Why American Rabbis Should Work With Trump
In 1878, Austria-Hungary occupied Bosnia and Herzegovina. As the troops of the Hapsburg Empire came across the bridge on the Drina, representatives of the three Abrahamic faiths stood there as supplicants, hoping that their new rulers would recognize them as representatives of their respective communities.
In America, even minority religions have access to the corridors of power, and some of these political relationships are informally institutionalized. The representatives of faith groups are not supplicants that are humbly waiting for some sign of recognition.
For Jews, one connection to the political system is the annual High Holiday conference call with the president of the United States.
This year, three non-Orthodox rabbinic associations — whom I believe are seemingly unaware of their own painful history — are refusing to participate in the event.
The Central Conference of American Rabbis (Reform), the Rabbinical Assembly (Conservative) and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Assembly, joined by the political arm of the Reform movement, will not participate in the call to protest President Donald Trump’s response to Charlottesville, along with some of his other policies.
Their decision is as contemptible as it is outrageous and self-indulgent.
For centuries, Jews were wantonly deprived of the opportunity to have the needs of their communities heard. Now, possessing political access, these religious leaders seek to squander it. Their forebears, who stood on the bridge over the Drina waiting for recognition by the Hapsburgs, could not have imagined either this kind of access or behavior.
Their boycott will further alienate the Jewish community from the administration, and I believe that it is an immoral form of grandstanding at the expense of the Jewish community.
The non-Orthodox rabbis are vexed, in part, about President Trump’s statements about the violence in Charlottesville, which the mainstream media characterizes as a morality struggle between the forces of light and darkness.
It obviously wasn’t. There were violent elements on both sides. Antifa is not the Girl Scouts. It actively trains people in the use of violence at demonstrations. And some of those who opposed the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville were part of the Antifa movement.
The statesman-like tradition in American politics, as James Robbins correctly notes, is to condemn all violence. One does not parse good violent rioters from bad violent rioters. The president was correct in condemning all violence. In a viable democracy, there is no excuse for political violence in the streets.
The antisemitism of the far-right is palpable, but so too is the antisemitism of the far-feft. It’s just that some progressive Jews are incapable of confronting antisemitism when it comes from those with whom they share a political agenda on other issues.
The president who most threatened the Jewish community was not Donald Trump, but Barack Obama. Obama sat at the feet of the Reverend Jeremiah Wright for twenty years while he cursed Jews and America. It was only when Wright’s sermons became public and Wright persisted in his hatred that Obama distanced himself from the man he once called “his uncle.”
The Obama administration actively fought to help the Palestinians, and undermine Israel. Obama’s actions, and frequent personal insults against Benjamin Netanyahu, were unworthy of an American president.
The Obama administration gave Iran a possible path to a nuclear bomb, and, in the process, freed up over 100 billion dollars that Iran is now using to fund terrorism — including against Israel.
Did these rabbinical organizations ever refuse to take a High Holiday call from Obama? To ask the question is to answer it.
The self-centered rabbis who are refusing to participate in the call will bask in the ephemeral limelight of their political exhibitionism. They will join other Jewish organizations that are crafting letters and petitions to attack Trump for not condemning one set of street thugs more than another.
They will indulge their self-importance fantasy and receive affirmation from their congregants who think that Trump is a great threat to Jewish existence. But they will have advanced the real interests of the Jewish community not one iota.
Abraham H. Miller is an emeritus professor of political science, University of Cincinnati, and a distinguished fellow with the Haym Salomon Center. Follow him @salomoncenter.
A version of this article was originally published by the Jerusalem Post.