Wednesday, October 23rd | 24 Tishri 5780

September 18, 2018 8:02 am

Criticize Trump, but Also Look Candidly at Obama

avatar by Shmuley Boteach


US President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their summit in Helsinki. Photo: Reuters/Leonhard Foeger.

Earlier this week, renowned fashion retail mogul and pro-Israel philanthropist Leslie Wexner made national headlines after announcing publicly that he’d be withdrawing his support for the Republican party because of Donald Trump. As a longtime Republican donor and the single richest man in the state of Ohio, his departure from the Republican camp sent shockwaves throughout the nation.

“I just decided I’m no longer a Republican,” Wexner, the CEO of L Brands, said. “I’m an independent.” He added that he would no longer “support this nonsense in the Republican party.”

Even for the most politically active individuals, it’s not entirely out of the ordinary to switch political teams. America has always had a dynamic political landscape, with each party’s interests and objectives shifting broadly with the passage of decades. It is to be expected from time to time that leading political figures may change their registration.

There is also no doubt that the rise of Donald Trump has signaled significant changes in the Republican party, just as the rise of many far-left figures speaks to seismic shifts across the aisle.

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So, Leslie Wexner’s choice isn’t all that shocking.

What is, however, quite confounding, is the reason that he gave for his decision.

Speaking to a small audience in Columbus, Wexner told his listeners that he’d decided to quit the Republican party in part due to a speech he heard from former President Barack Obama.

Obama had recently paid a visit to Ohio, looking to further the prospects of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray. At one rally, Obama spoke out against President Trump. “We’re supposed to stand up clearly and unequivocally to Nazi sympathizers,” Obama said at one point. “How hard can that be, saying that Nazis are bad?”

Wexner was apparently transfixed by Obama’s address. “I was struck by the genuineness of the man; his candor, humility and empathy for others,” he said of Obama, according to the Dispatch. But he added that there was another president to thank for his leftward political slide — and that, of course, would be Donald Trump. The CEO recalled a time in the last year when he told his employees that he felt “dirty” and “ashamed” when Trump found it hard to roundly condemn the white nationalist violence that occurred at a rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Leslie Wexner is a consummate supporter of Israel, a pro-Israel patriot, and an accomplished philanthropist. He is also entitled to whichever political views he believes best represent his core values.

Nonetheless, I must take issue with his reasoning.

It may very well be that, in the realm of words, Barack Obama holds an advantage on Donald Trump. Few American presidents have been as gifted at oratory as Obama, and I will forever recall the inspiring speeches he delivered across the world during his first campaign for the presidency. Nor will I ever forget Obama referring to my friend and mentor Elie Wiesel as “the conscience of mankind” upon the great man’s passing. Donald Trump, on the other hand, has made many utterances that have upset people. In the case referenced by Wexner, it was Trump’s lack of words to properly condemn the scourge of white nationalism that many, including myself, found so disappointing.

But as compelling as this understanding may be, it rests on the flawed notion that words are what truly matter. Action is critical. And in the realm of action and a moral foreign policy, Donald Trump holds his own clear advantage.

For all his nice speeches, the presidency of Barack Obama was stained by his historical failures in the fight for human rights. Obama stood idly by as Bashar al-Assad waged a genocidal war in Syria, with so many civilians murdered. Even as Assad walked right over Obama’s “red line” by gassing dozens of Muslim men, women, and children, Obama refused to act and embarrassed himself by turning to Putin and the Russians to enforce a fraudulent Syrian promise to purge chemical weapons.

Then there was the Iran deal, in which Obama quite literally rewarded a genocidal regime with billions and billions of dollars, much of which was funneled directly into further fomenting terrorism and mayhem in the Middle East. Worst of all, Obama ratified the treaty without once demanding that the Iranian leadership cease threatening the Jewish nation that suffered a Holocaust just 70 years ago with another one today.

To paraphrase the words of President Obama that Leslie Wexner found so inspiring, “How hard is it to condemn Iran for threatening to kill all the Jews?” But Obama still signed the nuclear deal.

Trump, on the other hand, has twice attacked Assad for gassing Arab children and has made it overwhelmingly clear that there will always be a price to pay for employing nerve agents against Muslim civilians. Trump also shocked the world last year by refusing to ratify the very deal signed by Obama with Iran. He made clear cut demands of Iran to alter its behavior and agree to stricter terms — failing which, the deal would simply expire. US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley has also reversed decades of anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism at the UN. Trump’s administration has also cut off aid to the Palestinians due to their policy of paying terrorists.

Obama, parenthetically, also promised to move the American embassy to Jerusalem, in what was a moving and beautiful speech. He just never actually did it. He was there in word, and absent in action. And in the end, even his words have been forgotten.

To conclude: I can understand why Leslie Wexner found Obama’s speech truly moving and Trump’s silence on Charlottesville genuinely troubling. But what he must ask himself is this: how can Obama engage in such blatant hypocrisy by castigating Trump on his failure in Charlottesville but giving the murderous mullahs, who promises the annihilation of the Jews, a complete pass?

There can be no question that when it comes to his remarks and his tweets, President Trump has upset many. But when it comes to Israel and the security of the Jewish nation, he has greatly exceeded expectations.

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, “America’s rabbi,” whom The Washington Post calls “the most famous rabbi in America,” is founder of The World Values Network and is the international best-selling author of 31 books, including his most recent, The Israel Warrior. Follow him on Twitter @RabbiShmuley.

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