This is in response to Jim Beer’s opinion piece in the December 2019 Chronicle, “Donald Trump, Philo-Semite: Our president has an interest in and a respect for the Jewish people.”
There were a number of issues brought up by the article. I will discuss them one by one:
1. The great majority of Democrats oppose the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. However, as Mr. Beer pointed out, most opposed Israel’s ban of BDS-supporting Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar’s entry into Israel. In my opinion, the main argument against this ban is that it violated the principle of freedom of speech, which supports the right of individuals to express unpopular ideas.
2. The overwhelming majority of both Republican and Democratic Jews support the right of Israel to exist as a democracy with a majority of Jews. Mr. Beer stated that a 2018 Pew survey found that almost twice as many Liberal Democrats support the Palestinians as support Israel (35% vs. 19%). The actual wording was 35% “sympathize more with the Palestinians than with Israel,” not support the Palestinians. In my opinion, some of the reasons are as follows:
• As described in a 2011 New York Times article by Bernard Avishai, Mahmoud Abbas and former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had very constructive negotiations ending in 2008 which almost reached a peace agreement. Netanyahu has rejected concessions made by Olmert in those talks and indicated that new talks have to start from scratch.
• Continuing Israeli settlement construction has made a peace agreement more difficult.
• The Palestinian Authority has been working with the Israeli government to prevent violence against Israeli Jews.
3. Mr. Beer points out a series of pro-Israeli and anti-Palestinian steps made by President Trump, such as giving legal recognition to settlements, moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and recognizing Israeli annexation of the Golan Heights. These steps were made without receiving any Israeli concessions in return. In my opinion, one of the purposes of these actions was to divide the traditionally Democratic Jewish vote. The Israelis are getting concessions for free without the need to negotiate. This encourages Israeli intransigence and therefore makes a peace agreement less likely.
4. Donald Trump’s views on antisemitism are a matter of debate among Jews. However, his Islamophobia and anti-Hispanic views are not debatable. He has supported an atmosphere of hate, and antisemitism thrives in an atmosphere of hate. According to a 2018 ADL chart of Anti-Semitic Incidents in the U.S. there was an approximately 85% increase in the average number of antisemitic incidents in the first two years of the Trump administration over the average of the eight years of the Obama administration. Most of these incidents were done by right wing extremists. Furthermore, Trump’s continuation of the Republican policy of opposition to banning of semi-automatic weapons helped make possible the mass murder at a Pittsburgh synagogue. All this has caused American Jewish institutions to have to take unprecedented safety precautions.
In a debate with President Carter, Ronald Reagan famously asked the question, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago?” I would like to paraphrase that question for Jews, “Do you feel safer today t¬han you did when Mr. Trump became President?”
Bob Kuhn is a member of the Jewish Community Relations Council’s Community Council, Congregation Sinai, and Americans for Peace Now. His opinions are his own and are not necessarily representative of the organizations he affiliates with.