came from Jack Engelhard commenting on his horrible handling of the Khan affair, but the so-called critical comment came as a backhanded excuse and plea for support. “We need him and we need him to stop making such blunders.”
So the question arises not simply about completely skewed journalistic bias, but about why a leading voice for Jewish orthodoxy is providing such strong support for Donald Trump. I suggest that it could not be based on the conclusion that his temperament (which this media outlet ignores), lack of experience (which this media outlet ignores) or his blatant and outright lies repeatedly exposed by other media outlets (which this media outlet ignores) are not relevant. The possibility of Donald Trump favouring their radical right-wing agenda of increased settlement in the West Bank and refusal to contemplate a Palestinian state living in peace beside Israel is the prime motivation.
Eric Metaxas, the biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, pronounced that Donald Trump is culturally Jewish and his bigotry is just “shtick.” Other Jewish supporters offer other reasons than his bias towards an expansionist Israel. Like many non-Jewish supporters, they see him as saying it “as it is” instead of being politically correct (when he most often says it as it isn’t), applaud him for being refreshingly honest when he tells lie after lie without explanation or apology, regard him as a great business success in spite of Michael Bloomberg’s scathing attack on his business credentials followed by that of Warren Buffett. They generally give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt when he is attacked for his bigotry and for being a demagogue, for his loose generalization in place of worked-out policy provisions. It is not clear, but it may also be the case, that Donald Trump’s attitude to Muslims articulated what they themselves were too timid to utter.
But, as with many non-Jewish Republicans, many Jewish Republicans are reconsidering their support for the GOP candidate for the presidency while the vast majority of Jews continue to back the Democratic ticket and continue their long pattern of voting against their personal self interest in favour of a larger vision of justice and tikkun olam, mending the world. I do not have any idea of the degree, but the stand of Arutz Sheva has even helped push at least some orthodox Jews away from Orthodoxy itself. “Peace through strength, unwavering [and uncritical] support for Israel, and robust American leadership at home and abroad” are slogans viewed as the voice of Balaam, blessings that end up being disastrous. But they were the blessings that the Republican Jewish Coalition conferred on Donald Trump.
“The Republican Jewish Coalition congratulates Donald Trump on being the presumptive Presidential nominee of the Republican Party. Throughout the course of this long campaign among Republicans there has been unity in the belief that Hillary Clinton is the worst possible choice for a commander in chief. Secretary Clinton has proven time and again through her record and her policies that her candidacy will compromise our national security, weaken our economy and further strain our relationship with our greatest ally, Israel. Along with the Presidential race, the RJC will be working hard to hold on to our majorities in the Senate and the House. It is critical that these majorities be preserved. To do this we must remember our core principles: peace through strength, unwavering support for Israel, and robust American leadership at home and abroad.”
With the help of Alex Zisman